On the wall in front of me as I write these words is a photograph of Ian Porterfield scoring the goal that won the FA Cup for Sunderland on 5 May 1973 – together with a dog-eared ticket for the North Terrace seat I occupied at Wembley that blessed afternoon.
I can still picture my dad leaning over the fence of the school playing field at morning break, waving it triumphantly in the air. It could not have meant more if it had been Willie Wonka's final Golden Ticket. It cost £4 but it was, and always will be, priceless to me.
To the neutral, the story of Second Division Sunderland's FA Cup final slaying of the mighty Leeds United was a thing of romance. To those of us who had been accustomed to standing on the Roker Park terraces following a bunch of serial underachievers, their metamorphosis over the course of a wondrous cup run into a bunch of all-conquering heroes – under the inspirational management of Bob Stokoe, "The Messiah" as he came to be known on Wearside – was a fairytale come true.
I can never repay my dad for the golden days of 1973 but, 37 years later, I am still trying. Hence the £45 tickets bought last December for England's one-day international with Pakistan in Durham on Friday. Not so much Golden Tickets as Booby Prizes.
As we pulled into the car park, the lead item on the news was that Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamer were being sent home to Pakistan. Inside the ground, I headed for the nearest programme seller. "Don't get me one," my dad shouted after me. "This whole thing is tainted. I don't want anything like that to keep."
While we had been waiting in the car for the rain to abate, on Test Match Special Jonathan Agnew posed the question: "Can you believe what you're seeing any more?" Duncan Fletcher, the former England coach and Zimbabwe captain, replied: "Cricket's got a huge job on its hands. Long before this there were problems, going back to Hansie Cronje. Every time you see a catch go down, you wonder: 'Hang on a minute, was that legit?' "
Michael Vaughan, England's Ashes-winning captain of 2005, added: "There had been rumours for years that things had been going on. I go back over Tests and think: 'Was that legitimate? Was it a true and honest result?' I was at a dinner the other night with Ashley Giles and he was saying the same thing. But it's not just in cricket. Look what's happened recently in snooker and in Formula One."
Indeed, there were the frame- fixing allegations which led to John Higgins (above) being cleared on Wednesday but banned for six months for "bringing snooker into disrepute"; and the Ferrari team orders that prompted Fernando Alonso to pass Felipe Massa at the German Grand Prix in July, earning a £64,745 fine from the Hockenheim stewards but no further punishment from the International Automobile Federation in Paris on Wednesday.
Just as the manipulation of matches is nothing new to cricket, such scandals are old hat to those sports too. In 2006 the Australian snooker player Quinten Hann was banned for eight years for "frame-throwing". At the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008, Nelson Piquet Jnr crashed his Renault into a wall to allow Massa to win the race. To quote Dame Shirl, it's all just a little bit of history repeating. It has been ever thus when big stakes have been involved in sport.
Back in 1887, in the days of pedestrianism, professional foot-racing, the 120 yards world championship challenge race between Harry Hutchens and Henry Gent had to be restaged up the road from Durham in Gateshead after the originally scheduled head-to-head at the Lillie Bridge Stadium in west London was stopped by a band of irate bookmakers. With 15,000 punters packed into the ground, eagerly anticipating "the Race of the Century", Hutchens and Gent were forcibly bundled into separate carriages and spirited away.
The crowd tore down the wooden stadium buildings, ripped up the perimeter railings and burned everything that stood. The bookies, it transpired, had been fearful of being cleaned out after discovering that Gent had secretly broken down in training. "They stood over me in the dressing-room with open knives and bottles," Hutchens said. "They swore they'd murder me if I tried to run."
What few people knew at Wembley in 1973 (because it only came to public light in 1975) was that Sunderland's fires had been stoked by the outrage that Bob Stokoe felt because of an alleged bribe he claimed Don Revie offered him for the Bury side which Stokoe managed in his younger days to "take it easy" in a match against Revie's relegation-threatened Leeds. Stokoe said he refused to ever speak to Revie again. There was not even any eye contact between the pair as they emerged with their teams from the Wembley tunnel.
"How much was that worth?" came the predictable shout as Pakistan opened with a no-ball at Chester-le-Street on Friday. Hearteningly, however, their captain Shahid Afridi and his players were applauded on to the pitch and off it, and received generous support for their efforts throughout the game.
Northumbria Police were called upon late in the day – when one fellow chose to vault the boundary fence to expose his shortcomings. Another chap, dressed as Bertie Bassett, was led away after leading a conga in the Barmy Army section. In this sporting life, it takes allsorts, it would seem.Reuse content