JUST THE TICKET

FourFourTwo - - ACTION REPLAY - Gary Bur­rell, Sun­der­land fan

“I’m an eter­nal pes­simist when­ever it comes to watch­ing Sun­der­land play on the (ad­mit­tedly rare) big oc­ca­sion. The 1998 play-off fi­nal with Charl­ton was dif­fer­ent, though.

With ev­ery pre-match pint and splash around the Trafal­gar Square foun­tains, the con­fi­dence grew – it was our time.

I had ig­nored all of the warn­ing signs: we were the favourites with the book­ies, wear­ing our away strip – a hor­ren­dous sweat patch-ac­cen­tu­at­ing gold ef­fort – and up­front for the Ad­dicks was the Wear­side-born striker Clive Men­donca.

As the score­line swayed one way then the other, we lost Kevin Phillips to in­jury. Danny Di­chio missed a chance. Lionel Perez went walk­a­bout. Still I re­mained convinced of vic­tory. And when Nicky Sum­mer­bee put us 4-3 ahead in ex­tra time, one of my mates thought that it was a golden goal and went crazy. Oh how I laughed.

Then Men­donca lev­elled for his hat-trick. It was going to penal­ties.

As Michael Gray was shuf­fling sheep­ishly to­wards the penalty spot at 7-6 to Charl­ton in the shootout, I im­me­di­ately started to sober up. This team’s made me mis­er­able for so many years. Why did I think it would be any dif­fer­ent to­day?

Af­ter sev­eral silent pints in the pub, we trudged back to­wards the Un­der­ground, walk­ing past the scene of the crime just as the Charl­ton play­ers were get­ting on board their team bus.

I shouted in­co­her­ent, drunken abuse at both Men­donca and Alan Cur­bish­ley, which was by far the most ma­ture and sen­si­ble ap­proach. I bet that really took the edge off their cel­e­bra­tions later on.

‘At least you got to wit­ness a play-off fi­nal clas­sic,’ I have been told. I had the con­so­la­tion of see­ing one of Wem­b­ley’s greatest games. Those words still ir­ri­tate.

Never again would I go to a big match think­ing it was there for the tak­ing. Well, apart from the 2004 FA Cup semi-fi­nal with Mill­wall. That was a given. Oh, s**t.”

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