25th of May 1998
Division 1 Play Off final
Charlton Athletic - Sunderland
score: 4-4 (23' min Mendonca 1-0, 50' min Niall Quinn 1-1, 58' min Kevin Phillips 1-2, 71' min Mendonca 2-2, 73' min Niall Quinn 2-3, 85' min Rufus 3-3, 99' min Nicky Summerbee 3-4, 103' min Mendonca 4-4)
Season 1997-1998, Sunderland's first year in the Stadium of Light has to be a great year. The best way is to secure promotion to the Premier League in the first year. They are playing well, but they can't finish on the 1st or 2nd spot what will mean direct promotion. Then it has to be with the play-offs. In the semi-final they beat Sheffield United. In the first away leg they lose 2-1, but with a good 2-0 win at the Stadium of Light with a fantastic clown Lionel Perez in goal they manage to reach the final. In the other semi-final is Charlton the winner over Ipswich with two times a 1-0 victory. So it will be Charlton vs. Sunderland at Wembley.
Monday the 18th of May: I make a phonecall to a friend at the ticket-office: "No problem Nick, I'll get you three tickets. All you have to do is call me this Wednesday when the pre-sale starts". No problem at all, so let's book the tickets for a flight to London.
Wednesday 20th of May: 11:00 AM: I make another phonecall to the ticket-office. The line is busy. Of course it is. I am not the only one. Well, just keep redialing and hope you can get a free telephone line. Two hours later still busy. So I try to phone another friend in Sunderland to check what the problem is: "No, you're right. They switched off their phones. There are about 40.000 people in front of the ticket office, so they cancelled the sales by phone." Shite, I start to feel a bit of panic, I have already booked our flight.... Is there a chance he forgot about me? Well, just keep redialing and hope that they will plug in the phones again soon.
Thursday 21st of May: dialing, dialing, dialing…..but still a busy tone.
Friday 22nd of May: Dialing…and…I get an answer: "Jonathan?, no he's got a day off. It's been so busy the last two days. No, everything is sold out. You've already booked your flight? Well, all I can do is leave a message at his desk, but I'm not too sure if he will be in before Tuesday. Yes, I know the game is this Monday, but this is all I can do at the moment." Shite, what now? So I feel really relieved when I get a phonecall around noon: "Hi Nick, don't panic, I've got your tickets." Phew! But how can I get these before Monday? "Just phone me on my mobile (I didn't have this number before today) when you"re outside Wembley and we'll meet". Good plan, wow, this is sorted. What did Jonathan look like? Ginger hair and glasses.....
Monday 25th of May, the big day. With my two brothers in law I went to Rotterdam airport. It felt a bit strange, no luggage, just a camera. Check-in, and off for a cup of coffee. But we were chased by the girl from the check-in: "sir, you forgot your camera". Unbelievable. Only a camera with you and still mangage to forget it. We arrived in London and got the metro to Wembley. This took us 20 minutes longer than our flight from Amsterdam. The closer we got to Wembley, the more Charlton supporters got on the metro. But of course now and then there was also a Mackem getting on board. Finally...Wembley. Pffff what a crowd. Well how can I meet Jonathan in the middle of this crowd. We walked a bit away from Wembley for a quieter place and dialed his number: "This mobile is switched off, please try later"…..ooh no! Try again:"This mobile is switched off, please try later". This can't be true! "Nick, I get you a beer to calm you down" It was my brother in law who got some cans from the supermarket. It works, I calm down a bit. "Well we can also watch the game in a pub". Well, we could, but this was not the plan! Well I try to phone Jonathan again. "Hi Nick, I’m on the train to Wembley at the moment. Tell me where you are and I’ll be there in 20 minutes". Phew, what did Jonathan look like? Ginger hair and glasses. This place wasn't as quiet anymore as it was 20 minutes ago. So I was looking and searching until someone tapped me on my shoulder: "Hi Nick, are you nervous? It was Jonathan, with…..lenses and a big hat on. Have you ever kissed a bloke, well I almost did! Jonathan had two cheaper tickets with restricted view and one next to him almost near the famous stairs of Wembley. My brothers in law decided to sit together in the restricted view area and I was sitting next to Jonathan. Now the day could finally start. Wembley was awesome and the road to Wembley gave me goosepimps. All around me it was all Sunderland supporters. Inside Wembley I saw why: 40.000 Sunderland supporters and 40.000 Charlton supporters. Everything was red and white. Brilliant. Of course I sang God save the Queen and the match started.
The match is still well known as one of the best ever played at Wembley. But the first half wasn't quite that spectaculair. Sunderland was the better team, but Charlton defended well. There was no real decent chance. There was one on the other side. It was the 23rd minute when Clive Mendonca (a boyhood Sunderland supporter) scored Charlton's 1-0. At that time I was still hoping that it wouldn't end in a drama. Sunderland reacted well on going behind. There were chances, but it stayed 1-0 for Charlton at half-time.
Time for a piss. Wow, what a long queue. I got in line and talked to a Mackem. I told him with lots of pride that I was Dutch and had to leave at 9.00 AM this morning. "Wow", he said. "A Dutch Sunderland supporter, you left about 9? We had to leave about 6.30 AM!" I had never realised that. The traveling distance Sunderland-London is bigger than Amsterdam-London. I was visiting a home game! 12 minutes later, still no toilet. So back to my seat then without a piss.
And glad I did! After 4 minutes in the second half it was 1-1. It was a Summerbee corner and the mighty Quinn headed the 1-1 in the back of the net. Great, we are back in the game. Suddenly there were chances all over the place. It was end to end stuff. But it was Sunderland who scored the 1-2. Lee Clark passed the ball to SuperKev who went one on one with Ilic. With the form he had in that time it was almost certain a goal, so he finished it off. An explosion in the Sunderland area. We are in the lead! "We’re on our way, we're on our way". It was not just a 2-1 goal, this was also the goal when SuperKev broke Brian Clough's post-was goalscoring record to score his 35th goal of the season.
But the game hadn't finished. It was Charlton's turn again. And it was again Clive Mendoncoa who got the ball behind Lionel Perez in the net. 2-2, where would this end? Well, not yet. 79th minute. Again Lee Clark with a cross, from the right side of the area. Quinn controls the ball with the chest and taps it in the corner. Yes! 2-3 up with only 11 minutes to go! Just hold on to this lead! It was great to see all those happy faces around me. Phillips was knackered and was substituted for Danny Dichio. And immediately he could have finished the game off, but instead of a header, he decided to shoot the ball and it turned into a bad shot and Ilic could save it. And when you don't score, they will do it on the other side. Clown Perez hadn't made his usual mistake yet. He ran out of his goal to get the ball out of touch, but a Charlton player could control the ball just before the line and Rufus had an easy chance to shoot the ball in the empty goal. Unbelievable 3-3 and extra time!
In extra time it was still Sunderland who were the better side (no, I wasn't looking through red and white glasses). After 8 minutes it was Quinn again who controlled the ball lovely and nodded the ball on to Summerbee who stroke the ball and it ended in the back of the net; 3-4 and another explosion of sound in the Sunderland area. And the best chance of the game still had to come. About 5 minutes later it was Quinn who got the ball about 6 meters from the goalline, but he missed. And it was an important miss, because on the break it was again Mendonca who scored the 4-4. And what a goal. The ball was played behind him, but still he managed to control it well and got the ball in the goal. 4-4 and still another half of extra time to go. But in that second half all the energy of both teams was gone, so it had to be decided with penalty kicks.
Did I dare to watch? Yes I did, but with my eyes just a small bit open. It went for a Dutchman on a very unusual way. Both teams had taken 5 spot-kicks and all 10 were goals (Summerbee, Johnston, Ball, Makin and Rae scored for Sunderland). Then it was time for the not-penalty-kick-specialists. Charlton scored and so did Niall Quinn; 6-6. Then the 13th penalty, Charlton scored and it was local lad Mickey Gray who had to score for Sunderland. It was a bad spot-kick and Ilic saved. I sat down again on my seat with my face in my hands. Mickey is down on the pitch, but next to me all the Sunderland supporters got on their feet and sang: "there's only one Mickey Gray, there's only one Mickey Graaaayaaaay, there's only one Mickey Gray". As I write this down, I still get goosepimps. That is so different from a whole nation who is furious against Clarence Seedorf, Frank de Boer, Patrick Kluivert or Jaap Stam! Well in the end it was Charlton who could pick up the trophy and got promoted to the Premier League and Sunderland had to play for another year 1st Division football in their beautiful Stadium of Light.
In the minutes that followed I got a lot of help to get me on my feet again. It was not just me. Everybody helped everybody around to get their mood better again. Because of this extra time and penalty shoot-out, there was no more time for a pint in the pub. The plane didn't wait, so outside Wembley I found my brothers in law again who didn't have had any restricted view at all. On our way to the airport we also got a lot of consolation from the Charlton supporters who said: "This game didn't deserve a losing side". Yeah, that's easy to say when you've won, but anyway it looked like they meant it. On the plane we were with about 15 other English Sunderland supporters who lived/worked in Holland. I've re-lived the game another time on the plane. At home everyone had followed the game, but this game and a visit to a sold-out (old) Wembley they never can take off of me. But it felt strange that you've been to England but you can step in your own bed again on the same day...
The year after that, Sunderland were crowned as champions of the 1st Division with a record total of 105 points.
(written by Nick)