Rowell Report: Crazy holiday fixture list filled our treatment tables

Gary Rowell, former Sunderland player and now Echo columnist
Gary Rowell, former Sunderland player and now Echo columnist
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EASTER IS almost here and that got me thinking back to the days when a crush of fixtures over the holiday period could determine whether teams went down or stayed up and whether titles were won or lost.

Lots of games in a short space of time was the norm then and the first Easter I played for Sunderland, 1977, we played what would now be viewed as an astonishing three games in four days.

Not any old bog-standard games for either – Newcastle on Good Friday, Leeds on Saturday, Man United on Easter Monday – but it was OK, because we got Sunday off!

If you remember, too, that it was smaller squads in those days with only one possible substitution per game, you’ll quickly appreciate how gruelling a spell it was.

After the game against Newcastle we left so soon afterwards for Leeds that leaving Roker Park we passed some of our fans making their way home.

After playing at Elland Road the next day we climbed aboard the coach again for the journey home where the manager told us we could have Sunday, off but player with knocks should come in for treatment.

As I’d taken a knock on my knee, I went in expecting a pretty lonely Sunday only to find virtually all my team-mates there!

Everyone had some sort of injury, though nothing too serious – mainly the understandable aches and pains from two games in two days.

Our physio, the famous Johnny Watters was working overtime and he patched us up and re-energised us so well we went out the next day and beat Manchester United 2-1 to finish our punishing Easter programme on a high.

For the stattos out there, we drew the other two games – 2-2 against the Mags after being 2-0 up – yes, it still rankles – and 1-1 at Leeds.

I played every minute of those three exhausting games but, you know what, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Why would I? I was living the dream.

And when I take my seat this Saturday’s game against Manchester United I will probably think back to Easter ‘77 and to be honest, I would give anything to do it all over again.

To read the rest of the Rowell Report, please see tonight’s Sunderland Echo.