In May 1973 when Sunderland beat the then mighty Leeds United and won the prestigious FA Cup, I was a skinny 8 year old, living in Frank Street, Durham, nestled between Sherburn Road and Sunderland Road. I had no confidence and felt fairly insignificant, I didn’t really feel part of anything, but on the day I want to talk about, something changed.

My Dad John Parkin was a hard worker, like most North East men, long hours and seven days a week mostly. He was a joiner, having given up his job s n organ builder to make more money. I remember one important period of my life when he was working for several months on a council estate in Sherburn Village, replacing windows and doors next to the school baths, we would go there once a week from my school for swimming lessons. I remember to this day clambering onto that bus to get a window seat so I could wave to my Dad, how I managed to get a window seat every time I will never know, assertiveness wasn’t even a glimmer for me back then. He must have been busy but he never missed that bus and me waving frantically at the window and him waving back at me. I remember feeling so proud and special.

Working long hours didn’t leave a lot of time or energy to spend with children, working and providing for your family, was back then a man’s responsibility, though my Mam worked hard too, it was all about making money and working hard, tough times, it was the same for everyone. My Grandad was probably much the same with my dad, but in his retirement he spent a lot of time with me until he died, it was that same year I think, a huge loss. My Grandad had been a Sunderland fan way back and I vaguely remember some stories of Roker Park, but nothing that I can recall now.

I don’t even remember seeing the match on that momentous day in May 1973, but the aftermath of one of the biggest upsets in football was to have a huge impact on my life, it seemed like the whole world, well my world was on a high, everyone was cheering and happy, our local team had beaten the team of the times, it was incredible and brought many people together.

Everyone I knew was going to Carville to the motorway junction with the A690 to celebrate, I don’t remember the journey there or back, but what I do remember is being on my Dad’s shoulders and watching that open top bus with the players soaking up the atmosphere of thousands of well wishers and fans going crazy. On my Dad’s shoulders, I felt on top of the world, I really did. These special moments have stayed with me all my life and remain as special today as they were on that day many years ago.

From that day my love for Sunderland has grown and endured, I made friends because of football, and it brought me out of my shell. As anyone will tell you there haven’t been many things to cheer about being a Sunderland fan over the years, but its not about success, its about belonging to something bigger, something special and yes, nostalgia plays a huge part too. I know people who follow Manchester United, but they aren’t really part of it like you can be when you support your local team, or am I wrong? Maybe their story is just as special to them.

From the age of 13, I was allowed to go to home games with my mates, these were good times and later when I started working at 16 away games too. Being part of something big, local and passionate is a very special feeling, whether you follow Sunderland or Newcastle, the feelings are the same, the reasons we choose red and white or black and white are unique to each of us, but what matters is not which team we follow, but why we follow them.

There are millions of football supporters around the world, there are hundreds of thousands in the North East of England. Two cities less than 20 Miles apart, Sunderland and Newcastle, two great rivers, the Wear and the Tyne, both steeped in England’s great and proud ship building and coal mining past, their iconic grounds testament to the importance of football in this great region. There isn’t much left to be proud of in our are or our country today, so football and our allegiances, our history, plays a huge part in having something to be passionate about, to belong to.

When those two teams play in the 147th North East derby today, there will be thousands of stories and memories flooding through the minds of both sets of supporters, all adding to the occasion, my story is only one. There will be people who will have sad memories or have maybe forgotten why they support their team, my hope is that this short story reminds some of you why and what it means to you. It’s a game and no matter who wins, we all win if we can connect with something special, a memory.

The walls of the Stadium of Light and St James Park are testament to people who have passed away, their names on the bricks in the walls of these two great proud football grounds and communities, this story is also in memory of all those who loved football and are no longer with us, R.I.P and look down on your team and loved ones today, as i’m sure you do everyday, and be sure that you are never far from our thoughts too.

This is dedicated to football supporters which ever team you support and to your special memories and the reasons why we follow our chosen team, I think for most of us, there is a story to tell, if you have a story of how football impacts on your life, and would like to share it, please feel free to send it to me and I will post it here with my own story.

Written by Paul Parkin on Sunday April 4th 2013 and dedicated to the people of the North East of England.

Please ‘share’ this story with anyone who supports any football team and has a passion or special reason for following the beautiful game.