You’re welcome here, kind stranger

Sorry, that’s the folkie in me coming out – a headline lifted straight from The Lakes Of Pontchartrain, a great American song made greater by Paul Brady and nothing whatever to do with Sunderland, except that Paul’s Irish, too.

But since I couldn’t help but notice a surge of interest today in Salut! Sunderland – best viewing figures so far…thanks – I felt it right to say hello.

There’s generally a reason when something unusual happens, of course. I rejoined the Black Cats chat forum today after nearly three years away, added a link to the blog on the Wikipedia site and generally tried to put some word about. The increased traffic is likely to be the result of that drum-beating – and I hope you like what you find enough to come back for another look.

For those who are new, I should also say a couple of things about what the site is, and what it’s not, and a little about who I am.

Salut! Sunderland is NOT any kind of self-styled rival to the official club site or to Ready to Go, A Love Supreme or the local papers that devote so much time and energy to SAFC topics.

Unlike any of them, it isn’t even based anywhere near the North East. I live for now in the south of France, where I am a freelance journalist after being made redundant by The Daily Telegraph, for which I worked for 29 years, most recently as its Paris correspondent.

So what this blog is trying to do is give a fan’s view and pass on what bits of news he comes across. I will gradually add all the Celebrity Supporter interviews I conducted for 5573 and Wear Down South, and – who knows? – maybe add one of two more.

Sixer’s Sevens, daft name though it may be, is merely an attempt to maintain topicality – Pete Sixsmith being the man I regard as my best friend and also someone who gets to loads of games and is Sunderland to the core.

Sixer attends an astonishing number of matches at all levels every season. Whether they involve Sunderland or Stenhousemuir or Seaham Town, he is better than anyone I know at reading them.

As for me, I launched Salut! Sunderland as a vehicle for the electronic outpourings of a middle-aged man who has been a passionate Sunderland fan since he was taken to see an away game at Boro in the early 1960s. It was settled by a Brian Clough goal (for us, I am pleased to say).

I was taken to the match, in the best traditions of how club loyalty is or used to be formed, by my dad. He was a Cockney who had moved north (there were loads of family connections, though I had the misfortune to be born in Hove). And he immersed himself in the region and its culture.

Part of that immersion was that he was for many years secretary not only of a workingmen’s club in Shildon, the town where I grew up (and where I am pictured, across the road from St John’s church), but also of its Northern League team.

Each year, his role brought him a ticket for the FA Cup Final. Fantastic news, in 1973, for his Sunderland-supporting son? Not likely. He’d promised his ticket elsewhere long before our cup run gathered steam and, being a thoroughy decent man, kept to his word.

It shouldn’t have mattered. A drink-sodden colleague – I was by then working for a local newspaper in London and he was its sports editor – promised me a ticket every day we spoke, from the Monday after the semi-final victory against Arsenal to the eve of the final itself.

The ticket never materialised and, though he was my neighbour in a company-owned flat, he was nowhere to be found on May 5 1973. Then, or soon afterwards, he disappeared from the flat and from the paper, to live in a caravan in East Anglia according to some.

And I watched the heroics of Monty and Porterfield at home in Uxbridge, later joining a whole gang of luckier, ticket-bearing fans from Shildon to celebrate at a workingmen’s club in Harrow.

So I missed that Wembley glory but was there for all the others, save one. Norwich in the Milk Cup, Liverpool in the FA Cup, Charlton in the play-off final. At least I missed out on the other play-off, against Swindon.

And now, as the Keano revolution grips our parts of the North East – and never forget, Sunderland is the Durham county side, whatever other ideas got into the heads of those local government reformers who invented Tyne & Wear – I am exiled on the Mediterranean coast.

There are worse places to be, as Lilian Laslandes – back at Nice and starring in their recent, four-wins-on-the-trot revival – would doubtless confirm.

But I am doing my utmost to keep in touch, and to make this site interesting enough to repay your effort in coming to it. Ha’way the Lads.

3 thoughts on “You’re welcome here, kind stranger”

  1. There are several good Irish pubs in Lyon – You may well be talking about the Saint James, a Sunday haunt of mine. There is also Johnnie Walsh’s which serves a terrific pint of Kilkenny. Talking of Irish pubs, I used to live in Basel and watched the Lads against Man U in an Irish pub that was full of Man U fans. It was New Years Day, I was very drunk and was roaring them on – I was the only one. After I ‘said’ to the Man U boys “It’s easy to be a Man U fan”, my young son said, ‘Sit down Dad, you’re embarrassin g us.” Such is the international life.

  2. That’s some commute…….I used to hate Lyon when I knew it only as a place to get stuck in traffic while tryng to go through it on the way south. But a succession of short stays there, mainly for work, completely changed my mind and it is now one of my favourite French cities – especially since the day I found an Irish pub in the old town and watched the glee of locals as their former player Patrice Carteron scored for us against the Mags. After returning for a good spell at St Etienne (Lyon’s big local rival, of course) he’s now seeing out the end of his career as one of the ex SAFC men playing along the coast from me – at Cannes in his case.

  3. Well, I just discovered this site. I too live in France, Lyon, commuting to London during the week to work. Originally from South Shields and a fan since 1963.
    All I can say at the moment is thank God for Quinn and Keane. It’s a magical time and it’s going to get better.
    Ha’way the Lads, indeed!!
    Cheer, Mike

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