Every Sunderland supporter, and probably quite a few neutrals, will be rooting for Kevin Ball’s Under 18 side tonight when they take on Man City in the first leg of the FA Youth Cup semi-finals after a heartening run of great results.
The venue, rightly, is the Stadium of Light, where several of Bally’s squad – (picture credit: BBC) -have excelled already this season, giving real hope that the Academy is producing stars for the future, our future. The two-leg clash will be decided at the return fixture, to be played next Tuesday at the City of Manchester stadium.
Thanks to Pete Sixsmith’s voracious appetite for football at any level, Salut! Sunderland has charted a little of the progress of the team and will be represented at tonight’s game. His verdict should appear here tomorrow.
Out here in the Gulf, my own thoughts turned to the young SAFC players as I sat in the sunshine fielding a barrage of questions about English football from Julien, the son of a visiting French friend.
If I can put my folkie’s hat on for a second, the climax of the conversation was something of a Christine Collister moment, so named after an encounter the singer had with a bunch of primary schoolchildren on Tyneside. Their teacher had persuaded Christine to talk to her class the morning after seeing her in concert in Newcastle, and the children refused to let her go until she had sung them a song.
When Christine finished, a little girl piped up: “How miss, yer just like a proppa singa!”
Julien has, of course, never heard of Christine Collister. He has heard of Sunderland, though he shares his father’s amusement that anyone should feel so passionate about our club.
In fact, Julien is pretty much typical of young glory-seekers everywhere, supporting – in no particular order – Man Utd, Arsenal, Barcelona and Lyon. To be fair, he does also follow his home town team, Le Mans, though this may be because they are doing surprisingly well in the French top flight this season and have a player called Pele. Whether his interest would survive, say, a relegation may be another matter.
His detailed knowledge of all those teams is impressive. But when I tired of answering his questions, some of which caught me out, I decided to turn the tables.
What did he know about our Under 18s’ brilliant cup run? Nothing. And what, I asked one by one, are the Christian names of Bardsley, Evans, Jones, Gordon, Richardson etc?
He could give none of them. But when I mocked him about this, he had a ready retort, turning to his dad and exclaiming: “Mais papa, he’s not asking me about proper players.”
Let’s hope that one day, my little French friend recognises the names of Waghorn, Henderson and the rest, is readily able to put Martyn, Jordan etc in front of them, knows them from the Red and White stripes they wear and the games they play…… and admits that they’re proper players.