Who are you? We’re Arsenal (2)


Salut! Sunderland naturally considered Nick Hornby, Piers Morgan and similar Arsenal glory seekers when it became clear that the last game of the season should have a second Who Are They? Then we remembered that there are a few real supporters, too. Step forward Richard Stickland* – Stickers to his pals, and that’s him kneeling far left in the front row of a squad of Gooners before the losing FA Cup final against Liverpool in 2001. He fondly remembers Big Niall as “Snakey-boy”, less fondly recalls a Lord Gary Rowell hat-trick at Roker Park and generously, for us, predicts a point apiece on Sunday….

Sunderland to me means long boozy weekends staying with my friends Davey and Julie, who are massive Sunderland fans, at their house in Langley Park.

In fact myself, my brother Roy and our friend Chris have often imposed on their hospitality, for our visits to Newcastle and Middlesbrough as well as for Sunderland matches.

A typical weekend up north would involve driving up on Friday, having a couple of beers and some food before getting a taxi to Durham for an old fashioned pub crawl, which died out in London years ago.

Saturday was usually match day, where we would go to a pub near the Stadium of Light for a couple of liveners before the match. Saturday evening would invariably be spent in the Tap and Spile pub in Framwellgate Moor, for some serious real ale drinking. Sunday morning we would feed our hangovers with huge bacon baps before travelling back down the motorway to London.

One Sunderland game I remember missing. My older brother Jeff announced in 1984 that he was getting married and was trying to sort the date out for the ceremony.

Myself and Roy duly presented him with an Arsenal fixture list with instructions that he must choose a Saturday when Arsenal were away, otherwise he would have two empty seats at the register office.

The date he decided on was March 3 1984 , which coincided with the Sunderland v Arsenal Division One match at Roker Park, which ended in a 2-2 draw. I missed Tony Woodcock’s 40-yard goal that day. I hope my brother appreciated my sacrifice.

And now for your questions…..

When did you last see a SAFC v Arsenal game home or away, and what happened? Any other memorable games between us?

I went to the Arsenal v Sunderland league match earlier this season, last October in fact. Arsenal won 3 – 2. Sunderland came from 2 – 0 down to tie the game up, but Van Persie scored his second goal of the day to seal the victory. Paul McShane was given a straight red in the dying seconds for a clumsy challenge on Alex Hleb, Scorers: Arsenal:Robin Van Persie 2, Philippe Senderos, Sunderland: Ross Wallace, Kenwyne Jones.

Have you been to the Stadium of Light (obviously the last question may answer that. If so what did you make of it? What do you think of Sunderland itself? Or if not, had you ever been to Roker Park?

The Stadium of Light was very impressive, but I must confess to not actually going into Sunderland itself since the 80’s, when Roker Park was your home. Memories of Roker Park include a 3-0 thumping in which Gary Rowell scored a hat trick, back in 1982. To make matters worse it was a bitterly cold day and most of us away fans were only wearing light jackets, jeans and trainers.

Do you think supporting Arsenal is a better or worse experience than supporting a less successful club, in that you are programmed to expect, more or less, to win every game, every trophy?

I would say it has been a great experience supporting Arsenal, and the success that they have had really brings the memories flooding back. However I started following them in the mid seventies when we were not so successful, and i would support them through barren times, through thick and thin.

What about the signings each club made this season?

I have been very impressed with Kenwyne Jones, who I believe you signed from Southampton last August, I think he will impress even more next season. Bacary Sagna established himself as first choice right back for us this season and has been a revelation. He has been out injured for the last few weeks and it shows in a back line that has started to struggle a little..

Your predictions for both clubs for next season

I am hoping that Arsenal win the league next season, if we make some key signings then I predict an even closer race. I predict that Sunderland will finish a respectable 12th, I can see Roy Keane going from strength to strength.

Do you regard Spurs much as we regard Newcastle? Or are you more grown-up about such things?

Tottenham are our closest rivals in terms of distance, but the majority of Gooners these days regards Chelsea and Manchester United as main rivals.

Memories of players and/or management linked to both clubs? Kevin Phillips was a Gooner as a lad. Niall Quinn is one obvious example of someone who played for both, Justin Hoyte and Anthony Stokes are others. Alan Sunderland would be cheating.

I remember John Hawley, who we bought from Sunderland in 1981 for the princely sum of £50,000 (They call that a weeks wage nowadays). on one ocassion he scored away at Notts County. We ended up losing 2 -1, having been reduced to 10 men after the hairy man mountain that was Brian Kilcline clattered our diminutive striker Brian McDermott. McDermott being stretchered off and Kilcline not even receiving a ticking off. How times change.
I also of course remember Niall Quinn fondly. A great performer for the Gunners. In my circle of Arsenal friends we referred to Niall as Snakey-boy, after we read a funny letter in the programme from a Swedish fan who desribed him as ‘A big snake lurking at the far post’.

* Club vs country. Who wins for you?

Club (Arsenal) versus country (England). It’s a close call but I think club would just shade it, possibly on penalties. it is England after all.

* Who will win? Score? How will you keep tabs on the game?

Prediction for Sunday. Sunderland 1 Arsenal 1. We were in full end of season mode during the 1 – 0 win against Everton last week. Bendtner scored with one of only three good chances that we created, so unless we improved significantly on that performance I can see a draw at the Stadium of Light this Sunday. Unfortunately I will not be present but will keep tabs on the match by watching Sky, with a couple of cold ones would you believe.

*Stickers on Stickers:
Since I have lived in South London all my life, people still find it a little strange that I support Arsenal. But I have to remind them that Arsenal originated in South London, Woolwich and Plumstead being their homes before the move to North London. My first match was against West Ham in 1972 at Highbury. Since then I have travelled all over the country and Europe. The most disappointing trip was for the defeat by Barcelona in the Champions League final in Paris in 2006. There have been many highlights, one being the 3-2 FA Cup final victory against Manchester United in 1979, which was dubbed the 10-minute final as most of the action and goals occurred late in the last 10 minutes.

See what another Arsenal fan made of it.

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