Soapbox: It’s a wonderful life


Pete Sixsmith looks at a vital win achieved without a manager, and like Black, Jimmy Stewart and the population of Bedford Falls he decides that football is a Wonderful Life – when you are winning!!

Wasn’t it nice to see and hear a Sunderland manager laughing and joking with the ladies and gentlemen of the press on Saturday? After listening to Mick McCarthy’s often tortured and convoluted attempts to get one over on the media, followed by Roy Keane’s ‘Who are you to challenge me on anything?’ attitude, Ricky Sbragia comes across as an easy going, relaxed kinda guy, who is comfortable with his situation and who just loves working with players.

Some of the routines that Roy brought in, which I gather made many of the players see the SoL as Stalag Keaneo, have been dropped. I would imagine that the management at The Ramside are disappointed and that Durham’s taxi drivers are cursing the departure of the Bearded One, but the decision to allow the players to spend the night in their own beds (or that of someone close to them), seems to have had a positive effect.

For many of us, a night away from home is an adventure, a chance to eat and drink the contents of the mini-bar, complain about the shower head, run up and down the corridor in your underpants and scoff a huge breakfast that you don’t really want but you’ve paid for, so you might as well wolf it down. I guess if you are doing it every week it becomes a bit of a drag.

George Herd could never sleep in any bed other than his own, and even Alan Brown (the man Brian Clough modelled himself on and therefore, indirectly, an invisible mentor to Roy Keane) allowed the Scottish inside forward to travel as late as he could to an away game. Mind you, The Bomber once sent Calvin Palmer home from Sheffield because he refused to go on a team outing to the cinema, putting forward the spurious argument that he had seen the film.

Anyway, Ricky does not appear to be out of the authoritarian school at all. He seems to be the kind of guy who trusts players to look after themselves and to do things right, a bit like the easy going teacher on the school trip to Belgium who would allow the older boys to sample some of that nation’s finest brews whilst counselling them about over-indulgence.

He couldn’t have had two better games to start with. Nothing was expected at Old Trafford, while we will not play a worse team than Albion this season. A 4-0 win is a real luxury and although it leaves us in the third relegation place, there is a gap opening up between the pack and the bottom two. Blackburn will probably change their manager this week, while the Baggies will stick with Mowbray and will certainly go down with him.

They were very, very poor on Saturday. They could not defend the ball being knocked across them and our first half goals all came from good crosses. Reid and Steed played two beauties in, and it looks as if Sbragia has told them to lay in balls that can be attacked by Kenwyne and The Exotic One. Mowbray’s face, craggy at the best of times, became so craggy in the second half that Ted, Dougal, Jack and Mrs Doyle could have lived on it. They have taken over from us as the ultimate yo-yo team as they face their third relegation from the Premier League.

Lots of positives on Saturday, with Keane’s signings showing us how good they are. Malbranque was tremendous and I can understand his frustration at having to come off, but when would Carlos get a better opportunity to show what he can do? I thought he looked pretty good in his 30 minute cameo.

Teemu Tainio, the Lovable Lapp, also played really well and continued to look like a re-incarnation of Stefan Schwartz. I think Whitehead may well have his work cut out trying to get back into this team.

So, a trip to the Codheads on Saturday and a chance to visit that Sam Smith’s pub in Beverley where beer is still 1/6d a pint, the rooms are lit by gas and Clem Attlee is forever Prime Minister. There may be a new man in charge by then, but I would not wager too much on it.

Altogether now ‘Ricky Sbragia’s Red and White Army’!!!

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