Soapbox: things can only get better


Desperate for an antidote to the blues inflicted by our wretched performance at Upton Park, Pete Sixsmith joined Quakers fans at Darlington v Wycombe Wanderers. He saw the sort of writing on the wall that threatens not only Darlo but Southampton and Charlton, and raises nervous questions about the fate of Sunderland, if relegated…

Forgive me
for using this again, but there is a classic line in Fawlty Towers where O’Reilly, the useless Irish builder, tells Basil: “Cheer up, there’s always someone worse off than you.” To which Fawlty replies: “Is there? Well, I’d like to meet him, I could do with a good laugh.”

Life is grim for us Sunderland fans at the moment. The pronouncements coming from the Stadium and Ricky Sbragia’s office in particular, are as optimistic and upbeat as a missive from Eeyore the Donkey on how to be more miserable than ever before. But if it’s bad for us, it’s even worse for Darlington fans.

Unlike watching Fawlty, there were no laughs to be had out of visiting the Northern Echo Arena last night. I see Darlo three or four times a season with some good friends who are dyed in the wool Quakers fans and went along partly to see my mate Alan Pinkney and partly because another mate had dropped his season ticket off for me so it was a free night.

The opposition, Wycombe Wanderers, were attractive, and had it not been for the 10 point deduction imposed on the Quakers for going into administration, this would have been a promotion six pointer. Wycombe were still looking for an automatic place in a league where nobody seems to want to finish in the top three.

Darlington are in serious trouble. The club is being run by administrators and rumours are circulating that if they are not bought by the end of April, they will be wound up. It’s difficult to see a Drumaville or an Ellis Short coming in here because it is the club and the club only that is up for sale. The stadium is owned by the previous chairman and he is not looking to sell.

If you haven’t been there, they relocated to a bland out of town site a few years ago, when Sunderland-born (and alleged Sunderland fan) George Reynolds was the owner. Leaving charming, idiosyncratic, town centre Feethams behind, he bought some empty land just off the ring road – and then proceeded to build a 25,000 seater stadium. By most calculations it was at least 50 per cent too big and, apart from the day it opened (2-0 defeat to Kidderminster, with Reynolds delighted because all the pies had been sold), there has not been a crowd of above 8,000 for a football match.

Now, it is looking forlorn. The East side of the ground has never been used and the administrators have closed the North Stand, leaving one side in full use and a small area in the South Stand for visiting fans (hardly used by the handful of travelling Chairboys). The drum bangers and serial Barmy Army shouters are now in with the regular fans and don’t we know it. The game is constantly noisy as both sets of fans hammer away at their percussion and Wycombe even have a trumpeter. I am of the view that any club that has a drummer should immediately be docked 30 points, thereby bringing an end to our relegation fears as Blackburn and Bolton go back to where they belong.

The first half is awful as both sides see how far they can kick the ball into open space and it becomes clear why Peter Taylor is the most overrated manager ever. A goal is conjured from nowhere by Wycombe and they go in 1-0 up at the break. A second half of unremitting gloom beckons.

But it turns out to be a cracker. Quakers deservedly equalise and the game is real nip and tuck, with Wycombe just getting on top in the last ten minutes. The Darlington goalkeeper, Przemyslaw Kazimierczak (I think he may be Polish), makes a stunning save, only to be beaten by a last minute header to put Wanderers back in the top three.

Sloping back to the car, Alan remains optimistic about the future and hopes that Sunderland stay up. He chuckles when he hears of Jonah Horan and his season ticket and says that he hopes to be in a position to shell out for one next season for Football League games and not Unibond fare.

Could a big club end up like this? Southampton are flying as close to the wind as anyone and Charlton are rumoured to be in serious trouble. If we go down again, will we find investors in the current financial climate? Would Ellis Short be interested in trips to Blackpool, Peterborough and Swansea? How many fans would walk away never to return?

We cannot afford to go down for the sixth time in 24 years. Manchester United are struggling at the moment so maybe we will never have a better chance to get at them – but then we thought that about West Ham last Saturday.

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