Salut! Sunderland was asked, but two thirds of it was going to the match and Setanta couldn’t stump up the fare to get the other third from the south of France to London.
When the offer was relayed to members of the Blackcats list, Stephen Worthy* leapt at the chance and spent Sunday afternoon in the studio with fans of other relegation-haunted teams, including a certain Newcastle United.
Here is a blow-by-blow account from Stephen – aka Griff, a rock, motoring and former SAFC fanzine (It’s The Hope I Can’t Stand) writer – of a special way of seeing us to safety, Toon safely doon and a Mag safely home …
I’ve made some bad decisions in my time. Like the time I turned down a girl at school for a date; she went on to become a top international model.
But when the Salut! Sunderland editor put out an e-mail last week asking if someone wanted to become the Sunderland representative on a Setanta Sports News fans’ panel for the last weekend of the Premiership season, it sounded like a good gig. At first.
Yet, as the day grew closer, I started to have the kind of cold, clammy 6am premonitions that I used to have leading up to exams. Fool, Worthy, I thought. What if Sunderland do go down? And what if the Mags stay up in our place? Was the world ready for the first act of footballing hari-kari to be committed live on national television?
I was joined by supporters from the three other relegation candidates to watch feeds on a bank of TVs of all four games involving our teams, while Setanta’s plummy-accented presenter, with a name that sounds like a gentlemen’s club, Ashley House, switched to each of us in turn asking for updates and bombarding us with questions. It’s kinda like Soccer Saturday without the arrogant, know-nothing ex-footballers.
In fact, there was one footballer on the show, but I’d never call him arrogant or know-nothing. At least not to his face. That’s because it was the legendary Spurs, Chelsea and Rangers hardman, Graham Roberts. He’s still got a stare that can crack walnuts. At the start of the show, he filled me with more dread.
“I tell you who I most fear for today,” he opined, before looking towards me. “And it’s Sunderland.” The beginnings of a wry smile broke on Graham’s mouth while an icy chill shot down my neck.
Thankfully, as we now know, in this particular instance, Graham didn’t know what he was talking about either.
Very soon, it was the Newcastle fan, Ben, who was the one with his head in his hands as the near misses on Steve Harper’s goal totted up. Then Gibson scored his cracker for Man United’s Third XI and the Hull fan sat next to me, Richard, groaned audibly.
Something of a veteran of this programme, he got out a bag of wine gums and passed them around. Maybe it was an attempt to stop the gloating from across the table, where the Middlesbrough fan, Andy, and Ben the Mag sat, by occupying their gobs for a couple of minutes.
People have asked was I nervous?
If you are talking relegation then yes, although it would take until half-time, with Sunderland v Chelsea goalless, before my mood was lifted.
But I wasn’t nervous because I was on TV. The studio isn’t much bigger than an average sitting room. Besides the round table we were sitting at there were five LCD TVs and four TV cameras with autocues on, all operated remotely.
There were none of the clich