Colin Randallcrowns a grand, pleasure-free day out at the Stadium of Light by sitting on a crowded Grand Central train stuck in the wilderness for more than three hours with no particular place to go
You know, said Lee, the man in the Wetherspoons pub before the game, I just have a feeling in my bones we’re going to beat them.
But didn’t Lee also think Aston Villa would win the Carling Cup, that Ryan Shawcross was a shade unlucky to be sent off and that the earth was very flat indeed?
In fact, isn’t Lee just the sort of optimist who’d convince himself the Grand Central train back down from Sunderland to Kings Cross would never in a million years manage to get stuck indefinitely behind a “failed train” in the middle of nowhere, allegedly between Huntingdon and Stevenage?
Perhaps it was always going to be that kind of day.
Fail to score against a team still half-asleep after midweek Europa League rigours. Fail to suggest for a second that we were capable of ending Steve Bruce’s lamentable post-November run of draws and defeats.
And then fail to get home before the small hours we are three hours into the wait as I write and still no sign of the loco that was belatedly summoned to clear the track of the wretched train blocking the line (update: see the Kings Cross platform clock above: the train arrived at ten to one, getting on for eight hours after it left Sunderland).
Stuck, then, on a train that ran out of sandwiches and beer almost immediately after the buffet opened. There never was any hot food, due to a “failed oven”. And stuck, because of some other railways cock-up, with scores of unfortunate people who had no seats and were forced to spend the short mobile and longer stationary segments of the “journey” from York standing, sitting and sleeping in the aisles.
Oh, and that great attraction of Grand Central services – free Wifi – was working in neither direction.
At one point the guard actually suggested that the hundreds of people crowded into every carriage should make their way to the buffet car to register an interest in taxis once we reached a sleeping London. It took her a few minutes to see the folly of that plan and withdraw the request.
Who was to blame? I do not know whether it was an East Coast, Grand Central or other train that got in our way. The pointed way that the guard directed stranded passengers to the platform at Kings Cross “where an East Coast representative will be waiting to assist you with your taxis” may have told its own story.
But whatever lessons Eurostar learnt from the Christmas debacle in the Channel Tunnel on how to make life bearable for people stuck for long spells in motionless trains have clearly not yet been passed on to Grand Central.
How sweet is the joy of following Sunderland.
When SAFC played out a scintillating 0-0 draw at home to Stoke City, I was on holiday in China and had my mobile phone switched on, but in silent mode, under the blankets of my Shanghai hotel bed.
That match kicked off at 3.45am. The wait for text messages from the Stadium of Light was long. If you exclude the very early one, about a blinding save by Craig Gordon from Whitehead, there were no text messages. No goals, no excitement, no obvious ability. Pete Sixsmith didn’t even think it worth troubling me with the scoreline.
Sunderland 0 Fulham 0 may have been, to those who had endured both, marginally better. I heard dissenting views even on that point as I waited for a train from the world’s least appealing main line railway terminus (Sunderland Central).
It is my habit never to leave a Sunderland game before the final whistle. Pete forced me to do it the day we went down with a 1-0 defeat at Wimbledon in 1997 because it was match we had to win, not draw, and he didn’t feel it worth missing his train from King’s Cross to see out a dismal game we were losing to the bitter end.
Yesterday, the idiocy of someone concerned with rail planning meant I had to get out of the Stadium of Light at about the 90-minute point. On a day Sunderland, known to bring a number of fans north by train from London for each home game. had a 3pm kickoff against the London club of Fulham, Grand Central had timed our London-bound train to leave Sunderland at 1710. It should be conceded that Fuham’s travelling support was pathetically small; perhaps Cottagers have lives. For the rest of us, it meant a sharp step across the bridge despite nipping out early to avoid the congested stadium exits.
Maybe Grand Central, unaware of the disruption ahead, was trying to do me a favour. I had, after all, just sat through quite enough footballing dross for one afternoon. Why subject me to stoppage time too?
Fulham had arrived, purring after their midweek progress in the Europa League but looking for no more than a point. They occasionally rose from their slumbers to play some decent passing moves without ever threatening our goal. Only Bobby Zamora seemed to care much, nagging away at John Mensah with scant regard for the laws of the game until he was booked and subbed in quick succession.
Fulham’s lack of ambition founds its perfect soulmate: Sunderland’s general ineptitude. No one gave less than a good shift in terms of effort. Too many Sunderland players, however, are just not good enough.
And we never seriously looked like scoring.
A couple of crosses flashed invitingly across the face of the Fulham goal with no one close enough to stab the ball home. A reasonable first-half move ended with Kenwyne Jones firing well over, but from outside the box. A dangerous free kick was rendered meaningless when the referee, Martin Atkinson, decided that eight yards back was quite sufficient for Fulham’s retreat. And a series of inelegant headers finally led to a half-decent volley from Darren Bent.
That was about it.
The run – if we are kind and exclude the FA Cup win over mighty Barrow, itself nine weeks ago, started at about 5pm on Nov 21, immediately after we had beaten Arsenal 1-0 – now looks like this:
And that’s being kind and making no mention of the FA Cup defeat at Pompey.
We are left needing six points from the next three games – all at home – to meet my minimum target of seven from the four successive matches at the Stadium of Light.
Do we look like getting them?
Er, keep the faith. And travel by coach.
* See also: Grand Central Stationary