Soapbox on tour: from Baden-Wurtemberg to bad and worse


It seems an awful long way to go to see the Lads comfortably beaten in a friendly, depressing everyone about the start of the real season. Pete Sixsmith endured the awfulness of Sunderland’s performance and took consolation in being able to see parts of Europe where, on this evidence, SAFC are unlikely to be called upon for competitive football any time soon …

The trip is over. We are back in County Durham, tired and worn out, after a 70km detour through northern France, because the bloody navigator in the car thought Ghent was to the east of Brussels and not to the west.

Too busy texting and thinking about the splendid time they had had in Heidelberg and Sinsheim and about the miserable 90 minutes spent in the very impressive Rhein-Neckar Arena to look at the traffic signs. Idiot …

There was plenty to think about regarding the game, although and an 18-hour car journey means that too much of it goes on. It was a friendly and the manager has made it clear that he doesn’t much care for them. This approach to pre-season games was effectively transferred to the first half team, who looked about as interested and motivated as a group of beery football fans would be at a seminar held by Gok Kwan.

Let’s hope the inadequate performances of the likes of Richardson, Malbranque, Da Silva and Bent will be forgotten about on Saturday. On a more worrying note, Lee Cattermole struggled throughout and was nowhere near the pace of the game. He eventually hobbled off and something did not seem quite right with him. Last season’s injury problems appear not to be behind him.

The two goals conceded in the first half were awful. Jones completely missed Simunic for the first one, and a slick passing move that made Richardson look foolish set up the second – although it may have been offside; the referee did not make any controversial decisions and strolled through the game a la George Courtney.

The second half was a bit brighter as Al-Muhammadi, Henderson, Colback, Cook and Waghorn offered enthusiasm and effort, but revealed themselves to be way below the skill and control levels exhibited by the young Hoffenheim players who came on.

Henderson took his goal well, although it was from an indirect free kick, but shabby defending immediately afterwards restored TSG’s 2 goal lead. They played the game out comfortably.

They were a very neat and tidy side to watch. Passes were accurate, players knew where to go and those with the ball knew where to find them. They had two players of West African origins in Ba and Mlapa and they were the epitome of good footballers from that region. Tall, rangy and with the ability to control a ball and make a telling pass, they danced past our statuesque defenders and consistently outstripped them for pace.

The one positive to take out of this was Simon Mignolet. He had a very impressive game, making a number of vital saves. Like Craig Gordon, he spreads himself well and, less like Craig, he commands his box. He could well be in the starting line up on Saturday.

The game did not spoil another very enjoyable day. We gathered in Sinsheim, which is where Hoffenheim play, and ended up in a small, street corner bar, hunted out by Paul Dobson the previous day. Good beer, good conversation with the locals and fellow Sunderland fans and then a 10-minute bus ride to the very, very impressive stadium.
It is similar in location and feel to the Madjeski Stadium at Reading. Like Reading, they are a club without a history of top flight football and they intend to make the most of it. The whole area in front of the stadium is a fan zone, with bars, games, food outlets etc to service the huge car parks.

Inside they have standing areas that can be converted into seats with the turn of a wing nut. The rake on the terraces is steep, giving good sight lines for all. The pitch was in excellent condition mostly because the fresh air gets to it through gaps between the roof and the outer wall a la Ashburton Grove, and the atmosphere generated is pretty good due to acoustics that allow the noise to ring around rather than dissipate.

We walked back into Sinsheim and sat in the sun outside our new home. Eddie (a Mackem from Sunderland) and Dave (definitely not a Mackem from Boldon Colliery) and Peter from Morpeth made for excellent crack as the afternoon wore on.


Sobs retired to the Bear Hotel ( disappointingly named after Teddy Bears and not those that excrete in forested areas) , before we left for the train back to our beloved Heidelberg, where we witnessed a splendid fight between a grizzled philosopher, complete with matted beard and tatty denim jacket and one of the Younger School, who rode a mountain bike and wore a hoodie. It ended in a draw.

So, another pre-season over and the anticipation is now focused on Saturday. This was a most enjoyable trip and it is a great way to see parts of Europe that you may never get the chance to see again – the suburbs of Brussels, the Lille Ring Road and the services at Thurrock, which is quite the most ghastly place I have seen in my life.

Birmingham City up next …

11 thoughts on “Soapbox on tour: from Baden-Wurtemberg to bad and worse”

  1. If Given could be magnificent for us once again, I could forgive him pretty much anything. And, whatever he may have said in the past (and perhaps might say again) about never really being a Sunderland player, I think Malcolm’s right — the guy’s a pro who would give his all.
    This, of course, is pure speculation. I don’t believe there’s any indication that he might return to Sunderland.

  2. There’s a fundamemtal difference between lads who have played for the Mags and those who “are Mags.” The former are the likes of Bracewell and Waddle (who would ever say that CW was a Mag?) and the latter the likes of Clark and Chopra who were born in the yard of the devil, played there and will die as Mags. That’s a fundamental difference. The reservations that we should have for the likes of Bramble should focus of the fact that for many years, and particularly during his time at the arena he exhibited the attentional capability of a worm during games, and not the fact that he once wore their colours., If he has changed, then so much the better that he stunk the place out when he was playing for them and is now putting in the sorts of performances in the top flight, that his detractors would prefer to ignore. This has got nothing to do with Given at all but I can see why a bloke who has spent most of his career playing in the top flight would not necessarily be over excited about a Championship winners medal. It’s a little bit like being recognised for being the world’s tallest midget.

  3. I’m sort of with Terry on this. Even allowing for proper allegiance to the club you’re playing for, Given did seem to go out of his way to distance himself from us. I thought he was magnificent in that promotion season and it was a bitter disappointment that he not only didn’t come to us but went to the Mags and made comments of the kind terry recalls.

    Lee Clark was/is an out and out Mag, not just someone employed for a long time by them, and any hostility he feels towards Sunderland is hardly so different from emotions running in the opposite direction. And he did an utterly professional job for us, though I love the story that it took the fifth bottle of champagne with Peter Reid at the Yarm Country Club to get him to come.

  4. I wanted to see Carlisle v Huddersfield yesterday to mock Lee Clark for 90 minutes while waving Sunderland memorabilia at him – alas I did not go.

    And I wouldn’t mind Given on loan here, if solely for the reason it would annoy the Mags. Heck, I’d have him on loan here to warm the bench for Mignolet to annoy him AND the Mags.

    I have faith in Mignolet to do the job he’s been signed to do, at least until Saturday evening. Then I may re-evaluate.

  5. I know what you mean. I don’t have a problem with Given’s professionalism, just his contempt for us.

    Lee Clark was different. Another 100%er but he got half pissed and stitched up at Wembley. He had to go but I wouldn’t have been bothered if he’d stayed. Good, sound, player. The 98 season, with Clark, Ball, Rae, Summerbee and Johnston in the middle is still my favourite.

    To be fair though, with SKP and NQ up front, it felt that you started every game 1-0 up.

  6. I empathise with your views Terry but I think Given is a pro who will give his all whatever club he plays for. There are a lot of others I can think of who are purely mercenary, happy to collect the cash and spit out their dummies when things don’t work out and who won’t carry on battling when the going gets tough. I don’t see Given that way. Early reports on Mignolet are encouraging but even so we need some sort of loan cover until Gordon is fit again. Two keepers aren’t enough. If Given is Hobson’s choice he’ll do in my book.

    Lee Clarke’s tee shirt incident was stupid and he should have known better. Afterwards I don’t think he would ever have had the same respect from Sunderland fans as before but there is no questioning his commitment when he wore the red and white.

    I’m no big fan of Bramble either but I won’t let his club history influence me. I’ll wait and see how he plays before deciding whether he has strengthened our squad or not. My concerns are about his ability not his ex employers.

  7. Sorry Bill but after his comments ‘I was never a Sunderland player. I was a Blackburn player loaned to Sunderland’, and confessing that the only medal he’d ever won (the Championship medal with us) was ‘probably at the back of the garage somewhere’ I’d be quite happy to stick him on Colin’s Boo list.

  8. I read, by the way, that with Man City deciding not to lend Hart to Sunderland, Shay Given is saying that if he’s not City’s first choice as goalie, he’ll want away. He also says that a loan deal might be acceptable. So if Mignolet DOESN’T work out at the SoL….

  9. Way, WAY too familiar. And, bloody hell, Cattermole hurt again? Good to hear about Mignolet, though.
    I don’t understand Bruce’s attitude toward pre-season friendlies. You don’t have to like them but they’re a useful warmup and it has to be good psychologically to start the season proper with a couple of wins behind you. It’s not enough just to stroll the matches not caring about the result. You can hardly blame the players for a lacklustre effort if the manager clearly doesn’t care. But now they have to refocus for Saturday’s game. A bit more energy and effort expended in Germany might have made that easier.

  10. As Sunderland fans we are used to false optimism and the disappointment that ineveitably leads to gloom and despondency. Just like my beer glass the more than half full rapidly becomes the almost empty. A week ago I was looking forward to the new season. An almost fully fit squad, some new signings and a few fringe players off and away but it is beginning to feel like we have suffered from more spin than the Pakistani batsmen already. Cattermole still with a niggly injury, Bent’s gippy back, Mensah and Riveros not in the frame, Angeleri dodgy, Turner suspended. I shall be there on Saturday and still hopeful of something to cheer about but I agree Tony. Shabby defending is a concept with which we are way too familiar.

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