Sir Tim Rice: passions for American music, lacrosse and the Lads

There is unlikely to be appetite for dwelling much longer on the disappointment of three successive defeats in games we led from the early stages and ought, in two cases out of three, to have gone on and won.

So let us delve instead into the Salut! Sunderland archive for another blast of nostalgia.

Sir Tim Rice was the first celebrity follower of Sunderland to be interviewed in my series for what was then 5573 – think of the date of our last FA Cup Final win – and soon afterwards became Wear Down South, newsletter of the London & SE branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association.

An interview on the radio as I drove up the A1 for Saturday’s match – that’s an 800km (more impressive than miles) round trip, Niall, to put this bum on an East Stand seat – put me in mind to re-run the interview, which would have been seen by relatively few people when first published in 2000 and reproduced here, in times of much lighter Salut! Sunderland traffic, three years or so ago.

Sir Tim made no mention of SAFC, not surprising since he was on Graham Norton’s show to talk about his Thursday night – or nite as his website insists – Radio 2 series Tim Rice’s American Pie, drawing on his formidable knowledge of US music.

But I did toss a silent rebuke in his direction when he described his plans for the evening: a lacrosse match (unexplained: maybe a family member or something from his community interests) followed, possibly, by a show. I waited in vain for any reference to fretting about/eagerly anticipating the not insignificant matter of SAFC v Tottenham Hotspur at 5.30pm.

It strikes me that the time may be ripe for an update of Sir Tim’s original interview, just for reassurance that he maintains the improbable affection he formed for Sunderland AFC back when he was a schoolboy in Hertfordshire.

But this is how that allegiance was described for 5573 readers, with minor changes to take account of the time that has elapsed since it first appeared …

Rice crisply: lyrical about the Lads

Top writer, lyricist and broadcaster that he is, Sir Tim Rice has won plenty of plaudits and awards. For his real career break, however, he was chosen as the very first subject in the series of Celebrity Supporter interviews for 5573. As I pointed out at the time, near the end of 2000, Tim had an important quality in common with others who follow Sunderland: he can hardly be called a glory seeker. The interview took place in exciting times – the second of our seventh top Premiership seasons under Peter Reid – but Tim was no fair weather or bandwagon-jumping fan, having been fond of Sunderland since boyhood …

In his Who’s Who entry, Sir Tim Rice lists his interests as cricket, the history of popular music and, intriguingly, chickens.

Perhaps he ran out of room while filling out his form. For Tim has a fourth interest shared by most readers of 5573, as it was, and Salut! Sunderland. He is an avid supporter of Sunderland AFC.

No member of the Rice family is known to have worked in the Wearside collieries or shipyards, or grown up in the towns and villages of County Durham that traditionally make up the club’s broader catchment area.

But in an early display of his individualistic streak, nine-year-old Timothy made a choice that was to turn into a lifelong obsession.

At his Harpenden prep school – and yes, he cheerfully accepts that this, too, sets him apart from other Sunderland fans – the majority of his pals decided they would support Wolves, then First (as in Premier) Division champions, a London side or even one of the nearby clubs, Luton or Watford.

“I was quite sure I wanted my team to be one no one else had got,” Tim told me. “I chose Sunderland purely because I liked the name. I had no idea where it actually was. Only afterwards did I find out I’d chosen the one that was about the furthest away of any.”

It was four years before he was taken by his father to see the Lads play. A match at Stamford Bridge was followed by visits to other away games in London.

While many of us would love to see the impact on Man Utd’s universal support of a few seasons in the doldrums – and I mean rather more than finishing outside the top two or three once in a blue moon – Tim’s attachment to Sunderland survived the calamitous first relegation in the club’s history in 1958.

His debut at Roker Park had to wait until the heady days of 1973, when he saw the Man City and Luton games on the way to FA Cup glory. He also managed to get to the Hillsborough semi-final against Arsenal, and to the magical final against Leeds that gave 5573 its name.

Over the years, he has seen on average just one or two games a season. Recent highs – and this meant “recent” to 2000! – have included the electrifying 2-0 win over Sheffield Utd that took us to the 1998 promotion play-off final.

He also found himself in Tony Blair’s company for the 2-2 draw at home to Man Utd at Christmas 1999.

Stand by for a scoop (one picked up at the time by The Daily Telegraph and Northern Echo): our then Prime Minister’s desire to be all things to all men reached its logical conclusion that night. He announced to Tim that he was a Sunderland devotee.

This may come as a shock to those who though Tony was an avowed Mag. It certainly surprised Tim Rice. “I just thought it was bonkers,” he said.

At the time of speaking to 5573, Tim was looking forward to another trip to the Stadium of light, with David Essex, a Hammers fan, for a 5th round cup tie (his famous friend was to end up happier after West Ham beat us).

He was (when interviewed) as delighted as anyone to see the club higher than at any time in his decades years as a supporter. But he says he would have been “quite genuinely bored out of my skull” supporting Man Utd or even Liverpool, teams that have come to expect to win more or less every game.

“I remember being very upset about the relegation in 1958, and even worse when we went down to the third for a season. But it’s probably good for the soul. I just cannot understand how people can care that much about Man Utd unless they were brought up in Manchester.”

With a career that has included shows on Broadway, and commitments in various parts of the world, Tim spends a lot of time out of the country. He keeps in touch via the internet, looking up the club site or Radio 5 Live.

He has seen live televised football when in America, but never a game featuring Sunderland; “for some reason it always seems to be Ipswich”.

He wants to know, wherever he is, how the Lads have done. but doesn’t fret about getting the result as soon as the final whistle has sounded thousands of miles away. “I am quite happy to wait and savour the moment,” he said.

Much as Tim loves cricket, his involvement with the MCC and the Lord’s Taverners made him feel like a part of the sport’s establishment, whereas with football, he’s a fan.

Not every fan, of course, can buy 10,000 shares in the club he supports, as he did in pre-Drumaville days.

But there is something to be admired in anyone who sticks as faithfully to a club through some fairly miserable times.

In a slightly rushed conversation – though Tim did show an impressive sense of priorities, keeping someone waiting until we had finished – I never did get round to asking him about the interest in chickens.

* Click here for a lighthearted look at the rights and wrongs of choosing your football club

** Tim Rice’s career has been far too long and varied to detail here. With Andrew Lloyd Webber, he wrote hit shows including Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. He collaborated with Abba’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus on what became Chess. In 1991 Disney recruited him as the lyricist for The Lion King and a whole posting could be devoted to what he’s done since. He was knighted in 1994 and awarded an honorary doctorate by Sunderland University at a ceremony at the SoL in 2006. Read more at his own website.

*** And if you fancy CDs, books or anything else related to Sir Time Rice, try Salut! Sunderland’s Amazon link by clicking here.

Monsieur Salut

2 thoughts on “Sir Tim Rice: passions for American music, lacrosse and the Lads”

  1. Met Gary from Slough in Barbados in ’87 n he supported the lads after seeing them at the Reading away replay in 73. He loved the lads that much he moved up a couple of years later n still lives in the area after marrying a local girl. Also met a Tanzanian in the Indian ocean who supported SAFC after his village received donated Sunderland strips. I now live in Spain and have met quite a few SAFC suporters around the Costa Blanca.

  2. Interesting article M. Salut. Interesting not because Tim is famous but simply because he chose Sunderland originally for no other reason than liking the name.

    I remember some 30 + years ago standing outside the Fulwell early one afternoon and commenting that the following weekend’s fixture at Fulham was a long way. Two lads piped up “It’s only three miles for us!” in broad Cockney accents. They were decked out in red and white of course, and they told me that the FA Cup win in 1973 had made them SAFC fans. I was really astonished at this as I thought the furthest our fans would come from would be Bishop Auckland or Consett etc. I never saw them again although they assured me they were regulars. I’ve met one or two people who got switched on to Sunderland as a result of 1973 since.

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