Soapbox: season tickets, semi-finals and Nicky Sharkey

Season ticket renewal time has Pete Sixsmith momentarily undecided as he contrasts the snarling faces of Premier League football and honest-to-goodness non-league fare …

The season ticket forms dropped through the letterbox this week, closely followed by an email from the club telling me that I didn’t have to do anything and they would instruct my bank to carry on with the Direct Debits.

Of course, I can always cancel the DDs and the season ticket and I have had one or two little doubts creeping into the far corners of what passes for my mind. Some of it is to do with Sunderland AFC but most of it is about the general state of the Premier League and its “leading” clubs.

Premier League football has had a poor couple of weeks. Starting with Rooney’s infamous punch on McCarthy at Wigan, it has tobogganed rapidly downhill. The referee refused even to book him (red for Cattermole if he had done the same) and SAF decided to defend his player when really his actions were indefensible.

This was followed by his criticism of Martin Atkinson, where he said he wanted a “fair” ref; he quickly changed that to “competent”, but the damage was done. By and large referees at what ever level may be incompetent halfwits, but they do not cheat.

Along comes our old friend, Arsène Wenger, proclaiming himself “disgusted” at two marginal decisions that went against him last week and then throwing a dicky fit after his much vaunted (and completely overrated) team managed nil shots at Barcelona – although he may have had a point about van Persie’s sending off.

Finally, we have the prospect of having to pay £46 for the final game of the season at Pre-Olympic Park, which is definitely worth ripping up some bed sheets and organising a boycoutt a la St James’. I don’t think I will be coughing that up into the Pornographers’ coffers.

The whole bloody lot was thrown into perspective by a pair of games from lower down the Pyramid that I saw this week, coupled with a piece in this weekends Football Echo.

On Wednesday I saw a very competitive and enjoyable Northern League game between Shildon and Whitley Bay. We (Shildon) lost 2-1 to a side with all the attributes that a very good side need: strong defence, hard working midfield and two good forwards.

Shildon are top of the league, but have played more games than their nearest challengers, Spennymoor and Consett, and this result may well have cost them the chance of their first league title since Neville Chamberlain was scuttling backwards and forwards between London and Bavaria.

Like Arsenal, Shildon pass the ball well – and like Arsenal are sometimes found wanting when the chips are down. The management team, Gary Forrest and Stuart Niven, have done a superb job and are beyond criticism, but it could be a season of promise that results in nothing. Whitley Bay are two games away from their second home of Wembley and take on Poole Town in the FA Vase semi finals in a couple of weeks time.

In semi final mode, Pete Horan and I took ourselves to Reynolds’s Folly at Darlington to watch a wonderfully entertaining FA Trophy semi between Darlington and Gateshead, which ended up with the Quakers winning 3-2 after going in two down at half time.

Plenty to interest Sunderland fans here. Michael Liddle, a mainstay of the Reserves in recent years, is on loan at the ‘Heed, while they are captained by Ben Clark, who looked a very promising centre half when he was at Sunderland. I seem to remember that Mick McCarthy gave him the No 5 shirt one season but it all went wrong for him and he ended up at Hartlepool.

For the Quakers, Jamie Chandler was in the centre of their midfield. I don’t think he got a first team game for us, but he was part of the Reserves’ midfield that featured Jordan Henderson and David Meyler, so his chances of breaking through were not great. He also suffered a bad injury that set him back a long way.

The game was one of those that you could not take your eyes off. It was hard and fair: no diving, no punching and no screaming at the referee, probably because he got everything right. Both managers managed to get through the game without eyeballing the fourth official and although Ian Bogie, the Gateshead manager, must have been disappointed at losing a two-goal lead, he did not appear to blame anyone other than his own players poor defending for it. He’ll never make a Premier League manager, then.

There was a healthy crowd of 4,200 and the money taken will be a big help as Darlington try to survive in a difficult league, in a white elephant of a stadium and in a town that has never really clasped football to its bosom.

Reading the Football Echo this morning, their excellent Yesterdays column went back to March 20 1963 when we walloped Norwich City 7-1 and a young Scot called Nicky Sharkey hit five of them. I remember the result, although I wasn’t at the game, probably still working off the hangover after my 12th birthday a couple of days earlier.

The phrase which struck me the most in the report from Argus was this one;

City’s destruction was designed by four players – Anderson
McNab, Crossan and Herd. Intelligent reading of the play,
running power and brilliant constructive work kept the game
running in Sunderland’s favour.

They were four players to savour, weren’t they? All of them could pass a ball, two of them were steady goalscorers and the other two would weigh in with an important goal now and then.

If you could combine the athleticism of Jordan Henderson with the perception of Stan Anderson, the energy of Lee Cattermole with the coolness and unflappability of Jimmy McNab, the tricky running of Stéphane Sessegnon with the ability of George Herd to play the killer pass and the pace of Danny Welbeck with the intuition of Johnny Crossan, then Niall Quinn would not be saying to assorted MPs that we have no chance of ever winning the Premier League title.

Great players and great memories. Will the 12-year-olds of today look back on the current crop with the same fondness that we look back on the boys of ’63? Somehow I doubt it.

2 thoughts on “Soapbox: season tickets, semi-finals and Nicky Sharkey”

  1. I have an enormous amount of sympathy for the views expressed in this interesting article.I’ve been in love with football for well over 50 years now and have witnessed the game being progressively stolen from me and I despise (oops ) those who have colluded in its demise. However it still has that timeless ability to thrill and exasperate me in equal measure and it’s too late to alter the habits of a lifetime; I’ll try to change what can be changed in the game,such as not paying West Ham’s exorbitant prices,the rest I’ll attempt to endure.By the way I am sure that today’s youngsters will remember Wayne Rooney and Co. as fondly as we recall our heroes from our childhood.

  2. I may have on my rose tinted glasses but, for me, the team that was promoted in ’64 was the best Sunderland team I have seen.

    What happened after Alan Brown resigned was IMO an absolute disgrace – directors managing the team until all self confidence was destroyed.

    I still seeth at the memory.

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