This piece brought precious little good fortune in October 2010, when Sunderland came a distinctly poor second in last season’s Tyne-Wear derby. But since we’re often accused of harking back more than a century to the 9-1 game, let’s remember our most recent win at St James’ Park. Ouch: it’s now 11 years … just a little fun, reproduced for the larger audience Salut! Sunderland has these days …
As every schoolboy ought to know, our last winning visit to St James’ Park, as long ago as Nov 18 2000, was made all the sweeter by an Alan Shearer penalty miss. Here are two of the many stories marking the occasion …
Aintree, for the 2001 Grand National. On the basis that nothing is too good for the Sunderland-supporting working class, Guy Illingworth felt no shame at being treated to all the goodies corporate hospitality can bring. Plus a famous neighbour.
Alan Shearer’s racegoing group, including other members of the then Newcastle United squad, was in the box next door.
Guy’s day had already started badly before he realised he was expected to rub shoulders with Mags.
In the morning he had discovered the house he was renovating had been flooded. At the racing, he had backed a string of losers and missed an open goal: the Grand National’s 33-1 winner, Red Marauder.
Guy got talking to Shearer, saying something along these lines: “I always back Richard Guest. He comes from County Durham, you see. But I read somewhere that he had said Red Marauder couldn’t jump and decided it had no chance.”
The Telegraph football diary, having been fed the story by the Lord knows who, has Shearer listening politely to the catalogue of woe before replying: “Never mind, just one of those things.”
At which point, the paper haughtily went on, “the Sunderland fan escaped from Illingworth”, who recalled: “I put on my most innocent tone of voice and asked, ‘Yes, but what was it like for you when Tommy [Sorensen, Sunderland’s goalkeeper] saved your penalty?’ He turned without a word of reply and walked away.”
Guy’s suspicion that the “walking away” was done in a bit of a huff does not seem to have survived in the published version.
On the same day that Tommy kept Shearer out, and our lead intact, Monsieur Salut and a pal with whom he attended the game were under instructions to be on their best behaviour when meeting their partners later.
This is how I told the tale in a special edition, commemorating the victory, of Wear Down South, magazine/newsletter of the London and SE branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association.
The story ends at St James’ Park, at the second of those 2-1 wins. Or rather afterwards in Fenwick’s.
But it begins on a Club Med holiday in Corfu, where Big Jim and I first met when. Standing in a queue for something or other, we discovered that we shared a surname. With this flimsy excuse for friendship, we met up a few times for drinks or tennis – Jim being as wide as he’s tall and therefore useful at the net.
Big Jim is American, a teacher at one of the USAF bases, Lakenheath or Mildenhall. He and his lady friend, Virginia, are devotees of the arts and had resolved before coming to the UK to wring every last drop of culture from their stay.
They became Friends of the Tate, Friends of Wigmore Hall, friends of anything that would bring them preferential or cut price tickets for classical concerts and exhibitions on visits to London. They’d often invite us, once or twice picking up the meal bill for good measure.
How to pay back their kindnesses? “What would you say,” I asked Jim, more than a little apprehensive about his likely reaction to the lowbrow treat I had in mind, “if I could get tickets for the Sunderland end at Newcastle?”
“You bet,” came the reply like a shot.
Afterwards, I explained, we’d stay the night in a great pub in Reeth and take in the glories of Swaledale. This would please Virginia and Mme Salut!, but for Jim, the football was the prize.
We stood outside the ground before the match, watching a column of SAFC fans being marched under heavy police escort towards the away end. Jim looked on in detached wonderment at the scale of the operation. “Don’t feel too detached,” I warned. “That’s where we’re going, too.”
When I say Jim is big, I mean Cow Pie big. He couldn’t get through the turnstile and they had to open a side gate for him. Then he struggled breathlessly up those endless flights of stairs to the sky-high apology for an away fans’ section.
When the match started, it looked as if we were in for a torrid time. The Mags took the lead, and Gary Speed’s goal seemed likely to be followed by another. But then we came back. Hard. First Don Hutchison, then the marvellous move that began with Tommy Sorensen’s throw, continued with Arca’s great dummy and ended with a fabulous cross from Michael Gray on to Niall’s head. 2-1, with the exquisite joy of seeing Tommy save a Shearer penalty to secure our three points.
As I also wrote in Wear Down South, the magazine of the London branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association, at the time, it was like walking on air striding along Northumberland Street afterwards. Jim had loved it, too, and couldn’t wait to tell his American kids at school all about it.
When we met up with the girls at Fenwick’s later, they wanted to know how it had gone.
“Gee it was fun,” said Big Jim. “England’s hot shot had a free hit on goal from 10 feet and the stopper blocked it.”
I’d have put it differently. But – bringing the story along to Oct 2010 – more of the same on Sunday, with a different cast, will have me walking on air again, and thinking of Big Jim, now safely back in the US.