Which football teams you have a soft spot for, and which you would cheerfully consign to oblivion, is not driven by rocket science. It could be as simple as a long remembered favour or slight. Ask John McCormick*: he should know …
Although I trained as a scientist and should be sworn to logic and rationality, I’m as emotional, biased and petty-minded as the next man or woman.
This can be seen in many facets of my life, including my reaction to the football results when they are read out on Saturdays.
When my children were younger they had great fun with my cheering and booing, especially as they often anticipated and cheered or booed themselves only to find they’d got it wrong.
My explanations (“Yes, Leeds are in the north, but you still have to hate them. Everybody hates Leeds”) really made no sense because, while local rivalries were transparent enough, some reactions were in response to trivial and obscure events which had occurred years earlier.
Here are some fixtures from the last games of this season which might yet affect promotion and relegation, with my feelings attached. No doubt you can find some of games of your own which are equally trivial and irrelevant to today’s SAFC but which strike a chord for some obscure reason. Whose results will you be cheering or booing on the last day of the season?
Southampton v Coventry
I was at Everton for the crunch match in 77. We didn’t play well and maybe were fated to be relegated that season but, if so, it should have happened naturally. What Jimmy Hill did can never be forgiven. Coventry City FC, with his statue outside the Ricoh and, allegedly, a bar named “Jimmy’s”, bears the mark of Cain. For this they deserve relegation and bankruptcy. Am I bitter? Yes, and I’ll be cheering for Southampton. I hope SFC, wearing red and white stripes, send Coventry down.
Charlton v Hartlepool
Obviously, I want Hartlepool to win. But I have great respect for Charlton. They worked their way up with attractive football, battling with us in the league and the playoffs, and are now down again. I have always thought of them as an honest, hard-working club, the kind you would be happy to support. I wouldn’t mind seeing them in the Premier again. So while regional loyalty demands that I cheer for Hartlepool it will be only a muted cheer if they win and deny Charlton promotion.
MK Dons v Walsall
After 90 or so years Wimbledon made the football league. Within 10 years they had reached Division One and won the FA cup. Then this club turned its back on its history and its fans and moved out of London to become MK Dons. Milton Keynes has an estimated population of 210,000, (Sunderland’s is about 280,000). It is bounded by one side by the A5 and the other by the M1 and a mainline railway runs through the middle, so it’s not difficult to get to. The area can’t be as economically deprived as the North East. So why is their average gate about 10,000? Is there no passion in the town? Maybe there’d be more if a team like Stony Stratford FC (founded 1898) or Bletchley FC (1914) had developed into Milton Keynes FC instead of a ready-made club being imported. What Wimbledon FC did doesn’t sit well with me so I don’t want the MK Dons to make the playoffs. This means I have to cheer for Walsall. I’ve never been there and know nothing about Walsall, but there you go, Walsall it is. I hope they scupper the Dons.
Tranmere v Scunthorpe
Image: Eric the Fish
The cup defeat against 12 men in 2000 doesn’t bother me but in 1996, with promotion already won, we played Tranmere in the last game of the season. I was working on the Wirral and I called in to get a ticket. The man running the box office refused to sell me one because I cracked a joke about being a Sunderland supporter from the Fulwell end. I had previously been sympathetic to Tranmere as the poor relatives of Merseyside, but not after this small-minded act from a small-minded man. I’ve no connection to Scunthorpe but don’t particularly want them to go down, so I’ll be cheering if they win. Tranmere will probably safe by then but I really don’t care, they’re not worth the effort.
Chesterfield v Brentford
Brentford are probably going to remain a nearly team when it comes to this year’s table but I wish them well. I lived nearby at a time when pubs closed in the afternoon. The bar in Brentford’s ground stayed open, so I didn’t so much become a Brentford supporter as a Griffin Park supporter. If that’s not enough, it’s the only ground where I’ve been called a cockney (after shouting “Ha’way me bonny lads” while watching Hartlepool v Bishop’s Stortford). With that history I have to cheer for Brentford; their red and white shirts and black shorts are just a bonus. I’ve nothing against Chesterfield but if they have to go down for Brentford to reach the playoffs so be it.
Port Vale v Oxford
Port Vale are rivals to Stoke, so after this season’s outburst by Tony Pulis I wish them well. But I have fond memories of Oxford. I hitched there in 1973 or 74 on my way to London, had a couple of pints, watched Dennis Tueart score in the first minute, enjoyed the sun as we held on to win 1-0 and someone I got talking to in the ground gave me a lift into London after the match. All in all, a pleasant day. So it’ll be a cheer for Oxford United if they win and confirm their playoff place.
Maybe fans from Stoke, Chesterfield, Tranmere, Port Vale, Charlton, MK Dons or Coventry will read this and, perceiving a slight against their team, become biased against SAFC.
Some might even go as far as cheering for Man Utd when we meet them on the last day of the season. Or would cheering on Man Utd be just too much for any neutral? Perhaps, but if I’m anything to go by here are no limits to the irrationality of football supporters, to the lengths of their memories or to their ability to harbour grudges. Roll on the results!
* John McCormick on John McCormick: I was born and brought up in Birtley, went away to University in 1970 and didn’t return to the North East. I moved to Liverpool in 1975, where I married into a family of reds and worked as a teacher then a lecturer until a year ago. I very rarely go back and have only been to one match at the Stadium of Light but I still count myself as one of the faithful.
** See also: John’s moving account, from just before the Tyne-Wear derby, of the first player – a Newcastle United player at that – to make an impression him: https://safc.blog/2012/02/tyne-wear-derby-sunderland-fan-remembers-the-unsung-newcastle-player-who-caught-his-eye/