I read with some amusement all the patronising tweets that flew in the direction of the Bradford fans and players in the aftermath of the mauling they received from Swansea in the Capital whatsitsname Cup final on Sunday, says Stephen Goldsmith.
I didn’t feel sorry for them, they earned their place there and deserved to be treated as equals on the day. The same rule applies for the keeper being shown the red card, why shouldn’t he have been? The question on our collective lips was obvious, however, and Salut! Sunderland’s Gareth Barker speaks for us all when he asks…
WHY NEVER US?
On the 2nd of October 1999, Sunderland were in the process of cementing their position in the top half of the Premier League – in and around the top dogs of the country after an incredible rejuvenation under Peter Reid. On this particular day the victims were Bradford City, they were slaughtered by Kevin Phillips who hit a hat-trick during a comprehensive 4-0 hammering. The same day saw Swansea City humbled at home, by Mansfield Town, 1-0 in the fourth tier of English football.
It’s fair to say that on that day if you were a betting man (or woman as this is a progressive football blog!) then you wouldn’t have taken a punt on Swansea City winning the league cup just over a decade later. The irony is that you would have got poorer odds on it being Bradford City on the receiving end of a 5-0 thumping in the final.
In the same time scale, Manchester City have been relegated to the third tier, won a thrilling play off final (in my mind thrilling play off finals are over rated), been promoted back to the Premier League, played in the Champions League and happen to be the reigning league champions.
All of these things should give us hope. The problem with Sunderland, however, is that it’s not even a case of “never the bride” but more of a case of “you might be a plus one to the evening do, but you will have to come after the buffet”.
The question is why?
There’s a simple answer in Manchester City’s case. I won’t even insult you by writing the word down.
As for Swansea, the chairman of the football club has been very keen on building a football philosophy there. Each manager has played exactly the same system, exactly the same style. It is fair to say that Laudrup has brought a bit of punch to things though and we all know about Michu. I heard John Hartson talking on the radio last week and he said that if a person was being interviewed for the manager’s job and they said they wanted to go with two up front, then the chairman would kindly show them the door.
They have a system and are creating a legacy. It appears to be working.
I pick Swansea as they are a relevant and recent example of a side that in recent times are more successful than us. Unfortunately, there are many others. I won’t bother listing them as it’s far too depressing. Even Middlesbrough have been to a European cup final!
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Our thing at Sunderland seems to revolve around passion. Passionate supporters, passion on the pitch. The combative central midfielder, eyes bulging, chest out, smashing into the opposition’s new Italian signing and sending him three feet in the air. That familiar ‘GET IN THERE!’ rumbles from crowd. We all love it.
The problem is that later in the game, the said Italian signing will usually shake that challenge off, stride toward the edge of the box and nonchalantly pop the ball into the top right hand corner of the net. He’ll wheel away in arrogant celebration because it’s just what he does. No big deal.
I believe we’re at the stage where the myths now perpetuates themselves:
* You need a strong character to play up there.
* The supporters demand success, the expectation levels are huge.
* You’ve got to play for the shirt at that football club.
We have become “that” football club. Now I quite like being that football club sometimes. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could add a few of those arrogant Italian/Spanish/French players who popped the ball in the top corner on a regular basis to play alongside those midfield beasts?
Roy Keane spoke in his book about the expectation levels when it came to playing for Ireland. They were expected to be plucky losers. Never mind, they gave it a go, poor old Ireland.
I think there’s an element of this at Sunderland, based on some of the “myths” I mentioned earlier. I think it’s always the expectations that get brought up when it comes to Sunderland, that “certain type of player” etc when managers bite the bullet (Not, I’d like to add, the degree of Geordieness). Invariably managers will go out and sign players to fit the bill. What they lack in quality, the often make up for in effort. Eventually that effort isn’t good enough to win lots of football matches, because the quality isn’t there.
I think this then leads to the one or two flair players we do have being picked on in a sense. They are the only ones who look like making something happen, when they don’t, it becomes particularly frustrating:
* He’s lazy.
* He’s had his head turned.
* He doesn’t care about this football club.
It’s all a bit of a conundrum really. How do we fix it?
I think the Swansea ideology is not a bad way to go about it. I don’t mean passing teams to death, but I mean the structure. Let us hope Ellis has a long term plan in place that works towards building a side that can not only sustain itself financially, but begin to really compete for trophies and to have a chance of finishing higher up the league. It would be nice to retain the grit that reflects the people of the area and combine that with the skill and the pace and the spectacular. It would be nice to be able to appreciate that from the terraces too and feel comfortable with it.
On the other hand, I think the progress of the club has been relatively decent. We’re on the verge of our longest top flight stint since the 1950s, we look financially secure. I don’t know if it’s okay to complain without feeling a pang of guilt, but when you see teams lift trophies and they have been in the fourth division in very recent history, then I’m sure it’s okay to feel a touch jealous. I think this is even more the case when we have never been in the fourth division in our entire history. Oh, they’re also Welsh, coming over here, taking our trophies.
Let me finish by mentioning something that is slightly off topic , but ties in with what I’m saying regarding the people of the area.
My grandmother passed away this week. During our last conversation I spoke to her about the fact she lived through the Second World War. This still blows my mind for some reason.
I was talking to her about what it was liked to be bombed (cheery!) and whether or not they had an air raid shelter. She replied: “An air raid shelter? No!”
“What did you do then?” I asked.
“We just ducked,” she said.