Invest in Africa, Liverpool fan urges Sunderland supporters

M Salut's daughter Nathalie with the Toulon coach Amadou Diatta
M Salut’s daughter Nathalie, just before her London team’s recent friendly in Toulon, with the French club’s coach Amadou Diatta

Monsieur Salut to younger daughter, Nathalie: ‘One day, lass, all of this will be yours.’ Two snags: Salut! Sunderland would bring her no riches, only grief, and she’s not really a Sunderland supporter anyway. But daughterly duty gives SAFC soft spot status and she’s paid her dues standing or sitting at our games from Roker Park to Wembley. And now, she asks us all to overlook her true footballing passion and help her boost a good cause ….

I know times have been tough of late and realise I have a bit of a cheek interrupting normal business at a a misery-infested website with my begging bowl.

Before I plead for money – and don’t worry, it’s not for me but for a good cause – maybe I should explain my football preference (as you might be wondering why Liverpool were mentioned above)

My dad, already thoroughly disappointed at having two daughters, tried to force me into football from a young age.

The plan was for me to become a successful Sunderland Women’s FC player, with a season ticket or preferably a decent job at the Stadium of Light.

Unfortunately for him, he allowed me to watch a televised match for the first time involving Liverpool and Arsenal back in approx 1989. I was immediately transfixed by Liverpool and the way they played and most notably by John Barnes who was at his peak. From this moment I was obsessed with Liverpool/Barnes and there was never ever going to be any turning back. My dad’s plan had failed.

Bless him, he didn’t give up, taking me to grounds such as Blundell Park, Gresty Road, Kenilworth Road and Turf Moor, often in howling wind and heavy rain, to watch the mighty Roker lads. I admit I was hooked by the atmosphere, particularly the away support. I’d never seen such passion and noise emit from one small section of a ground. Lo and behold, I came to enjoy these trips! Liverpool had my heart but Sunderland definitely took a part of me, where I consider myself a fan in one sense.

I think the day my father realised I’d never be a true supporter was the FA Cup Final 1992. It was probably the sight of my ecstatic face, waving my Liverpool flag after Michael Thomas’s stunning goal, in stark contrast to the grim look on his face that sealed it. I guess he knew I was always going to be a Liverpool fanatic, with or without John Barnes.

His dreams of my Sunderland WFC career weren’t going to come true either. OK, being based in Ealing, west London threw a spanner in the works but also my actual level, while not bad, was not Premier league standard!

At 18, all I wanted to do was party, drink (and ahem work hard too dad of course…). Undeterred, my dad got me trials at Arsenal Ladies.

My football playing experience up to this point included playing World Cup in the park, and one bounce. I had no fitness (due to aforementioned partying), and no concept of “positions”. I reluctantly turned up to the trials at Highbury (which looking back, I think, was just a standard pre-season training session), and was informed that we would be running round quite frankly the biggest track I’d ever seen. OK, no problem, I thought, I’ll just jog, walk a little, relax, have a breather here and there. No chance of that, with the army type coach running with us, it felt like at two-mile sprint! How I managed to complete the run without throwing up I’ll never know.

Once this was finished, we then filed (or in my case crawled) into the gym to play a sequence of five-a-side games. No sooner had I resumed some form of running, I instantly felt ill. This story turns slightly humiliating when I had to excuse myself to go and be sick midway through one match. then I was stuck in goal for the rest of the time, because I was so knackered, and I proceeded let in probably the softest goal ever when I airkicked a shot which even Pepe Reina would have been able to handle smoothly.

(She does herself no justice, A Dad writes. She was invited to the midweek session at Highbury after being sent on as a sub in pre-season Arsenal friendly when she did enough, in sweltering heat, to impress. I have been known to warn her before taking her to see Sunderland (men’s team) that she should brace herself for a lower standard of football.)

At the end I was called into the office and I will never forgot the feeling of rejection. They didn’t actually say the words “Arsenal don’t want you” but I think it was so blindingly obvious it didn’t need spelling out. They did however recommend I try out Surbiton Ladies…

This experience was repeated a year later at Southampton Ladies, where I was at Uni. The less said about that attempt the better.

I have since gone on to play at a reasonable level for Brentford, QPR Ladies, and currently Old Actonians LFC but I tend to keep the early experiences to myself (apart from now, on the world wide web, go figure..)

It’s my love of football and support for a particular charity that brings to me to the position I am in now.

On July 6, my football teammates colleagues and I will be registering a team to play in a Football Marathon to raise money for Tackle Africa. This charity supports young people in Africa affected by HIV. We have been given a target to try and smash. We will be playing 12 hours of non-stop football in five-a-side format.

I won’t be offended if donations are not made, but would be extremely grateful if any Salut! Sunderland reader – and you, dad – felt like making a contribution, no matter how small, to help us reach the target total.

The link is:

And will you try to believe me if I wish Sunderland a more successful season starting in August and in all games except against Liverpool?

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