Sixer’s Travels: Ozzies rampant, Sunderland dormant

Sixer wonders why Michael Portillo never travels by First Trans Pennine not so Express
Sixer wonders why Michael Portillo never travels by First Trans Pennine not so Express

Friday night saw Peter Sixsmith in attendance at the first Northern League game to be played at Consett’s new Belle View ground and Saturday saw him forgo his usual Saturday footy fix for the lure of the Rugby League World Cup Final at Old Trafford, leaving it to Super Sub Bob Chapman to step off the Salut! Sunderland bench.

Last weekend although England had run the Kiwis close, they lost to the last kick of the match, meaning it was the 13 man equivalent of the All Blacks that would face up to the mighty Kangaroos. Pete booked his ticket months ago and put his disappointment to one side to root for the underdogs. The result wasn’t to his liking and neither was the journey there or back. Still he managed to catch MOTD and reflects on what he saw at the end of a long day, at Old Trafford and on the Saturday night highlights package.

I don’t think that I missed a great deal by not being at Villa Park on Saturday. Pat Murphy on 5Live made the point that it would be last on Match of the Day and that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to roll the credits over it. I gathered it was not a great spectacle. For those lifelong Villa fans, watching their first game as a freeloader in a hospitality box, no doubt the whole thing was awesome and probably better than opening hospitals or counselling one’s younger brother about the perils of dressing up as a Wehrmacht Officer, circa. 1943, but I would think that the rest of the 33,000 present were less than enamoured with a game that Sunderland really should have won.

Even the Ed Reardon like Murphy thought that we had the better chances, something which was borne out by MOTD. Giaccherini should have scored, but let’s be charitable and say that the ball bounced up at just the wrong moment and over the bar it went. Borini’s header was a good one; an inch (or 2.54 cms to the Italian reared on Napoleon’s metric scale) lower and we would have been celebrating a vital win instead of accepting the plaudits in a goalless draw. That is what happens when you are struggling – or so they say.

Other than that, the highlights showed us little of what we did not already know. The team selection was interesting and shows that Poyet is still finding his way around this squad. Dossena was straight back in after his criminal act in Hull (not the usual one that we associate with the City of Culture) and showed strength and determination going forward, some good, sharp tackles and a worrying habit of being outpaced when anyone with a modicum of speed runs at him. Ki passed the ball well but needs a Cattermole or a Gardener to protect him and Borini works hard and is maybe the better option up front with Fletcher. Mannone looks a good keeper but what has happened to Westwood? Is he injured? Unhappy? Stranded in Dublin? Two games running that Pickford has been on the bench.

Jake combines history, art and hope. Oh that yesterday's result had been the same.
Jake combines history and art. Oh that yesterday’s result had been the same.

As for me, I went to Old Trafford, the self-styled “Theatre of Dreams” to watch the Rugby League World Cup Final between those antipodean rivals Australia and New Zealand. The stadium was full and there was eager anticipation of a titanic battle between 34 of the most committed, fittest and toughest athletes in the world. The Kiwis had come through a battering semi against England, while the Kangaroos had not even had their tail tweaked, never mind their pocket picked, in any of the five games they had played to get to the winner takes all game. That form continued as they slaughtered their little cousins by 34 -2, scoring five tries in the process and never giving New Zealand any more than a distant sniff of one. It was as ruthless a sporting performance as I have seen and players like Billy Slater, Jonathan Thurston, Cooper Cronk and James Tamou were simply a class apart from a brave but outclassed Kiwi team. An anti-climax but a pleasure to see such a well-oiled machine rolling into gear; would that Gus could do the same with us – although the gears appear to be grinding less and less week by week.

It should have been a most enjoyable day out. That it wasn’t was due to First Trans Pennine Express who, despite having had 4 years to prepare for this weekend, neglected to put on extra trains or hook extra carriages onto the back of the ones that they did run. As a result, the train from Darlington was crowded and became crammed by Leeds. So much so that passengers, or customers as the asinine 12 year olds who run the railway now prefer to call them, were not allowed on at Dewsbury or Huddersfield. Most were going to the game, but others were heading for the airport and holiday flights. West Riding taxi drivers must have had a bonanza.

However, this was nothing compared to the trip back. Piccadilly Station was akin to a painting by Hieronymus Bosch, looking more like hell than anything the Dutch master could have conjured up. Passengers were denied access to platforms, trains were missed and when one did arrive, it was crowded. I eventually got one heading for Newcastle and found a seat but others were not so fortunate and were either left on the platform or were forced to stand to Leeds.

Should this government of ours want to discourage immigrants from Bulgaria or Romania from settling here, I suggest that show them a film of the goings on at Piccadilly where, according to the poor beleaguered First TPE staff (picking up the flak while their bonus laden masters and the shareholders were immune from the decisions that had been made), fights had broken out and children had been pushed on to trains so that adults could join them.

The overladen train to Newcastle terminated at York and at least First TPE had laid one on from there to Darlington. Arriving at Bank Top 50 minutes later than anticipated, I sprinted down to the bus stop (not easy for a fat lad in 2013) and just caught the last bus to Shildon – and home just in time to switch off Pontius Pardew.

Other results could have been worse, although I did not forsee Hull City Tigers AFC beating Liverpool (pleased to see David Meyler on the score sheet), but the next two games are difficult. Two points would be good, three excellent and anything above that would be almost as good as the Australian rugby league team – but you don’t get that twice in a week.

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