I leaned my back against an oak,
Thinking it was the strongest tree,
But first it bent, and then it broke,
And that’s the way, love treated me.
(The Water is Wide – Traditional)
Malcolm Dawson writes…..many years ago I met a girl and fell in love. It was that gut wrenching, head over heels, lose all sense of reality type of love that blinds one to what’s really going on. It was that anguished, one sided kind of relationship in which not only was the love not reciprocated, but the frailties of total emotional commitment deafened one to the counsel of others. She was a beauty. She was the one that all the men wanted to be seen with and she chose me. She picked me out, took me home and I was smitten.
I ignored the words of warning that came from friends who had known her for some time and for a while I walked on cloud 9 enjoying the warmth that came from the absolute belief that she was the one. I ignored the fact that there would often be the same car parked outside her flat as I made my way home, deciding the owner must be visiting someone else despite being told by her flat mate that it belonged to one of her many men friends.
Even as the proof built up that I was being used and emotionally abused, I found it hard to reconcile truth and reality. I don’t know what it was that brought me to my senses but being young and resilient I soon got my life back on track, though if truth be told, I never quite got over her and even now I sometimes wonder just what might have been. What a mug!
Fast forward 40 years and I have run the same gamut of emotional turmoil this summer.
The scenes at the Stadium of Light when relegation was avoided convinced me that my love affair with SAFC was finally on track after years of disappointment. I had remained true and here was proof that it had all been worthwhile.
We had a manager who was there for the long term, who would take the club onwards and upwards and finally bring us stability and ultimately success. We had a group of players who were committed to the cause, had developed a rapport with the fans and were as much in love with the club as we are. It began to feel like we were one big happy family heading in the right direction and that Ellis Short was like a protective father, who initially worried about his only daughter’s choice of suitor, would now embrace the situation and be prepared to splash the cash to ensure her future happiness.
What a mug!
OK I accept that England situation was nothing to do with Sunderland AFC. I accept that Sam Allardyce had always coveted the job of national team boss. But I saw a man who seemed the perfect fit, had been in the job less than twelve months and would want to take the club onto bigger and better things. I hoped he would honour his commitment to us the fans and to the football club he had dragged up by its bootlaces. But those perceived commitments were illusory and Sam went. Kick in the teeth number one.
But all was not lost. We still had the backbone of the squad that performed so well. M’Vila surely was on his way back and a raft of under performing and potentially disruptive players had left. The squad performed well at Hartlepool. It was obvious that pre-season had gone well, the players were raring to go and the club acted swiftly in appointing David Moyes even if they were not showing the same urgency in the transfer market. Surely there would be signings which would strengthen the squad as Martin Bain settled into his plush leather seat.
Kone made all the right noises saying how he wanted to score more and take the club on. Then came the Everton interest and the statement and transfer request he denied making. Only six months into his contract and only three months after those outpourings of emotion at the Stadium of Light he (or his agent) appears to be holding the club to ransom and he has put himself in a position where even if he really does have a bad back, no-one believes him. Should he be forced to stay now (and I can’t believe the club would be in a position to make him to see out the remainder of his contract, though I wish they could) he has lost the affection of the fans. Stab in the back number two.
Kaboul made all the right noises and his tears on that lap of honour seemed genuine. His departure only a day or two after he was the cover boy on the official website, saying how he loved to win derbies, may have been brought about by family pressure and appears less treacherous than Kone’s behaviour but it is still disappointing. Body blow number three.
And still no M’Vila or Yedlin. Of big Sam’s preferred starting XI in the final months of last season (the XI I was convinced would start this season and provide the consistency and the stability we crave) more than half will not be in contention for a place against Middlesbrough tomorrow.
That team I thought was going to be the side that would give us the impetus to march up the table and provide the launchpad to success. More fool me. I’ll have to wait and see how the new boys bed in and if in fact they and David Moyes can keep the club going in an upward direction, but it doesn’t feel that way. The platform that Allardyce constructed is slowly being dismantled and Moyes is having to start from scratch with all the incoming players deemed surplus to requirements at their former clubs and unable to command regular starting places. On the face of it our transfer business to date has been underwhelming. I cling to the hope that Khazri, Kirchhoff and Kone were unknown quantities in January and that Kaboul had a less than convincing start to his career in red and white. I can but hope the latest group of incomers will be just as effective. But the fact is one of the best centre back pairings I have seen at Sunderland for years is no more. We have replaced tried and tested players with inexperience and the squad is paper thin. Knock down number four.
I’ll be at the match tomorrow. I have my season card and will keep going but the positivity I felt in May is not there. I feel let down. My fault. I thought that things were moving forwards. I thought we had a group of players who would do anything for the club and its fans and weren’t all money grabbing mercenaries. Naive I know. To get to the top in any sport you need to have ambition and determination and I suppose it’s that drive that led Allardyce into leaving and to Kone (or his agent) pushing for a move despite both manager and player being contracted to the club.
Do I cling to the belief that players like Cattermole, Defoe and Rodwell may actually be committed to the cause? Do I ignore the fact that despite his 100% effort whenever he takes the field Borini opted to spend a further year at Liverpool before returning to the North East?
They say love is blind but this morning I find myself going back forty years and thinking there’s no fool like an old fool. Give us a lift tomorrow boys by showing that you really do care.
Ha’way the Lads.
The Water is Wide – sung by Niamh Parsons
Hear it on YouTube
9 thoughts on “First it bent, then it broke – the love that is Sunderland AFC”
Absolutely brilliant article Malcolm.
I’ve just found out that Sunderland are the village bike.
Great article Malcolm, and many very good responses. Most owners are not local people, who love the club, made good. It is a business first and foremost.
I saw a tee shirt years ago that I didn’t dare buy for my older brother. It had “You can change your wife but not your football club.”
I hope I never do either but I can get the passion for your club. Gold and Sullivan did at least the latter with Bongo FC. (The Fiver in The Guardian is an amusing read.)
Good stuff Malcolm, I recognise every step!
Before we can make real progress, I feel that both club and supporter need to accept the reality of the financial situation.
I was brought up on tales of the Bank of England club and the great side of the 30s. Whatever happened, our tradition and support made us a big club. It’s not the case any more. Only money makes you a big club and being in the Premier League is only a starter. Stay in the PL and you get £100 million every year, but even that is not enough.
The super rich clubs make their money out of Europe and world wide marketing. The rest can only become established by producing and selling young talent – a hard fact that is only just beginning to dawn on us at Sunderland.
In my view, it will take the sale of Kone and probably Pickford, Watmore and Gooch to fund the development of our next decent side. Then, we may become more established, aim at a top ten finish, attract a few better players, get some more sponsors, aim at a Europa place etc etc etc
It’s a harsh fact but we are well down the pecking order in this new world, and need to get with the game.
I doubt if you’ll have heard of them, Malcolm, but there’s a Canadian rock band called the Northern Pikes who have a song that encapsulates your thwarted-love situation perfectly. It also kinda sums up the situation at Sundernland, too. Either way, it might just cheer you up….
The fact is Malcolm, we never learn. Football fans have for years operated under the illusion that players, owners and managers share the same belief system as we do.
They simply don’t. Their badge thumping histrionics are merely part of the side show that present day players view as necessary to their image.
The day of the one-club player is over. Gerrard and Terry probably only did so because they were already at Big Clubs, and on massive wages.
We saw how much Gyan and Bent cared for our club, and Sam lost all interest once the national management job beckoned.
Unfortunately the power of the manager has declined in direct comparison to that of the players People like Kone can hold the employer to ransom, knowing that the club cannot afford to call their bluff. Besides which, it is pointless to indulge discontented players.
I feel really sorry for David Moyes. None of this is his fault, and I believe, long term, he will do a great job.
In the meantime, we are better off putting our faith in players who have demonstrated some loyalty to the club.
Exactly , and get the kids in….I remember when Kerr,Arnott,Rowell and Elliot were thrown in ….exciting times ahead.
Great piece Malcolm.
I know they’ll be keeping any transfer negotiations under wraps, but the fans need to see the ambition. Something that was lacking until Alllardyce arrived was an overall plan, with a ‘Southampton’ style academy. This appears to be continuing under Moyes.
You can’t continually buy talent, unless you’re one of the major clubs. So, you need to nurture talent (which takes time) promoting the younger lads the through into the first team when they’re ready, but that has to be tempered by a mix of players with some level of premiership experience.
We don’t have enough cover up front, we have no proven midfield and a disappearing defence.
As you say ‘love is blind’, but ‘business is business’. There’s less than two weeks left of the transfer window and we’re all hoping that whatever players do arrive that they’re up and running quickly ….,,,
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