There are thousands of displaced humans enduring unspeakable hardship, risking, and suffering, death as they try to escape regimes that have destroyed their lives*. Compared to that the Transpennine Express, even on its worst days, shades into insignificance. I really shouldn’t complain. Yet, I still don’t enjoy the too-long journey, hence my original plan to come up by car and return straight after the game.
Circumstances dictated otherwise and so it was the train that bore me north on Saturday. And, as it happens, it wasn’t a bad trip. Perhaps I just timed it right, although there were a few mouthy Evertonians and Chelsea supporters on the first train. I hit Manchester mid-game and got to Leeds after the crowd (a respectable 25,000) had dispersed, so few fans got on there. Things did change at York, though. Not football fans but, mainly, women on their way to Newcastle for the weekend. Buck’s Fizz in front, Prosecco behind, and selfies all round. Party time!
I don’t get to that many games, as you know, and it seems that every time I do go it’s after a change. Less than a year ago, against Arsenal, it was Gus, Wes Brown and Don Vito, with Jozy as a sub. Six months later, at Goodison, it was Dick, with Pants, Defoe and Danny Graham. Now it was the first game after the transfer window shut. We had a completely new midfield and a new old forward who just might be half decent. This constant change means I never know who’s who and can recognize perhaps three players apart from the keeper. This time the only one I was sure about was John O’Shea, although it quickly became evident who the big guy next to him was, and Fabio’s bright blue boots made him easy to pick out once I knew he was wearing them.
Nor can I easily work out who slots where, whose role is what and how players link up and work together. From what I’ve been told the players have sometimes had the same trouble; some longstanding veterans of the third division and the fifteen point season said the football in the opening two games was as bad as anything they’ve seen.
That was then, and things are different now. What I saw was a good display by a hard-working team, with intelligent decisions and clever play. Not enough of the latter, I have to say, but compared to some of the headless chickens and sideways movement I’ve seen in previous games there was a discernible improvement. Dick definitely has work to do but it’s in progress and I’m confident there’s more to come.
I’d have to get to a few more games before I would be able to detect patterns and see how well players fit and carry out identified roles, so I don’t think you’re ever going to get a deep analysis from me. You’ll have to put up with what are no more than impressions. Here they are, for what they’re worth.
We tired a lot in the last quarter and that cost us. The goal came from good play but we had been under pressure and Spurs had been stepping it up for a few minutes before it went in. I expect us to last longer when our imports are fully match fit. Those imports, too, have a touch of class about them. They are solid enough in defence (Kaboul and O’Shea have complementary roles; one gets stuck in, the other talks and controls), play more incisive football from midfield, and get the ball forward to a couple of forwards who can and will exploit openings. We clearly still need to create more chances, which I think we will do as the team gels, but Danny Graham and Fletch look pedestrian and second rate compared to Defoe when he’s in the centre and the Italian Stallion when he’s buzzing around and getting stuck in.
So there we have it. We have played worse and won but on Saturday we played well and lost. Spurs scored when we tired, we hit the post, hit the bar and had one clear penalty not given. On another day we might have left with three points. On the way home I sent M Salut a text:
“We never looked like a relegation team, that’s my seven, from the North Stand”
And we didn’t.
An early start left me with time to kill so I took a quick trip to Durham and walked around the cathedral, taking a moment to pay my respects at the miners’ memorial and the DLI chapel. It was heritage weekend. Well, there’s heritage and there’s heritage. Birtley might be in Gateshead now but it wasn’t when I left home all those years ago. I’m from County Durham and I‘m keeping the faith.
And what else did I see when I was in Durham? Has Fabio been investing?
Is this why he chose bright blue for his boots?
* Monsieur Salut adds: Got an old Sunderland scarf or other woollen item of clothing you no longer need? Our friends and occasional competition sponsors at Philosophy Football are part of an appeal to football supporters on behalf of migrants and refugees camped in and around Calais as they try to gain access to the UK.
Views naturally differ on the correct response to the Calais issue and Europe’s wider migrant crisis but this is how PF’s co-founder Mark Perryman puts it:
Last week www.philosophyfootball.com launched “REFUGEES ARE OUR FOOTBALL FAMILY”, supported by the Football Supporters’ Federation, Football Action Network, Football Beyond Borders, Football against Racism in Europe, Kick it out, When Saturday Comes and the campaign Hope not Hate .
Read all about it in the Guardian report here > http://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/sep/09/campaign-football-fans-scarves-refugees-calais
In less than seven days we have already raised £875 for @DOTW_UK who provide the only clinic in the Calais Refugee Camp.
Now we’re asking for your help with Sunderland fans! Top of the list of items the refugee charities are asking for in the camps are winter woollens. What Sunderland fan doesn’t have an old scarf they could donate? Its hugely symbolic yet practically helpful.
Can you post your clean scarf to Philosophy Football PO Box 11140, Harwich CO12 9AP. Include your name, address, email in legible writing before October 9.
** The explanatory fundraising page is at http://www.philosophyfootball.com/view_item.php?pid=1263