It was a long way to travel to see a display of such glaring ineptitude, and somehow a long way back in the knowledge that a lavish deal had been done from here in Abu Dhabi to buy the club whose good but hardly exceptional team made us look so abysmal on Sunday.
But it was a grand party at the Stadium of Light – mercifully staged, as you’ll have seen from Pete Sixsmith’s most recent Soapbox, the night before the game – and the visit produced a couple of neat coincidences.
It was not only my first sight and use of my East Stand seat in a long while; it was only my wife’s second game at the stadium. And as we approached turnstile 46, we encountered the dad and daughter pictured above.
Brian Nelson and family, including eight-year-old Jennifer, had just returned from holiday in France. Not just anywhere, but within a few miles of my wife’s birthplace (Le Mans, currently second top of French Ligue 1 for anoraks). Brian described the area where they stayed as Swiss Normandy, and it must be said that Mme Salut! had never heard it called by that name, or Normandie Suisse come to that. Perhaps the smart idea of some enterprising marketing man in this part of western France.
The second coincidence concerns another SAFC-mad Pete, Horan, and Salut! Sunderland‘s occasional photographer Peadar O’Sullivan, a man of Cork City. Both were at my party, never having met before.
Or so they thought.
Peadar at one point found himself telling yet another Pete – Robinson – about the time he was working in London as an IT consultant on a contract at Somerset House. His closest colleague had been a Sunderland fan who one day came to work with a broad grin on his face and insisted on playing him an excited answerphone message from his younger daughter, Emma.
“Dad, I cannot believe it – we’ve beaten the Mags” – Emma may have used another word of similar length instead of Mags – “2-1.”
Dad knew we had, of course. But stuck in London, he was chuffed by her determination to share her own joy with him. “That’s what it means to us Sunderland supporters, to beat Newcastle,” he’d explained at the time to Peadar.
On Saturday, Pete Horan overheard the Irishman’s description of this little episode from 1999 – it must have been the morning after the first of those 2-1 wins, the Quinn/Phillips one in the rain. On closer scrutiny, the two of them recognised each other, astonished to have been reunited in such a fashion.
I suspect Peadar had Pete in mind when he sent me a text on Sunday evening that began: “It was a pleasure to meet to you and your friends – some wonderful characters.”
I know what he had in mind when he added: “Shame about the football.”
Somehow it seemed fitting that in common with many other fans, I got absolutely drenched walking miserably from the ground to pick up my things from a friend’s house before catching a train to London. Fitting, but not especially enjoyable.
People sometimes talk in the Middle East of dancing happily in the rain when encountering showers on visits to Europe. But with every layer of clothing soaked, makeup streaming down my wife’s face and the recent memory of wretched football pounding away at the brain, all reasons to feel cheerful had been swept away.
The photos show:
* Brian Nelson and his daughter Jennifer outside the ground, before the game as may be discerned from the absence of any sign of abject misery on their faces
* me, probably as near as I’ll ever get to being on the pitch at the SoL, though I might have got a game in defence had I offered on Sunday
* me with Pete Robinson during our stadium tour