Club versus country (2): even the reserves come first

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Continuing his story of an unequal contest between passion for club and, when it comes to football, loyalty to country, Colin Randall describes the lengths he’s prepared to go to in order to keep up with Sunderland, and not just the first team. One bonus from caring little about internationals: the row over lack of TV coverage of Ukraine vs England has simply passed him by …

The upshot of the severe culture clash between football-mad or, more accurately, SAFC-mad husband and football-loathing partner is that throughout my marriage I have had to organise games around family duties and wifely expectations as well as work.

She’d tell you I have been to endless matches; I’d tell you about all those I’ve missed.

Think about Easter. How often has the immediate future of Sunderland been strongly influenced by the outcome of the games played over that weekend? A natural consequence of being one of football’s yo-yo clubs is that we often enter the last few weeks chasing promotion or staring relegation in the face. And where, year after year, have I been come Easter? With the French part of my family in Le Mans, or on holiday with them in Brittany.

I remember one season when I was playing football with relatives by marriage at the farm of one of my wife’s uncles. The Lads were pressing for promotion and the BBC was covering a crucial match. I selflessly volunteered to go in goal for the whole game for the sole reason that I could at least then try to listen to the commentary on a crackly transistor.

Christmas and New Year are the same. Either we’re in France, or France – her part of France – comes to us. No point in asking for leave of absence then. It’s years since I last saw a game over the festive period.

Lots of fans I know lead much more uncomplicated lives. They go religiously to games without their partners’ objections. Or they insist on going even if there is objection. Some of them even manage to stay married.

But I have had to be more ingenious in my approach, and necessity is a great teacher. I learned long ago that there were ways of ensuring we were within striking distance of a game. Visits to Nana back in the North East somehow always coincided with Sunderland at home. What better time to go and see a daughter at university in Manchester than when the Lads were at Oldham?

Once a year when we were living in London, Joelle’s work would take her to Cannes for the film festival. It always takes place in early May, just as the season is drawing to a close, or often in our case to a nerve-wracking climax for one of the obvious two reasons.

This was always my excuse to pack in as much football as possible. In 2001, the year of one of those two seventh top Premiership seasons under Peter Reid, Sunderland Reserves had one game left. A win at Leeds – or more accurately York , where Leeds played their second string games – would have given us the Premiership reserve league title.

This will sound incredibly sad, but with the cat away, this mouse seriously considered playing: a midweek expedition to York to watch that game. Only the lack of a late enough train to get me back to London the same night stopped me making the journey.

We lost anyway. The fact that this hurt at the time is not so important. The real point is that I was prepared to organise a day off work and make a long midweek trek to watch our reserves.

So why wouldn’t the same football-daft English male necessarily cross the street to watch England ? Why wouldn’t he lose any sleep if he went to bed before the result?


to be continued …

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