For his second contribution to the pages of Salut! Sunderland, Martin Crow compares and contrasts – favourably – the Chris Coleman way with words, when talking publicly about Sunderland AFC, with the mix of gibberish, gallows humour, boorishness, beyond-the-pale philosophy and heavy gloom that has gone before …
When a club’s anthem begins with the words “Wise men say”, one might hope it would rub off on our players and managers.
While the former have become increasingly quiet when it comes to talking to any form of non-SAFC media (our Jack the obvious recent exception), the latter have at times seemed intent on talking their way out of the managerial hot seat before they’ve worked out their way round the stadium. How refreshing it is then, to hear some long-awaited words of wisdom from our current manager, compared to some of nonsense we’ve endured over the years.
Going back to the dark days of our first “record-breaking” Premier League season (there have been a few, haven’t there?), we had Sergeant Wilko at the helm, always a great bet for a projectile vomit of words that barely formed a coherent sentence.
Aside from the infamous comment about getting the “monkey off our shoulders” after conceding three own goals in a defeat at home to Charlton, Wilko also claimed he “didn’t care if we were one of the three worst down there, I want us to be the fourth best”. Enlightening.
His successor Mick Mac was and still is, in fairness, rather entertaining in his pre- and post-match interviews, not least when commenting when his Ipswich Town came to town that his job at the club was akin to “trying to stop an oil tanker with a canoe paddle”.
But while McCarthy could always be relied on to provide a spot or two of gallows humour during his time on Wearside, Roy Keane was the exact opposite. After hearing of loanee Clive Clarke’s heart attack on the same night as a feckless defeat for the Lads at Luton, Keane was said to be pleased as it would take some of the spotlight off the players’ performance. He also commented that he was surprised Clarke had a heart as “you could never tell by the way he plays”. Ah Keano, your charm knows no bounds.
Steve Bruce had his card marked from the off with some fans due to his Geordie roots, but his comments that we were “obsessed” with Newcastle fans was hardly likely to win them over. He also referred to Sunderland fans as “deluded”, claiming that we expected to be in Europe and winning cups every season. Perhaps expectations, as they did under Reid around 1999-2000, grew higher in some quarters, but there are ways and means of tempering them.
I’ll spare MoN the ignominy of being mentioned in a derogatory sense, particularly as he gave Steven Taylor a bit of stick when he claimed no Sunderland players would get into Newcastle’s team, but I could write a whole article about Paolo Di Canio. From telling his players they “need to have lectures about mayonnaise, ketchup and coke” to “I’m a fascist not a racist”, Di Canio should and will be remembered for his dirty knees, not his verbal expertise.
And then of course we had Dour Davey and his assertion that we would be in a relegation fight after the second game of the season. Admittedly, he was only stating something every Sunderland fan feared and knew, but with it he cast a gloom over his tenure that would never lift under his reign, or even that of Simon Grayson.
After such a long line of managers suffering from horrific cases of foot-in-mouth disease, Coleman has come in and talked nothing but sense. “I only want to work with players who are committed,” he said during the transfer window, presumably about the likes of Grabban and Ndong among others, while he blasted Chris Martin for procrastinating over a deal to join us:”It’s the opposite of the type of player we are trying to attract in terms of mentality.”
He has been rightly critical of his players, especially following the capitulations at Sheffield United and Cardiff, but admitted, “I say ‘they’, but it’s me too. It’s my team now.”
Coleman has also constantly pointed to the loyalty of our fan base, an obvious tactic to keep supporters onside, but one which precious few of his predecessors chose to employ. The recent clip of him and Kit Symons visiting an elderly couple to talk about their 80 years of supporting the club struck a chord with fans of all generations and what’s more, he seemed to genuinely want to be there and learn about our history.
It’s high-time we had a straight-talking, honest and eloquent manager on board, who will roast the players when they need it, but take his share of the blame as well. He’s never going to keep every fan 100 per cent happy (I for one, think Aiden McGeady is our most creative player and should start every game) but it is reassuring finally to hear one of our managers consistently talking sense.
Martin Crow is a freelance writer and sports enthusiast who has spent 26 years following Sunderland from near and far. He has contributed to a range of local publications including A Love Supreme, the Sunday Sun and Northern Echo; and was sports editor at Newcastle University’s The Courier. He currently lives in Sunderland with his wife and daughter, whom he is having a hard time convincing that SAFC were not always this atrocious.