Pete Sixsmith has seen 180 games since the season began. The ones he regrets most involve the Lads in red and white, or whatever away strip in which they were purporting to play. But along the way, he’s seen some great football as well as the duds …
That’s it, my season is over. It started on Friday July 15 July at Tow Law, a large village clinging precariously to a ridge above Weardale and finished by the banks of the River Swale at Richmond.
In between it took in 19 visits to the Stadium of Light for first team games, a completion of the 92 when I had the misfortune to see a game at the London Stadium and a further completion of the 42 as I went to the 1966 version of the Olympic Stadium, Meadowbank in Edinburgh.
The final total was a decent 180 games of which one Sunderland game got me excited, that being the 3-0 home win over a Hull City side that made us look like a combination of Barcelona, 1970s Ajax and 1950s Real Madrid. Or perhaps that was how it appeared on the day.
I managed to all but complete the Welsh Premier League when I saw Airbus UK lose at home to TNS in late August and racked up five new North West Counties League stadiums on a Groundhop over Easter.
I saw games in Coxhoe, Evenwood and Redcar as I moved further and further away from the anguish of the Premier League and revelled in afternoons out at Prestwich Heys, Cleethorpes Town and Eyemouth as the miseries of Sunderland AFC were forgotten about for a short while.
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I saw some cracking games and some absolute stinkers, most of the latter involving Sunderland.
I met some great people and the odd one that I would have gone miles out of my way to avoid. I travelled in the trusty Mazda and on public transport and always enjoyed the experience of travelling on our soon to be nationalised railway system.
I saw some narrow wins – FC Halifax pipped Salford City in a penalty shoot out to get to the National League North Play off Final which they went on to win and get back into the National League where they will play Hartlepool.
I saw a couple of tedious 0-0 draws and a couple of good ones and I saw some crushing defeats – Crook Town losing 10-1 at home to Billingham Synthonia being the most notable. The Crook goalkeeping coach played at centre forward, the manager didn’t turn up and both were sacked the next day.
I basked in the sun as we won 2-1 at Rotherham in July, where David Moyes was welcomed, felt the cold at Heritage Park, Bishop Auckland as Middlesbrough Under 18s dumped Fulham out of the FA Youth Cup and got absolutely soaked on the last day of the season as a thunderstorm hit picturesque but uncovered Earls Orchard, Richmond.
I enjoyed the individual performances of Jordan Pickford and Jermain Defoe, saw Lewis Wing at Shildon earn himself a professional contract at Middlesbrough and was privileged to see Julio Arca play at Dean Street in his all-conquering South Shields team.
The best game I saw all season was Spennymoor Town’s clash with Blyth Spartans in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.
Both clubs were promoted at the end of the campaign, Blyth as Champions and Spennymoor as play off winners and they go into the same league as York City, Stockport County and Darlington.
This game was a snorter, brilliantly refereed and played in the proper spirit in front of a large crowd. It was an evening which made me question my continuing commitment to SAFC. It was closely followed by a 2-2 draw between Shildon and Morpeth Town at Dean Street which personified all that is good about EBAC Northern League football.
Two games where I was back home within 20 minutes of the final whistle going – there will be more of this next season.
The most disappointing performances I saw all season (Crook Town apart) were the wretched shows that we put up at home to Stoke City and Southampton and the away game(s) at Turf Moor.
All three showed the poor organisation, poor motivation and poor attitude of Sunderland AFC, the manager and too many of the players.
Away from Sunderland, Shildon had a shocker at home to Atherton Collieries in the FA Vase and then again four days later at bottom of the table Chester-le-Street Town which precipitated the departure of the manager and his coaching staff. A dismal 0-0 draw between Newcastle Benfield and Shildon was forgotten about before the trusty Mazda had pulled out of the car park.
I enjoyed AFC Fylde’s new ground at Mill Farm, Wesham, a splendid stadium fit for the EFL and containing a lot of bitterly disillusioned former Blackpool fans. I also liked Hawick Royal Albert’s Albert Park, a fine example of a 50s stadium and overshadowed by the equally traditional Hawick RFC ground next door. Prestwich Heys cavalier approach to seating (13 white plastic stacking chairs) amused me; West Ham’s abomination left me cold. Great for athletics, hopeless for football.
The EFL fixtures come out on June 21 so we will see where we start off. Bristol City would be nice. I have not been to Ashton Gate for 25 years and it looks very different.
There is a good piece on it in the excellent Groundtastic magazine so my appetite has been whetted.
Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium is another one to visit as I have never seen Sunderland play there. Bramall Lane has not been graced with my presence for a long time and may well be this year, while I like Deepdale and its proximity to Southport.
I may skip trips to the New Den, Loftus Road and St Andrews. Can you suggest why?