No Saturday game at The Stadium since January 3rd, leaves Pete Sixsmith plenty of time to think about all kinds of things and even dream of Wembley…..
The last time I saw Sunderland’s first team play was 28 days ago on January 3rd when we swamped the Heroes of Holker Street 3-0. Since then, due to weather, long and unwanted away trips and ESPN, I have had to get my football fix elsewhere, and I have thoroughly enjoyed switching from one type of football narcotic to another.
This enforced absence from watching the red and whites while gritting my teeth and shaking my head has coincided with the flowering of Shildon into potential FA Vase winners. Last week they won at Roker Park, Stotfold to go into the last 16, next week they play at St Ives in Cambridgeshire (of which more later), while yesterday they had a convincing 3-1 win over the current Vase holders, Whitley Bay.
I played a part in this emphatic victory. While returning home from the shops, laden with ham, sausages and mince from Godfrey Card’s splendid meat emporium, I assisted the Shildon chairman, Brian Burn, in a 9.00 am preliminary pitch inspection. My dedication was such, that I even took my ear phones out, thus missing Miss Alma Cogan’s wonderful rendition of Lennon and McCartney’s Eight Days A Week on Sounds Of The Sixties.
We both decided that it would be playable if the sun came up and melted the frost and if the referee was not one of those who would be intimidated by Injury Lawyers 4U and their ilk. Take a bow, Mr Jackie Traynor of Stanley, who declared the pitch fit and allowed a rousing game to go ahead in front of a crowd in excess of 300.
It was one of two games on in the region (three if you count the Smoggies thrilling 0-0 draw with a Bristol City side whopped 6-0 at home in midweek) and it was a credit to the Northern League. Both sides have long trips next weekend (Bay go to that well known footballing hotbed, Chertsey) and their players may have had that on their minds as they were comprehensively outplayed by a Shildon side full of confidence and good football.
Walking home, I tuned into James Alexander Gordon for the third week running and heard his immaculate Gaelic tones give out a series of results that made our position no worse than it was at 3.00 pm, with the added prospect of Burnley dropping points to Chelsea. After a warming cup of tea, a couple of muffins dripping with Benecol and a quick peruse of my leather bound collection of Big And Bouncy, I was then seated in front of a roaring gas fire to watch the events from Turf Moor unfold.
Aren’t Chelsea the ultimate unlovable side? I mean, everything about them is unsmiling and ruthless. They seem to play football without any sense of enjoyment. It’s as if it’s almost an accountant’s exercise in accumulating money while doing something you are very good at.
John Terry personifies that. He’s a good player, but there is an arrogance and a stiffness about him (allegedly Wayne Bridge’s ex will testify to the latter) that makes him a player you cannot like. Lampard is the same – unsmiling, ruthless, a typical product of the English public school system. Anelka, for all his glorious skills, plays football without any sense of enjoyment. The owner seems devoid of emotional involvement in the club; compare him with Quinny who clearly feels every victory and defeat for Sunderland.
Terry’s arrogance rubs off on the fans, and they respond by calling him JT. I have always had a downer on people who use initials. It stems back to my Bright College Days when the PE students referred to each other in this way, probably because remembering a whole name was beyond their intellectual capabilities. The day Sunderland managers and fans refer to one of our players like this is the day I hang up my season card for ever.
Which leads me in to a moral dilemma for next week. Do I go to St Ives or The Stadium? I rarely miss home games. The last one was three years ago, when I went to watch Shildon at Retford and I ducked out of the visit of Luton Town. This one is a serious problem as both games are important. If we win on Monday, then victory over Wigan would shoot us back up the table and give us a couple of weeks to sort things out for the rest of the season.
On the other hand,wearing my groundhopper’s hat (and trainers and ill fitting trousers), when will I ever get the chance to visit Westwood Road, St Ives? My entirely selfish hope is that the game is called off next Saturday and is then played the week after, enabling me to do both – although if we lose on Monday (surely not!!), Cambridgeshire gets the nod.
Talking of Monday, I hope that the returning players get a good reception. We didn’t see enough of Delap to pass judgement, but Collins, Lawrence, Higginbotham and particularly Whitehead, all did well for us. Dean was outstanding in our two promotions and I struggle to remember many more whole hearted player than him in all the years I have been suffering the Lads. Clubs qualities are measured in different ways; one is in the way they welcome back former employees. We like to think we are a decent club, so any jeering of the aforementioned or of Peter Reid, would mark us down as bitter and twisted – a good beer, but not a good attitude.
Finally (at last, they all cheered), we are at the end of the transfer window and we can expect some frantic deals going through today and tomorrow. Rumours are rife about Robbie Keane coming in along with a fire sale signing from Palace. No doubt Barrow Boy Harry from Dahn the Lane will be involved. He’ll probably sell us Keane and then buy him back in the summer a la Chimbonda, Defoe, Crouch and Kaboul. In fact, he is probably at this moment, disinterring the remains of Danny Blanchflower in the hope that he can turn out in midfield against Villa next week. On that gruesome, but entirely plausible thought, let’s hope for a convincing win on Monday – we need it.