Tash Scott* warmed loads of hearts with her cleverly constructed and moving account of a first trip to the Stadium of Light. She’s a Sunderland supporter with impeccable credentials but a postcode far from SR5 1SU. Here is her thoroughly engaging description of the life of a long-distance supporter, with extracts inserted by her dad, Derek, from the famous old poem by Robert Browning, who died in 1889, just too early to see Sunderland’s Team of All Talents take English football by storm …
Oh to be in England,
Now that April’s here.
Forget about the “long old poke” from Plymouth to Newcastle for away games, Truro to Sunderland is a fair bit farther and that’s for home games.
It’s 452.6 miles from pasty-making Cornwall to the Stadium of Light, so you can guess why me and my brother don’t get to too many games. And, in a county were anywhere north of Plymouth is referred to as “up country”, we’re not in the majority of football supporting fans.
However the last couple of years have been good with results against the “big four” that have shut up some of the gloryhunters and, with us starting to look a half decent team, fewer people were asking me Who, When, Where and Why? I pledge my allegiances to Sunderland. On the other hand the 7-1, and 7-2 defeats haven’t been particular highs. Nor has the more recent run with the 5-0 defeat to Man City falling on the weekend of my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary, some coincidence apparently.
And whoever wakes in England,
Sees, some morning, unaware.
For me it all started when we watched Sunderland play Arsenal in 2001, and though it was that match that got me hooked I do remember crying at half time because my Dad had been shouting so loudly next to me. It’s probably Dad’s passion that got me hooked too, capitalised by his vast mood changes between victory and defeat which now I probably mimic. But unlike Dad I don’t think I’d complain about goal difference if we won every game.
Cornish football fans are slightly different to the norm as there are plenty who have never even visited the home ground of their team; mainly because it would involve a six-hour train journey to Stamford Bridge, the Emirates, Anfield or Old Trafford. But some are more devoted; occasionally you’ll meet a Cornishman to whom Plymouth aren’t just their second team and Home Park is a ground they’ve been to (let’s hope they’ll still have that option next season). Some have moved to Cornwall from nearer their clubs, there are a few who support the likes of Wolves, West Ham, and even Newcastle that make trips to their clubs at least annually, and claim no other allegiances even if their team are in the midst of a relegation battle. But then there are some, like my brother’s friend, who support Real Madrid.
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf
Living in Wolverhampton until I was 14 meant that we did get to see the odd game against some of the yo-yo clubs – Wolves and West Brom, and the definitely not yo-yoing Stoke ( still unbeaten when I’ve been ) – but the atmosphere was never as good as at the Stadium of Light even if the chants were always enjoyable. Though the West Brom game does stick out as it was in the 15-point season; we won, someone was wearing an “I’ve seen Jon Stead score” shirt and we had to be very quiet on the tram ride home.
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough,
In England, now!
But since moving to the hotbed of football that is Cornwall our attendance at games has fallen. Cornwall’s best football team are Truro City who play in the Zamaretto League against the likes of Swindon Supermarine and Bashley (not for much longer as the White Tigers are about to be promoted to the Blue Square South – their fifth promotion in six glorious years). We’ve also witnessed Arsenal Ladies play Newquay in the Women’s FA Cup.
Recent footballing weekends have consisted of us going to Tony Price Sports shop and rearranging the varying football shirts they have in stock (usually Sunderland, Man Utd, Arsenal, Chelsea, Blackburn, Villa, Liverpool, Newcastle, and Truro City) then listening to the radio or sitting round a laptop watching the match on a live stream (in-between it freezing) – sorry Niall – and listening to the interesting pronunciation from our South American commentators of the names of our players, a favourite being Gayg Gordon.
There have been some good memories of these moments: hearing Chopra’s last gasp winner against Tottenham on the first day of the season, seeing us top of the league for an hour or so, listening to the Sunderland fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone in a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, Dad nearly crashing the car at news of Kenwyne scoring an equaliser at Arsenal, trying to unscramble the intermittent signal, creating even more confusion during the beach ball game, as Dad sent me balloon-related texts when I had no idea what had happened (the commentators weren’t much help) and the seven minutes of injury time being announced in the same game (watching it later on Match of the Day was great especially as Reina had already moved it once and the Liverpool emblem on it was so clearly visible).
The best game though has to be at Stamford Bridge in November: me Dad, Will, and the cat sat on the sofa with the laptop (we’d managed to find a stream with English commentary, it must’ve been a big game). I remember walking past the William Hill shop in town earlier in the week, suggesting Chelsea were going to be 3-0 victors. We, on reflection unwisely, opted for the laptop rather than Sky in anticipation of a drubbing and being surrounded by the kind of Chelsea supporters who’ve never been to the Tamar Bridge let alone Stamford Bridge. The first half was nervy with Anelka looking a bit dangerous, but then Nedum Pele Onouha wandered through the Chelsea defence and slid the ball under Petr Cech and we were 1-0 up, cue mad jumping around the lounge, the cat runs off unable to contain his excitement, the stream decides to go jumpy, it just about starts to work again and then it’s half time.
At half time we were 1-0 up against Chelsea, the league winners. What? Is this real? The second half was even more unbelievable; Asamoah got to show off his dance which has been a highlight of the season and Danny Welbeck got one too, great. The amazing thing is we played amazingly! You don’t win 3-0 against Chelsea by luck, and hearing Lee Dixon saying “Sunderland were fantastic” instead of the usual “Chelsea were poor” was lovely. And the stat that Chelsea hadn’t conceded at Stamford Bridge, never mind lost, in something like 100 years made our grins even wider.
And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds and all the swallows.
And, as Sunderland keep (fingers crossed) gradually improving, hopefully the Cornish Sunderland supporters’ branch will increase. And I’ll see more Facebook statuses like “Simon Mignolet is a Man U fan” ( after the 0-0 at Arsenal). Maybe the locals will even be able to name more than two of our players, unlike my Mum who still thinks our Ghanaian striker is called Azerbaijan.
Fast forward to May 7 2011, the day before Dad’s birthday and me and my brother are out with him in Telford.
3.46pm Cue looks of complete disbelief as Dad parks and Stuart Hall (never a man to use one word where 750 will do) announces Zenden has scored.
4.10pm Nervously shuffle around a few shops, trying to find updates on mobile phones etc. Fidget distractedly.
4.14pm As above
4.18pm As above
4.22pm As above
4.26pm As above
4.30pm As above
4.34pm As above
4.38pm As above
4.42pm Return to the car where Radio 5 is based at what must surely be the home of Radio 5, Upton Park. Dad starts “Other football venues exist……..”
4.47pm Klasnic scores. Atmosphere is very tense in the Passat. Is a point enough to make sure. Cue erratic driving and another foul mouthed rant at West Ham and the media penchant for following them in every detail.
4.48pm Dad still going strong; Scott Parker is the focus of his ire this time.
4.50pm Scores should be coming in by now; still our national radio station is at the home of beautiful football; Dad is in full flow Julian Dicks, Lee Bowyer, Repka, Trevor Brooking are on the receiving and then he starts on Garth Crooks and his team of the week.
4.51pm Atmosphere in the car becoming “volatile” no news from the Reebok.
4.52pm Reports from League Two drift in. Dad is in overdrive (not the car) “Who wants to know the score at ****ing Barnet?”
4.53pm Goal at Bolton. Hearts sink. The normally verbose Mr Hall is concise, however, and blithely announces Muntari’s injury time winner. Cue wild celebrations; traffic chaos in Telford as a VW Passat containing three mad Sunderland fans sound its horn and zigzags through its roundabouts.
4.55pm An air of Zen calmness is exuded from all occupants of the aforementioned Passat as everything is well and fine in the world.
Until next season?
In the mean time I’m probably the only Sunderland supporter hoping for an away draw against Plymouth in the cup.
Lest you could think he could never recapture,
The first fine careless rapture!
* Tash Scott – seen in pink, in the centre of the photo below – is now 17 and attends college inTruro. Dad, from County Durham, teaches in the Black Country (where, he points out, he has seen us play four, lose four this season) and lives in Bridgnorth. Tash plays for Truro City Ladies and has represented Cornwall under 18s. She played at Pride Park (photo) last season for Truro City under 16s in the semi finals of the English Tesco Cup. They lost to the losing finalists, Cambridge, in what the family nevertheless remembers as “a sensational day out”.