I’ve had my say, Kirsten or Kristin likewise and Mark Hanson has delivered a stiff rebuke to the moaners. Now it’s the turn of Terry McLoughlin*. He offers a fascinating mix of loyal faith in Roy Keane and realism about the state of the game and transfer market. And he follows that – on the continuation page – with a brilliant summing up of last season………
And when last season ended and promotion was deservedly ours?
That ending was, for me, a spectacular high. Then the euphoria faded quickly to be replaced by an ‘Oh bugger! What do we do now?’ feeling.
We’ve all seen it over the years. The boom-and-bust scenario repeating itself. The momentum of the ’98-00 seasons lost. Good money spent badly or too late.
Where, looking back to May 6 and the championship icing on our promotion cake, from here?
Firstly, I make no apologies for stating I have absolute faith in Roy Keane. I know he is a winner and I know he is a focused and single-minded individual who has got to the very top of his game.
He doesn’t take prisoners yet can work with his perceived enemies if the cause is right. I’m glad he is at Sunderland and I look forward to the day that Man Utd approach us to take him away. We’ll be in a cracking league position by then.
Secondly, the increased revenue from the TV companies has given clubs the ability to throw silly amounts of money at relatively ordinary players. We’ve seen it with Bent at £16.5m and Nugent at £6-7m. There were no queues forming to sign these players yet they went for silly money in a one-horse race.
Prices are being jacked up, the cushion being that, on relegation, the parachute payment is now large enough that a club can keep it’s team in tact, weed out the weakest, improve, and bounce back. This will turn the Premier League into a 23-team league that won’t be broken without a massive investment into an established Coca Cola team.
Armed with this I decided not to get over-excited during the transfer window and was already following Roy’s belated advice and “chill out”. Anyone who can say “the less time Nyron has on the ball, the better for all” while turning him into a cult hero gets my vote. I’m sure he sees what our knowledgeable supporters see from the terraces. He knows where we need the new players.
Who to buy?
The whole pre-season transfer system works as a cascade. The very top clubs, the Chelseas, Man Utds, Arsenals & Liverpools bring in the top Europeans or South Americans (almost said Brazilians but that sounds like a haircut). There is usually no secret about their targets well in advance. These players are the best and are always available if the money is right. Before our season ends, these players are already earmarked. Their agents keep them in the media and drive their prices upwards.
Once these known targets are signed, the clubs can then decide who they can afford to release. Those teams who aspire to the Champions League have their pick of them. They are usually the well-established, upper mid-table, teams who can offer the best contracts. They can then release lesser players who are signed by teams hopeful of a UEFA place. These can then release players to relegation candidates to, hopefully, improve their squad.
This triggers the release of players to relegation fodder, who give them huge wages and stupid let-out clauses in desperation, just for allowing them to play for them while they are relegated. Then they’re stuck with them. Premier League failures or players on a last big pay day dragging your club down.
You have to short-circuit the system. You either buy direct from Europe or South America, trust your management and scouting team, or fight in the volatile August window.
Our signings so far?
Pleased with Greg Halford, he looked the part for Colchester against us.
Russell Anderson? Age and experience sounds about right. Let’s wait and see.
Michael Chopra? Don’t care about his background. Enough has been said about ex-Mags. On the pitch over the years they haven’t let us down.
As an aside on the Chopra transfer. There’s been a bit of press recently about Sunderland and the NE in general being in the middle of nowhere. Players needing to be persuaded to come up here for a look around, yet alone moving their families up.
Keane said himself that he needed persuading and he now feels he can “sell” the area. London players like London and the furthest north they’ll move is Manchester (United). Any further north needs lots and lots of money (see Newcastle United).
Chopra signed quickly. No need to sell the area, he knew it. He also knows what he’s walking into. A goal on his debut and he’s a hero. A goal on November 10th and he’s a legend. He won’t miss that game through injury because he’ll be labelled a ‘bottler’. Only an amputation or a death certificate will keep him out. He’ll be there.
Keiran Richardson? Supposedly signing soon. At a price rising to £5.5m he’s expensive but as I said earlier, they all are. I know he’s Man Utd and is about 6th choice in their midfield. I also know that if he didn’t have a left foot he wouldn’t be anywhere near the England squad. He’s the right sort of signing for us though.
Chopra at £5m may not get the juices flowing but the signing of a proven front man in the next couple of weeks would change things. Quinn and Phillips all over again. The prices have gone up, along with the stakes.
I expect we’ll see a keeper, a left back a centre back and a tall striker soon. I know Keane likes Murphy but whether he sees him as a front man I don’t know. The lad reminds me of James Beattie. Where to play him?
Darren Ward strikes me as a very competent keeper whose “all round” game is very good. He certainly stabilised us last season. Craig Gordon at a reported £8m will give us what exactly?
I won’t be surprised to see Jonny Evans back. It’s not wishful thinking.
Squad numbers 3, 4, 5 & 6 are still available. I’m sure Roy will fill them wisely.
Meanwhile, we supporters will speculate, cogitate and ruminate about rumoured pending signings, then say: “Where the f**k did that one come from?”
Hold the line.
BETTER THAN CHELSEA 4-1, BETTER THAN LORD ROWELL’S HAT-TRICK
It was as if Roy Keane had taken the job back in August, shouted ‘”Go” and off they went.
The rest of the league’s four-game head start was soon overhauled and football was enjoyable again. Winning games and moving upwards.
We then got stuck in a quagmire and couldn’t seem to get past the likes of Stoke, Cardiff, Colchester and Wolves.
Went on for weeks and weeks. We win, they win.
Eventually we broke into the top six. It was like breaking through the clouds on take-off from Ponteland airport. Suddenly the sun was shining. The final run-in was a tiny bit nervous, but not too much. I felt confident we’d do it, and watching WBA and Derby blow up en route just added to the pleasure. The ungraciousness of their managers in defeat deserved nothing more.
The last couple of weeks of the season gave me what I consider to be two of the most enjoyable games I’ve ever seen in my 40-odd years of watching Sunderland.
Not the spectacular of thumping Chelsea at the SOL, not Gordon Armstrong’s cup goal against Chelsea, not the winning games against the Mags at St James’, not Gary’s hat-trick.
So many to choose from and all brilliant, brilliant games. For me the first was the away game at St Mary’s, Southampton, for a few reasons. I live locally and work with many Saints fans.
They’re a good club coming to terms with the reality of relegation, and failed immediate promotion. The day itself was a Bank holiday Monday, kick off at 5:15 so the afternoon was spent in good company and good weather having a few beers.
The away attendance was, as usual, brilliant. The game progressed end to end, 0-0 at half time and the tension mounts. Then 67 minutes, a goal down to a team fighting for a play off place and knowing their season depends on it. We equalise on 77 minutes with one of the best goals I’ve seen for years, by Carlos Edwards.
On 87 minutes, Leadbitter scores the winner. The game wasn’t a classic but showed to me that we can “dig in” and get a result. My smugness remains.
The number of points gained last season in the last 15 minutes must be the bulk of our total. It also kept the locals off my back at work. They were (mostly) complimentary about us.
The second game was against Burnley. This was a game with everything. You name it, it had it. Early lead taken, a chance to double it with a rare penalty but missed, an equaliser by a returning past player who had been booed by the crowd.
Going 2-1 down to a goal-of-the-game goal, then getting another penalty and equalising. The moves were good, the players showed character and a great atmosphere. All we needed was a winner. It came, and what a winner. From left back to right wing. Collins, Hysen, Leadbitter, Murphy and then Edwards again. If his goal against Southampton was stunning this one was errh! stunninger. A new goal of the game.
That Burnley game had the lot and it’s the game that keeps you coming back for more. That’s the hook we all know and love.
Memories of being taken as an nine-year-old to watch Sunderland at the end of the 50s by a good family living in the same street in Gateshead.
Being passed by one of them through the boys’ turnstile at the Roker End to be met on the other side by his brother or dad. The Reids, so much to thank you for.
The climb up to the terraces and then, out facing the pitch. Sitting on the barrier beneath the floodlight. Never passed down to the front, they took care of me. The car journey home, warm and asleep, in a Ford Prefect, woken only at East Boldon level crossing. The years passed, the Cloughs, the Baxters & Todds came and went. Then the train journeys from the old Gateshead railway station (see Get Carter). The walk from Seaburn station to the Fulwell End. The foggy nights and games cancelled. Then growing up and moving away. Missing most of the 70s and 80s working abroad (no internet then, only the World Service). Having a family. Taking them to their first games. The SOL and watching football in style. Meeting friends at the stadium. Meeting Charlie Hurley. The great games we’ve seen. So many good memories.
But nothing compared to the first time you come out to face the pitch at a full Roker Park. The biggest “kick in the knickers” you’d ever get.