Ken Gambles is a regular contributor to Salut! Sunderland. He has endured worse than the season just gone, enough to enable him to pinpoint Sunderland’s varied failings but also to hope for a better future as the PDC broom sweeps clean(ish). This is Ken’s review of a season in which, as Gambles go (sorry, Ken!), keeping MoN would have been more rash than hiring Di Canio …
Yet one more disappointing season in what seemed to be an encapsulation of all it means to be a Sunderland supporter.
Has any so-called big club, or medium club for that matter, had such a lean time of it than us in the past 40 years? Season after season the excuses were there: not enough investment, Roker was too small, we needed a top-class manager, the youth system was poor etc etc.
Along with most fans, I thought when Martin O’Neill was appointed that everything was now in place. Having passed 60, I thought this might be my last chance to see Sunderland consistently among the best 10 teams in the land.
Sadly following toe-clenchingly awful performances at home to Swansea, Fulham and Norwich, relegation was a certainty. Or so it seemed.
The football was unimaginative,unexciting and predictable. I recall saying to a close friend that I wished I weren’t bothered and that it didn’t matter, but of course it did. The appointment of Paolo Di Canio wasn’t a gamble: not to have sacked O’Neill would have been.
* See the full series of 2013 End-of-season reviews at this link: https://safc.blog/category/end-of-season-reviews-2013/
However, I want to look positively on what lies ahead rather than picking over the bones of a season we cannot change.Unlike Pete Sixsmith, with whom I am normally in complete agreement, I don’t believe this has been our worst season for I can immediately think of 1970, 1985, 1986, 2003 and 2006 as far worse. But we move on. Paolo is a one-off and it may all collapse spectacularly, but I’m thrilled by his enthusiasm and commitment, and as Louise Taylor of The Guardian puts it he “speaks a lot of good sense”.
He has a sharp sense of humour, too, and is not the complete ogre he’s made out to be. A win at the Mags, breaking the Everton hoodoo and keeping us up, even if somewhat undeservedly, is not a bad start.
His emphasis on fitness and self-discipline seems all too obviously required and at last one of our managers has admitted what most fans have seen for years: that other teams are not only more skilful, but bigger, fitter and containing athletes. Someone once pointed out that it is easier to turn an athlete into a footballer than it is to turn a footballer into an athlete.
Di Canio’s resolve to challenge the culture at the club is long overdue. No doubt the press, who appear to want him to fail, will relish any resulting conflict but modern day footballers remind me of secondary school pupils who are warned about breaking the rules yet, when punished, claim they are being picked on and treated unfairly.
The recent Bardsley incident reminds me of something a Sheffield Wednesday fan told me. He and some mates were in a club in London and Ashley Cole was there. One of the lads played keepie-uppie with an empty can and asked Ashley Cole if he could do that. His response was to take out a £50 note and set fire to it with the words “Can you do that?”. What is it about Premiership players and £50 notes? (But also, what is it about football fans in night clubs who relish the opportunity for a wind-up when they spot someone famous – ed?)
I’m looking forward to the close season and season 2013-2014. Of course it may end in tears but at the moment I feel optimistic (oh dear).
In Mignolet we have a keeper as good as any in the past 40 years and, if we do have to sell him, we should make a huge profit; Fletcher is a proven goalscorer even with a midfield as poor as our current one; Johnson has bought into the Di Canio philosophy as seemingly have N’Diaye, O’Shea, Sess and Colback. Ha’way!
With respect to Phil Manzarek of The Doors who died this week, these are strange days but it’s not the end, and I’m looking forward to the future.