John McCormick writes: An e-mail from Pete Sixmith arrived today. A little further down my mailbox was a second e-mail, from M Salut, which surmised that Kone was ours no longer. A hasty check of Sunderland’s website provided no news but BBC’s red button told me he’d asked to leave, which put Pete’s post into some kind of context. Then I picked up an Everton site which said he was going to be offered a new contract.
Perhaps by the time you read this things will have clarified and Pete’s words, written before Janujaz signed yet still bearing enough news to whet our appetites (and perhaps raise our fears), will be moot.
Fifty years ago, less one week, we were eagerly awaiting the start of a new season. I was entering my final year of compulsory schooling, earning a crust delivering Sunday newspapers for George Reynolds’ stepfather and M Salut, being considerably older than me, was earning a slightly larger crust in the offices of British Railways Shildon Wagon Repair Works, while honing his journalistic talents on what would become known as fanzines.
The Troggs topped the charts with A Girl Like You, Dusty Springfield’s sublime Going Back was slipping down the ladder and Sunderland fan Alan Price was about to pass her her with a rocked up version of Hi Lili Hi Lo from some musical or other (“Lili “, according to Malcolm).
The country (minus Wales, Scotland and parts of Northern Ireland) was basking in the glow of the World Cup win two weeks previously and Harold Wilson, clad in a pair of shorts from British Home Stores (RIP), was sitting on a rock in the Scilly Isles puffing his pipe and reciting the Huddersfield Town Triple Championship winning side to all who passed him.
Meanwhile, at Roker Park, no new players had arrived and a handful had departed, all to lower league clubs or back to Scotland. Manager Ian McColl did not make a signing until October when he brought in George Kinnell, partly as a player, partly as a calming influence on his cousin, the wayward genius known as Jim Baxter. Alas, Kinnell proved to be anything but calming on account of how he could drink Not So Slim Jim under the table and back up again.
The season started on a sunny August day at home to Arsenal. At 3.00, there was the usual optimism in the Fulwell End. At 4.40 that optimism had been punctured, as Arsenal winger Alan Skirton had run riot and scored twice as the Gunners left with a 3-1 win under their belts. The crowd of 38,304 dropped to 27,161 on the Wednesday night as Southampton were seen off 2-0 thanks to goals from Alan Gauden and George Mulhall.
Fast forward half a century and both M Salut and I are pensioners, still earning crusts working for ESPN or marking exam papers. Neither of us have any idea of what is in the charts, and we both despaired of the national team for being terminally useless in the European Championships. The prospect of seeing Theresa May sitting on a rock in shorts is enough to put me off my new low fat diet.
Ian McColl had to deal with footballers who stayed out all night drinking and gambling. He did not have to deal with agents, social media, and know-alls like me pounding away on a laptop. Retrieving Messrs Baxter and Kinnell from Wetheralls or La Strada at 3.00 a.m. must have been a doddle compared to dealing with players and agents who hear exactly what they want to hear and who demand transfers after 5 months at the club.
I do not know the ins and outs of the Lamine Kone situation. Was he promised a new deal? If so, by who? Has his agent fallen out with the club now that Allardyce has left? How close is Neil McKay to Ronald Koeman? We, the punters, will never find out. Each side will tell us their side of the story and the truth (if there is any) may well come in between the two.
We have clearly lost Kone. I would be amazed if he played at Eastlands tomorrow. What we need to do now is to ensure that we receive a substantial fee for the transfer of his registration to Everton and to ensure that Phil Jagielka’s registration documents are not lodged at The Stadium of Light. Djilobodji looks to be an adequate replacement for a man who could have become a red and white legend but who will now go down as a bit of a stinker a la Lee Clark and Don Hutchinson.
While McColl signed no players in that close season, so far we have brought in three. McNair and Love were well thought of at Old Trafford, with the former playing in one of Northern Ireland’s Euro games and the other playing eight times for Wigan before making his debut at The Stadium when we beat United in February.
No Yann M’Vila which is at least as disappointing as Kone’s impending departure to The Toffees. Surely we cannot be waiting for his contract to run out in January so we can pick him up on a Bosman?
In the meantime, we start at Eastlands against a side with a coach who is widely regarded as world class and who has brought in players to fit the systems that he wants to play. He has let United sign the Galacticos , preferring to concentrate on speed and pace rather than cocking a snook at Real Madrid. Our defence could be in for a torrid time at tea time tomorrow.
There are still two weeks to go before the window closes. Many of us will remember that hectic night ten years ago when Roy Keane brought in Miller, Wallace, Varga, Connolly, Yorke and Kavanagh, a night that remodelled a team that needed remodelling.
This time, it needs strengthening and tweaking. If, in two weeks’ time, we do not have another decent forward, at least one more defender and Yann M’Vila, I shall be spending more time wandering down Memory Lane than reflecting on what will almost certainly be another season of blood sweat and tears.
And I don’t think that I could take another one of them.