Sixer’s Travels: thoughts on Arsenal away, Gordon Harris and rugby in Hull

Jake: 'pull off a shock, Lads'
Jake: ‘pull off a shock, Lads’

Pete Sixsmith ponders the coming league cup final, tactics ahead of the trip to Arsenal and a spot of rugby, but also offers memories of a former Sunderland player who had just died …

Ten days to go before the League Cup Final and there are the beginnings of excitement here at Sixsmith Towers.

Pardew the butler (he brings a new meaning to the word obsequious) is polishing the family corncrake, ready for a good rattle on Wembley Way and Ashley the under butler (too fond of a little flutter on the Stock Exchange) is making sure that the red and white striped onesie has creases as sharp as Jozy Altidore’s finishing.

However before then, we have the little matter of a league match at Arsenal. Not an easy one at the best of times and certainly not a week before a cup final.

But league points are as important as winning a trophy, so we absolutely must go into this game with expectations of at least a point.

Were we Southampton the game would not amount to much as we strove to cement our place in the top two of the “absolutely nothing to play for table”, but there is a very intense relegation battle for Sunderland to be a part of.

It is so intense that five of the bottom six have changed their managers this season, with Fulham doing it twice. We were linked with Meulensteen when Di Canio deprated the scene, but plumped for Poyet and hopefully he will guide us to safety.

Fulham employed the Dutchman and a plethora of assistants, coaches and chief cooks and bottle washers – and then fired him.

He has been replaced by Felix Magath, a three times winner of the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg and a man with a disciplinary trait that makes Di Canio look like an absolute pussy cat. What the new Fulham players will make of it remains to be seen.

Seven years ago when they were in a similar situation, they sacked Lawrie Sanchez and brought in Roy Hodgson. He kept them up by winning four games out of five at the end of the season. A repeat performance would not be welcome.

The general consensus is that if we win our remaining home games (6 of them) we will be OK. A win at Norwich would be a real bonus. But we need to win those home games and this has been our Achilles heel this season.

Away from home we can create our own tempo when we respond to the opposition; at home we have to set that tempo and we have not been good at it. Many of those present on Saturday (it was almost possible to ask each supporter individually) liked the two up front option that Poyet introduced. Scocco looked quick and sharp while Borini seemed happier playing through the middle.

The team selection for Ashburton Grove will be interesting.

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Saturday’s programme reported the death of Gordon Harris. He was the last player that Ian McColl signed for the club before his removal in 1968. He went on to play 134 times for Sunderland scoring 16 goals in his role as a thoughtful midfield general.

Pace was never Gordon’s greatest attribute, but he could make a telling pass and had he had decent forwards in front of him, would have contributed much more.

I remember Alan Brown playing him at centre half in an FA Cup tie against Orient in 1971 where he was run ragged by Mark Lazarus amongst others. He recovered from that to play the rest of that season in his usual No 10 role, but he left at the start of the 1971-72 season, another player whose career floundered on Wearside.

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The rugby league season started last week. M Salut is as interested in the 13 a side game as Eric Pickles is in attending Slimming World, but for me it is the game that I was brought up on and retains an honesty and accessibility that top level football often lacks.

I took in two games over the weekend. After the horrors of Manchester, which were somewhat assuaged by the Hydes Bitter in The Jolly Angler, I took myself to Warrington to watch their clash with local rivals St Helens. Like The Sports Direct a couple of weeks ago, it was a gloomy place for the home fans as Saints wiped the floor with them.

On Sunday, I spent an enjoyable day in Hull as Leeds did the same to Hull KR. Both Hull sides were at home at the weekend with the crowds totalling 24,000 – which is about as many as City get for their home matches. Hull is and always will be, a city where 13 a side beats 11 a side.

I also found an excellent pub within walking distance of the KC where we should be able to retreat should we go down to eight men if we play them in the quarter final.

Pardew has popped in to remind me that he tea is being served. He is not, as the Sunday Express reported, one dropped cup from the sack. I contacted Lord Beaverbrook to complain about the inaccuracy of the story and promptly banned the paper from the village shop. That’ll learn ‘em!!!!

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10 thoughts on “Sixer’s Travels: thoughts on Arsenal away, Gordon Harris and rugby in Hull”

  1. In my mind Hull is still a rugby league city. Many City fans come in from the East Yorshire hinterland (Beverley, Driffield,Goole). It will be interesting to see what happens to City’s support when they go down again and the owner falls out of love with Hull Tigers and football in general.
    Not that I am trying to provoke any controversy.

  2. I was at the Orient match in 1971 and it was the only match where I’ve ever heard the S’land fans chant for the opposition. It was in the days when the FA Cup was THE competition. The club was going through a particularly dismal period and we lost 3-0. When the third goal went in, the Fulwell broke into a chant of “Orient” and I was one of them. It was the final straw – we were going nowhere in the league (2nd Division !) and this signalled the end of the season more or less. Amidst all the frustration who would have thought that two years later we’d win the competition ?

  3. There were 22,926 fans at the rugby in Hull over the weekend. That’s 1,118 fans under the average attendance of Hull City for the season. That’s with cheaper tickets, and two clubs in the top division of rugby league.
    Hull City were averaging crowds at around 8,000 15 years ago, whilst Hull FC were getting similar, Hull KR were getting lower gates. Now Hull City attendances average 24,044.
    Hull was a rugby town over 20 years ago. Now, Hull is most certainly a football town.

    • I saw Lord Sixsmith at Dean Street last evening as Shildon dumped Dunston UTS out of the Durham Challenge Cup. He informs me that Kinnear, the below stairs tweeny, resigned having been employed specifically to ensure that Sixsmith Towers remained warm and welcoming but in his time there succeeded only in selling off the best anthracite whilst failing to bring in any alternatives – not even some sea coal gleaned from Blackhall beach.

  4. You’re wrong about rugby league in Hull being more popular than football – a pure myth.

    The home football crowds at the KC sell out virtually every game, it is away followings which prevent Hull City games from selling out most weeks.

    Hull KR’s attendances are boosted not by home fans, but because of the newly built away stand which will boost the attendance of away fans… and from people who went to the Hull FC game, most have said they don’t know how they came to the attendance figure of 11,400 as there was certainly not that many people in the stadium.

    The Rugby League World Cup also had poor attendances in Hull. Put on a football World Cup game in Hull and you’d need a bigger stadium than the KC.

    Plus, you can get a season pass at Hull FC for £220, where-as I pay £420 for mine at Hull City… makes a huge difference too.

  5. Sad to hear about Gordon Harris’s death. I remember my dad being very excited when we signed him, he’d played for England for god’s sake and his excitement was transmitted to me. Well he’d only earned one cap but that was good enough for me and I remember awaiting this superman with great expectations. What appeared was a balding old man, well he looked ancient to me, I was hoping for somebody who looked more like George Best! But “Bomber” became quite a favourite of mine, as Pete says he wasn’t quick but very elegant and cool as a cucumber.
    R.I.P. Gordon.

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