Did anyone ever seriously believe Peter Crouch, of whom it can at least be said that he's a man you can look up to, would sign for Sunderland? No, I thought not. Even without a Wag climbing a ladder to breathe down his neck, he'd simply have used us to drive a harder bargain wiv sam savvern clab innit. Pete Sixsmith, it is fair to say, quickly got over any sense of disappointment. No wonder. He's off to the Netherlands for our Crouch-free warm-up tournament …
If it’s pre-season you can be assured that Messrs Horan and Sixsmith will be taking to the road, track or skies to follow the team to whatever exotic location they are heading for.
Over the years we have followed the Fawlty Towers trail to Torquay, spending a delightful day travelling on a Virgin Cross Country train with the heating full on in our carriage while the sun blazed in through sealed, double glazed windows By the time we arrived in the land of palm trees and bloodshed at the Nell Gwynn tea rooms, we were as dehydrated as Mrs Richards was deaf.
It was a pleasant trip that included a cracking day on a steam railway to Dartmouth, a boat trip up the River Dart to Totnes and the best cream tea I have ever had.
The next year we set off to Seville, a journey that was clouded with sadness as my father died the evening before we set off and Peter’s daughter's father-in-law was terminally ill. The city of Seville blew away some of the dark clouds that hung over us with its Andalucian charm, although the football was a disaster and it was abundantly clear that we were going to be involved in a relegation struggle. Not even the sight of Emerson Thome’s mighty pecs encouraged us to believe that Reidy could turn things around.
From Seville we moved on to a place whose name strikes fear into the heart of both of us: Algeciras. I’m sure it has its charms, but they were not clear to us as we spent a wretched night there, watching a bunch of Spanish Third Division thugs play football like Featherstone Rovers on speed. George McCartney and Thomas Butler were sent off (Butler for assaulting the slob who had kicked his mate George all over the place) and how Kevin Kyle never twatted their barbarian of a centre half is a mystery to me.
The last two pre-seasons have been spent touring Ireland. Highlights like Galway Races, a six-hour bus trip from Belfast to Athlone with a stinking hangover and rain of biblical proportions in Dublin are well chronicled in the Salut! Sunderland archive.
This year we are heading for Amsterdam. Both of us have been there before on football trips with the gallant lads of Shildon Sunderland Supporters FC. We stayed in the Hotel Hans Brinker, named after the Dutch patron saint of mould on the walls and unspeakable things in the shower.
We did all the tourist things – Street of Windows, canal ride, Street of Windows, Flower Market, Street of Windows.
We had a pacy midfielder (no names, but you know who you are, *****) who even indulged himself in the company of one of the ladies who exhibited there. He knocked on the window, asked her how much it was and was told 500 guilders. “That’s a bit expensive”, he said. “Ah, but it’s double glazed”, came the reply.
We fly from Leeds/Bradford on a red eye express, which at least gives us an extra day to savour the Amsterdam rain and see if it is any different to the billions of gallons that have poured down on South West Durham over the last week.
We have a number of cultural events planned: the Rijksmuseum to gaze at the Rembrandts and the Rubens. The Van Gogh museum to gaze at framed lyrics of Don McClean’s song. A sad and lonely figure, old Vincent – a bit like Mike Ashley, only without the beer gut and bodyguards. When he cut his ear off he gave it to his girlfriend. She said: “Oh, Vincent, you really do love me." He replied: “Pardon?"
The football will be interesting. In 1963 we played Benfica (who were then European Champions- Eusebio, Torres, Coluna etc) in a friendly at Roker Park. We were assured by the then board that this was a precursor of our own (inevitable) entry into European football. I didn’t go because my dad said I had to go to school the next day and Billy Reilly’s bus would not get back until 11.30.
I remember waiting for the next morning's Northern Echo with eager anticipation and crowing with delight when I saw that we had walloped them 5-3. It said that young John O’Hare had scored a wonder goal and that he was a real star in the making. The crowd had been a disappointing 26,000 but the future looked bright. I can’t remember the other scorers, but I would imagine that Johnny Crossan and George “Bullet” Mulhall would be there or thereabouts.
As for Atletico Madrid, I remember them being involved in a wonderfully violent game with Celtic in the 70s which featured a long haired Argentinian winger called Reuben Ayala chasing a Celtic player down the pitch. And they had a lunatic owner who sacked managers if the wrong team lost a training ground match.
Like all the best teams they wear red and white stripes as do Paraguay, home of our new centre half, Paolo da Silva – not dos Santos as Micky Horswill called him on The World's Worst Radio Phone In aka The Three Legends. However, no sighting of da Silva or Campbell in Amsterdam, as neither have reported for duty yet.
Finally a word on the Peter Crouch episode: relief!!!
Keep an eye open for news from the Netherlands over the next few days …