Pete Sixsmith gets his 2010-2011 Soapbox erected in time for the big kick-off and, like Colin Randall, harks back to when football was really football and men were men (or lads of not quite 16) ….
What do these numbers have in common? 46;10;2?
They are the number of seasons that Colin and me, Niall Quinn and Steve Bruce have been associated with Sunderland AFC.
From our point of view, the first season tickets were purchased in 1964 for the princely sum of six guineas, Main Stand Paddock, to the right of the tunnel. That was the season where, like this one, our first choice keeper had broken his arm. Instead of signing one, we put our faith in a nipper called Derek Forster.
You may ask yourselves what on earth was the manager doing putting a boy of 16- in goal. Er, we didn’t have a manager. Alan Brown had left and the board, in their infinite wisdom, refused to be stampeded into an appointment and selected the team themselves. Hence, when Monty broke his arm in training, no replacement was lined up.
The first game of that season was a 3-3 draw with a Leicester City side that was a regular fixture in the top division. 33 years later, SNQ made his debut against the same club in a turgid 0-0 draw and I am sure that he would be the first to say that his debut was a tad less than auspicious. That he went on to become one of our best loved players and the man who has played a major part in putting us where we are today, is a tribute to him.
Twelve months ago The Brucester led us to a 1-0 win at Bolton thanks to a goal from Darren Bent and strong performances from Lorik Cana, Marton Fulop, Danny Collins and Kenwyne Jones.
Now, we go into 2011 with a much changed team. Almost all of the players have been brought in by Bruce and there is a feeling that there will be a change of approach and style for this season.
It is to be hoped that the addition of Riveros and Al-Muhammadi will lead to a much more creative midfield. Last year it had its moments, but mostly the unit was slow and ponderous. Cana is a good player but he and Cattermole were too similar and the departure of the Albanian for what we paid for him looks a shrewd move. This should allow Cattermole to be paired up with either one of Riveros, Henderson or Zenden in the middle. Sounds ok to me.
Up front, Kenwyne’s presence meant that there was a tendency to lump it up to him. When he was on message, that tactic worked. But if he was having an off day (and there were a fair few of those), the ball came back at us.
We now have the pace of Campbell, Welbeck and Waghorn, allied with the arch-predator aka Darren Bent. If we get the right balls up to whichever two are playing, we should be able to take on most defences for pace. If we lump it up, we will get nothing.
The defence looks strong. The return of John Mensah is to be applauded. Alright, we may not get 38 games out of him, but if we get 25 top class performances, I guess most of us would be happy.
Bramble is a competent Premier League player, ditto Turner. Onuhora can catch pigeons and Da Silva is concentration personified. Five good defenders there – Bruce’s problem is which 3 are going to play.
We have a goalkeeping issue as we did in 1964, but Mignolet has impressed pre season and he has a raft of Belgian caps at Under 21 level and below. Far better than an untried 16 year old.
Are we stronger than this time last year? I think we are.
I was an admirer of Jones and I did think at one time, that here was a player to build a team around. But I don’t think he has ever recovered from that awful challenge by David James. It hurt him badly and he never seemed to attack the ball with as much gusto as he had in his first season where he chased his own headers.
Take Blackpool out of the equation and there are no chopping blocks like Hull and Portsmouth. The other two promoted sides may (unfortunately in one case) have enough to stay up, meaning that one of the more established sides could slide away. I don’t think it will be us, but it may be West Ham and Wigan.
Nor do I think we will be challenging for the title. Manchester’s Ugly Sisters will be up there as will the Three London Stooges meaning that we need to get ourselves into the Liverpool, Villa, Everton group.
Can we do it? Bob the Builder always does while Barack Obama sometimes does. Bob or Barack – what will season 2010-2011 see us as? Pass the tools, Colin.