Such nights don’t come along too often. We’d won promotion and clinched the title, the team were out celebrating with their wives (two of whom got on spectacularly badly as the night wore on).
Pete Sixsmithlooks back, taking his hat off to Roy Hodgson along the way
As we move into the closing phase of the season, we once again welcome Birmingham City to Sunderland. In recent years they have been regular visitors at this stage and there have been some memorable clashes between the alleged “second” clubs of their respective cities/regions.
In Reidy’s first promotion season, they were absolutely butchered at a noisy Roker Park. We were on the up and they were on the way down. They were in such a poor run of form that even Paul Stewart scored against them and we were spared the sight of the rotund Barry Fry doing his EasyJet impersonation in front of the main stand.
A couple of years (and a relegation for us and a promotion for Blues) later, we grabbed a point against them at the Stadium of Light in a tense and fraught game as we tracked Forest and the Smoggies. That game sticks in my memory because of a stupendous performance from Dele Adebola, who looked the perfect centre forward that night, and far better than a rather pedestrian Danny Dichio.
We missed out that year, but the year after, Reidy produced a wonderful side that romped away with the Nationwide Championship. Blues were our final visitors as we kissed goodbye to the Football League for ever, confident in the knowledge that we were a club destined to challenge the European aristocracy sooner rather than later; that, at least, was how we imagined it.
Blues were an improving side and took the lead in the first half. A full Stadium roared the Lads home as SuperKev sand Niall Quinn slotted home two goals, both of which looked offside, and we won 2-1.
Colin had driven up form London for the game and we had scrounged a lift through.
On the way home, we stopped off at the Dun Cow in Durham and ended up staying as our lift went home. Several pints of Castle Eden later, we were about to set off for the bus, when a couple of lads came in and said that the team were in O’Neills, the Irish bar in Claypath.
Scoop Randall sniffed a story out and we set off for aforementioned bar. On our arrival we came across the entire first team squad in the middle of a real hooley. Alex Rae was in charge of orders, running around with trays full of drinks while quaffing orange juice.
Andy Melville was looking morose as he had been told that he was being released, Mickey Gray and Martin Smith were buzzing and Chris Makin and Nicky Summerbee were propping up the bar supping Guinness and Blackcurrant – ugh!!
We ended up slaughtered and The Daily Telegraph ended up funding a taxi home – I think (it may have been my hope, Pete, but sadly I couldn’t come up with an excuse – ed). I took the next morning off work with a colossal hangover while Colin staggered through the morning before heading home.
Next day we heard that there had been a sharp exchange of views between the wives of two of the players in O’Neills (Martin Smith’s and Paul Butler’s: one local headline had it as “Wives Let Premier Passions Boil Over”). We missed it. It took place in the front bar while we were schmoozing with Makin and Buzzer in the back. Colin missed a scoop and I missed a few thousand brain cells.
In October when we played at St Andrews, I expected at least a point. We had beaten the plastic Scousers with the aid of a beach ball, while Blues were struggling to score goals and win games. They beat us 2-1 and have never looked back.
That they have had a very good season is down to good fortune with injuries, a settled side and an excellent manager in Alex McLeish. He took them down, got them up and has now made sure that they have comfortably retained their place for next season. He has signed some good players in Dann and Johnson, reformed a couple of nasties in Bowyer and Ferguson and made a great call in taking Joe Hart on loan.
His job was under pressure last season as they limped towards promotion, but quality counts. He has a good pedigree – Motherwell and Aberdeen are good clubs, Rangers are as big as most and he has worked with a national side even if it was only Scotland. And Birmingham have stuck with him. Good sides are built, not created.
Big Hec might have been in the running for Manager Of The Year. But for me, there is only one candidate: Roy Hodgson.
Fulham 4 Juventus 1 is the score line of the century. I saw Fulham at Feethams, not that many years ago, in a Fourth level game. Darlington beat them.
Thanks to Harrods money, and the work of Mickey Adams, Messiah Keegan and Super Brace, they climbed up the leagues into the top division. Under Laurie Sanchez they were on their way back to whence they came. Sanchez went, Hodgson (a man even older than me and Colin) came in and saved them from visits to Scunthorpe, Doncaster and Newcastle.
We beat them at Craven Cottage 3-1 and they were useless. Hodgson appeared on the radio afterwards and complimented Sunderland and Kenwyne Jones in particular. He accepted that it would be hard work to stop up. I wrote them off as did most people. They won five out of their last six games to stop up.
Since then, they have gone from strength to strength, are now an established Premier League club and are successful in Europe. Would that we were there. We need the patience with our management team that Fulham fans have shown to theirs.