Thirty-five years is a long time to hold a grudge. When it comes to Coventry City, and especially a past chairman, Pete Sixsmith manages it with ease, even if some Coventry fans have spectacularly misunderstood what it is he’s saying (ie that he’d be happy to see them relegated, not forced out of existence – sadly, many later comments became so abusive that all were temporarily blocked; I have lifted the ban but will keep an eagle eye on content) …
As Papiss Cissé swaps the backwater of Freiburg for the cauldron of the Sports Direct Arena, we Sunderland fans are sitting back waiting for a first move in the transfer market. A number of younger players (and Trevor Carson) have gone out on loan and it is interesting to see where and reflect on what connections those clubs have with Sunderland.
Louis Laing has gone to Wycombe, who gave Martin O’Neill his first stab at league management. Ryan Noble has gone to Derby, where the son of MON’s mentor is the current manager. Carlisle have looked after our players in the past and Jordan Cook has gone there, while John Egan’s move to Palace has a Forest connection through its manager, Dougie Freedma.
The market is very slow at the moment and it looks like the bigger clubs are hardly bothering. QPR seem to be in the market for Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all, and having watched the dismal performance they turned in against Franchise FC (aka MK Dons), it is easy to see why.
Unbelievably, Shaun Wright-Phillips was awarded “The Budweiser Man Of The Match”, presumably due to his inability to put the Dons out of their agony by missing as many chances as possible. A real candidate for the most over rated player of the century.
Here in the North East, we are watching Darlington go through their death throes. At time of writing, they have three hours to go before the administrator liquidates them and Darlington FC ceases to exist.
The blame for their demise is being heaped on the decision of Sunderland-born George Reynolds’s decision to build a 25,000 seat stadium for a club that, in a good year, averaged 5,000. The death has been long and drawn out and really started the day they left cosy Feethams for the stadium now known as The Northern Echo Darlington Arena.
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Another club playing in an Arena and facing difficulties on and off the pitch are Coventry City. They swapped anonymous Highfield Road for the footballing hotspot that is The Ricoh Arena and have been sliding further and further back in the football pecking order ever since.
They are now rooted at the bottom of the Championship, have a financial situation that would make even George Osborne sit up and take notice and are clearly on a one way ticket to Palookaville. For many Sunderland fans, there is a delicious irony in their situation.
Thirty five years ago, at the very end of the 1976-77 season, they stayed up by one point and we went down. Nothing unusual in that; if we harboured grudges against every team who have finished above us in our (too) many relegation seasons, we would be completely paranoid. But this one still sticks in the craw.
We had looked doomed in January and then finding, inspired by the triumvirate of Messrs Rowell, Arnott and Elliott, we went on a run that took us to the edge of safety. The final games of that season were played on a Thursday night. We went to Everton on 34 points; Coventry City on 34 played Bristol City on 34 at Highfield Road.
All we needed was for one of them to lose and, irrespective of our result, we would stay up. If we drew and they drew, we would stay up due to our superior goal difference. The odds were stacked in our favour. The only combination that would send us down was for us to lose and them to draw.
We duly lost 0-2 to Everton, turning in a nervous display, but the interesting news from Coventry was that they had kicked off 15 minutes later than the Goodison game because of “crowd congestion”. So, when our game finished, both Coventry and Bristol knew what was required of them.
Their game had been a real blood and thunder affair and, after 75 minutes, was tied at 2-2. Then, the Coventry chairman, one Jimmy Hill, gave clear instructions that the Sunderland score be put up on the electronic scoreboard and what had been a tense clash suddenly became something akin to a “fight” between the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz and Mr Humphries from Are You Being Served?.
We went down and Hill was cleared by a Football League Tribunal of influencing the result. But we have long (and bitter) memories here in the North East . Hill was given some choice abuse at Fulham a couple of years ago when his chin hove into view in the Riverside Stand and Sunderland fans of my generation have longed to see the demise of Coventry City (see Pete’s definition of demise here).
Despite their cup win in 1987 and the way they looked after Jordan Henderson for us, that bitterness and bile remains and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing them turn out at Victoria Park, Hartlepool next season and maybe at The International Stadium, Gateshead the year after that.
Interesting game for us on Saturday as Swansea make their first appearance at the SoL, fresh from that excellent win over Arsenal. It is also an opportunity to welcome back Colin Pascoe, who played an important part in re-establishing us as a serious club under Dennis Smith. A good test for MON.