Soapbox: Maine Road to Hetton

soapbox

Pete Sixsmith tries his hardest to sound jolly. He’ll be jollier than for some time if Sunderland defy the odds and beat Manchester City tomorrow. It won’t happen if we play like the Reserves did in the first half of their game …

As the snow falls all over County Durham and the eastern side of the country, thoughts turn to a trans Pennine trip in a well appointed coach to an equally well appointed stadium at Eastlands, while memories dwell on flogging over the A62 on a Hall Brothers coach in the 60s to watch a game with snow piled on the side and straw all over the pitch at Maine Road.

Maine Road has given me some fond memories of following Sunderland. Obviously 73 looms large as did a John Hawley hat trick that took us to the top of the First Division in August 1980. My incident with Sgt. Cooper (see archive) is a not so positive memory, but I am not quite sure where to put the defeat in 1991 that sent us down after one season in the top flight.

The negatives are obvious: we lost and went back to Division Two. Citeh’s win was masterminded by their young and upcoming player manager, one Peter Reid, while an expensive signing in the Blues side that day was Niall Quinn.

I believe that Quinny has said that the Sunderland crowd that day made him sit up and realise that there was more to football than North London and Manchester. He was right and it’s for this reason that the positives outweigh the negatives in my ever fading memory bank.

We took 12,000 fans that day and filled the ground. Remember, these were the days when English football was recovering from Heysel, Hillsborough and Valley Parade; the days before Sky and the bourgeoisiefication of the game. It was still a game that was accessible to all. Standing on the terraces, we went to roar the team home and possibly save the club from oblivion. Under Dennis Smith we had made steady progress and had gained an unexpected promotion the previous season due to Swindon Town’s failure to hide their illegal payments and the Mag’s inability to beat us in the play offs – hee, hee.

The season had stuttered and started and Smith had done well on a limited budget. Many of the players had been with him in the Third Division season and we had played some decent football. He had signed Bally at the start of the year and the only other significant investment had been on Brian Mooney on deadline day. Another player who never was!!

In his book, Smith says “It was probably our best performance of the season”. It was 2-2 at half time and Marco scored one of the best goals I have ever seen with a flying header from a John Kay cross. Unfortunately, Citeh kept pulling us back and went on to win and we went down as always seems to happen.

Quinny didn’t help by scoring twice and although we should have had a penalty, we lost and were cast into Division Two, where the Mags and Boro still lingered.

I went back to my brother’s house in Southport and sat on his back step drinking vodka and bemoaning the fact that we never seemed to get anything right and that maybe it was time to stop going; the story of my life.

So, 18 years on, both clubs are in shiny new stadiums and the charms and inadequacies of Roker Park and Maine Road have been consigned to the demolition firms skips. Both clubs have that aura of unpredictability about them and for both, this weekends game is significant.

For us, we need a win to stop the possibility of a rot from setting in. Rereading some recent dispatches, I can see the negativity and mood swings in them, but it’s how they make me feel. This is a great opportunity for the club to do something and as my mate Don Coupland put in his Christmas card, “It’s not the despair, I can cope with that. It’s the hope I can’t stand”. I would imagine the Citeh fans feel the same.

There are whispers that Hughes has three games to save his job. I like him as a man and a manager, but I do hope that he is looking for excuses for a home defeat at 5pm on Saturday.

On another note, a very entertaining reserve game at Hetton on a cold Wednesday night, so cold that the Hettonista were actually wearing coats rather than the usual skimpy tops. Hartlepool won 4-3 and we learned one or two things, viz:

1) Bruce was right when he said we did not have any full backs coming through

2) Surely a striker who has scored 32 goals this season should take penalties? There was an undignified squabble between Noble and Murphy over who should take it. Meyler snatched it, took it and missed it. Pools went on to take a 4 goal halftime lead.

3) The other Noble, Liam, should be severely reprimanded for his two bookings; a stupid foul and then an even more stupid (and obvious) dive to try to get a penalty.

Despite the result and the cold weather, the craic was, as ever, excellent – which is why I go to reserve games. Cheers lads.

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