Apologies if you tried to visit the site earlier only to hit a brick wall formed by all the Sunderland fans who, we are told, are the fattest in the Premier. All beyond our control, I’m afraid. Still, Pete Sixsmith is always worth waiting for (though things are still in a state of chaos behind the scenes at Salut! Sunderland towers so this is a bit of an emergency posting)
One week in, is it just me, or is the nation distinctly underwhelmed by the first week of the new Premier League season? Our game was hardly one to set the pulses racing with excitement – phrases like “positives outweigh negatives” suggest that there are sufficient of the latter to cause problems.
Then, look at the crowds. Ours was a poor 38,000, only marginally better than the crowd we had five years ago for the game with Charlton when we had a strike force of Jonathan Stead and Andy Gray, Steven Caldwell and Gary Breen in defence and Calamity Kelvin in goal and ended up accumulating 15 points.
Wigan had 16,000 and had they been playing Fulham and not near neighbours Blackpool, it would have been 13,000. There were acres of empty seats at Bolton, Blackburn and Aston Villa as well.
Of course, the whole opening weekend was stage managed by our Lords and Masters at Isleworth. Of the self styled Big 6, not one of them played at 3pm on Saturday. We had to wait until Monday evening before catching a glimpse of the “world’s favourite club” in action, demolishing Championship upstarts. Other than that, it was Saturday lunchtime, Saturday teatime, Sunday afternoon – all stage managed and to me at least, unnatural.
After the disappointment of Saturday – and that was not just the performance, it also extended to Bruce’s verbal attack on the referee – I burrowed into the quieter world of non-league football. Being on holiday (two weeks to go), I was able to get out of the region and see how football looked away from the North East.
I started at Pickering on Sunday and their FA Cup tie with South Shields. It’s a delightful town, on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors, with a football ground that is shared with the local cricket club. The leather and willow game took precedence on Saturday, causing the Extra Preliminary Qualifying tie to be put back a day.
Once again the football chicks accompanied me and enjoyed Pickering a whole lot more than Annan. After lunch, they were packed off on a steam train to Grosmont via Aidensfield and I took my place on the terraces to watch the FA Cup begin in August.
Shields had a convincing 4-1 win, largely due to a superb display from their skipper, Lee-Paul Scoggins, who rattled in a hat trick. My Shields source told me that he had plenty of offers to go elsewhere, but as a Shields lad all he wanted to do was play for them. Admirable loyalty in a game where many players will move on for an extra fiver a week.
A lovely ride back over the Moors enabled us to gaze on the Hole of Horcum and get a wonderful view of Whitby on the horizon, while listening to a tepid encounter between Liverpool and Arsenal. The commentators agreed that Cole’s tackle was worthy of a red card but that he was “unlucky”. How? He wrapped his legs round the Arsenal player; that’s clumsy and dangerous, not unlucky. A sending off and a missed penalty in his first two games for The Reds: not a very auspicious start for the most overrated player I have come across in years.
Then, thanks to a £19 hotel room from Travelodge, a couple of days in the Midlands, taking in games at Conference North Level at Hinckley and Nuneaton. They are seven miles apart and neither club has had to go looking for problems. Hinckley just avoided a winding up order from HMRC, while Nuneaton were liquidated two years ago, sold their town centre ground and now share with the local egg chasers on an industrial estate on the edge of town.
The Hinckley game was not great with visitors Boston United (another club who have had their difficulties) winning 1-0, but it had a young referee who had a modicum of common sense and who handled the game well. Not well enough for the three middle aged Hinckley fans in front of me, who though that Boston should have been down to 9 men by 8.00p.m. and who became abusive when I commented that I though he had had a decent game. And you wonder why I don’t care for Leicestershire.
There was a four figure crowd, four good goals, evenly divided between the two sides and four Nuneaton fans who were the complete opposites of their Hinckley counterparts. They didn’t care much for the citizens of the “Home of the Hanson Cab”, describing them as onanists and much worse.
All three games showed that English football is much, much more than the Premier League and much more x10 than the obsession that our media have with the Big 4.
Nuneaton may go bust again, but there will always be people who will pick themselves up, dust themselves down and start all over again. Good on them.
West Brom on Saturday and I notice that Big John is injured. There’s a surprise. Cattermole’s replacement will be interesting. Colback? Zenden? I would put Riveros in there and Da Silva at centre back. Viva Paraguay. Viva Sunderland.