Most of us know the story of the curate’s egg*. Eager not to offend after being invited to breakfast by the bishop and served a bad egg, he insisted that that it was good in parts. That’s roughly as Pete Sixsmith found the season just ended. Keano and the Lads should perhaps not get too carried away by his benevolent look at the albumen; there’s still the yolk to go……
Many years ago, when the Earth was still young, I was dragged off to either the Essoldo or the Hippodrome in Shildon to see a film called Pollyanna.
I remember being distinctly underwhelmed by this experience seeing as nobody seemed to ride a horse across the plains, asked for a slug of red eye in a dirty glass or shot copious numbers of what were then known as Red Indians.
It appeared to be about a little girl (ugh!) who went round spreading sweetness and light (a little like Amy Winehouse does now) and generally being positive while all around were being gloomy.
So, let’s review the past season through the eyes of a Pollyanna Whittier and look for things to be glad about.
Well, first of all we are still in the Premier League. After the 15 point season, that’s got to be something to feel glad about. We could well be on our way to establishing ourselves as a Premier League fixture like Blackburn, Villa and Middlesbrough.
Secondly, we are beginning to build a solid backbone throughout the team. Gordon and Jones have proved to be shrewd and astute signings who will continue to improve. Evans showed that he will grow into Premier League, hopefully with us, while Reid could well become a vital component in our midfield and Bardsley is the new Chris Makin.
We have players who have, in racing parlance, “trained on”. Murphy and O’Donovan are not, and probably never will be, world beaters, but they have improved consistently throughout the season.
Then there are the players who may have limitations but have focused on their individual strengths and worked hard at their weaknesses. Collins, Nosworthy, Whitehead, Leadbitter and Chopra fall into this category: wholehearted players who want to play for the club and manager and have concentrated on their roles within the team.
Sunderland AFC itself is looking to the future with optimism. Like the inhabitants of Pollyanna’s home town of Beldingsville, Vermont, the club was cold, withdrawn and dispirited under the previous regime, it’s successful days languishing in the distant past.
The Drumaville consortium and their principal cheerleader, The Wonderful Niall Quinn, have come in and opened up lines of communication with the support by encouraging them to look for the positives. Like Pollyanna, Quinny knew that there was good lurking underneath the glum and miserable exterior that SAFC presented two years ago. He saw it as his role to coax that optimism out and use it to encourage the financial backers to put even more money in.
The crowd have been magnificent this season. The football has rarely been scintillating and at some clubs this would be cause for owners and fans to vilify and replace their manager. Not at Sunderland. Fans feel that Quinn and John Hays have their fingers on the pulse of both the club and the community. You don’t have to wear an XXL shirt and hire popsies to get the feel of your club – these people have it in their blood as supporters and former players. We know that, so muted criticism only.
The away support has been phenomenal in terms of size and backing. I have been travelling since the days of Jim Baxter and I have rarely heard more concerted backing for the team than that at Villa in March. We knew that this was a game we had to win. We knew that the players would not hide and if we could put pressure on Villa success was on the cards. Constant support from 3,000 for 90 minutes helped us to claim that first away win and showed to me the bond between fans, players and club.
Not many great performances this season, but plenty of adequate ones and, for the position we were in, they were enough. Our record against the top four was atrocious, but look at where we did pick up points. Birmingham, Reading, Fulham, Middlesbrough, Wigan – all beaten – and all in our part of the table. They are the games that keep you up, not brave and gallant defeats to better sides.
Apart from the defeats at Everton and at home to a rampant Manchester United, nobody hammered us. Look at the thrashings that Reading and Birmingham took. Look at the number of home points dropped to similar clubs by Boro.
Pollyanna would tell that nice Mr Keane that he has had a good year and that things should get better. She believed that if you looked for the bad things in life and expected to find them, then you surely would. Sunderland fans have had that experience in the past. Now we should be looking for the good things, because we are well on our way.
* In the original sense of the curate’s egg story, even Part One of Pete Sixsmith’s review of the season would have been crushing. After all, the egg is either off or it’s not. But the phrase has come to mean something that is a mixture of good and bad. Return to Salut! Sunderland soon for a sterner Part Two.