Pete Sixsmithpacks his knapsack for Sunderland’s visit to St Andrew’s, he reflects on past encounters between our clubs – and a rare old night in Durham after one of them …
Maybe we should have some affinity with Birmingham City. Like us, they are widely perceived as the second club out of three, living in the shadows of Aston Villa, but bigger than West Bromwich Albion.
That’s like us with the Mags and the Boro. We know that we are a better, smarter and altogether nicer club than our neighbours up the A184, while we have always looked down on those who dwell in the smog encrusted town down south on the A19.
The Mags are always telling us how much bigger and better they are – the ground’s bigger, the fans are more loyal, the football is more exciting etc. I would imagine the Blues get the same with the Villa, and like us, they are probably sick and tired of it.
The difference is, that Villa do look to be bigger and better than Birmingham. Where Villa Park oozes modernity and brightness, St Andrews still looks old fashioned and drab despite its three new stands. It just looks a bit tacky to me.
Where Villa are owned by a non interfering American (who does that sound like?), City have been owned by people who made their money from top shelf magazines and are now in the hands of Hong Kong group, the principal shareholder of which has a wife who appears to be as interested in football as the wretched Nick Griffin would be in klezmer music
City have a dowdy image that we associate with England’s self styled second city. If you were asked to find the dreariest accent in the whole of the British Isles, you would probably come up with the Brummie twang.
Jasper Carrot and Frank Skinner got away with it (although Funky Moped is almost a crime against humanity) but when one thinks of the nasal whine of the City of a Thousand Trades, Benny and Amy Turtle, staples of Crossroads, spring to mind.
City have been up and down for years. I remember them coming to Roker Park in Reidy’s first promotion season and turning in one of the most abject displays in the old stadiums 99 years.
Paul Stewart scored twice, so that gives you some idea of how bad they were.. City’s manager at the time was the hugely entertaining Barry Fry and he had bought and sold something like 300 players in the short period he had been there. The team he turned out played as if they had just met each other off the coach and it was no surprise that they were relegated to the third tier at the end of that season.
I also remember a much improved City performance three years later, when they were almost party poopers in our Championship season. In front of a full ground, they scored first and were eventually beaten by two Kevin Phillips goals, both of which looked suspiciously offside. That was the night that Mr Randall and me ended up in O’Neill’s in Durham with the team and got absolutely ratted.
The Daily Telegraph paid for a taxi back to Shildon that night. Very good of them and they missed out on a scoop because we were so drunk that we did not see the cat fight between two of the players’ partners. (If only they’d paid; they didn’t, and only Sixer was drunk of course, but the rest of his story is true – ed)
So, as we look forward to resuming our acquaintance with the Bluenoses, having missed out last season, what about a prediction? Twelve months ago, we were up in the air after beating the Mags, only to come down to earth with a bump at Stoke four days later. This year we are as high as a very, very, very bouncy beach ball after 4 points that not even Darren Brown could have foreseen. Hopefully, the beach ball will not be deflated at that grim foreboding fortress known as St Andrew’s.