Athlone. The very name takes you back to old wireless sets and the crackly stations you found on them. Cows, fields, rain – they take me back to Europe. Pete Sixsmith enjoyed the lot, and caught a decent run-out for the Lads, a few jars of stout and real ale and a chance meeting with the opposition goalie. Oh, and we won 6-0………
Another summer, another trek around the Emerald Isle. This time, a shorter journey than 2007 bringing with it the opportunity to see new towns, visit new stadiums, drink more Guinness and generally bask in the glory of being a Sunderland fan in a country that appears to have fallen quite seriously in love with us.
The journey started in Belfast with visits to three excellent bars culminating in real ale and good music in John Hewitts. A rainy walk (stagger) back to the bed factory that is The Days Inn and an early start next day for the daily bus from Belfast to Athlone.
Five hours later, after traversing the higways and byways of the Irish Midlands we arrived in Athlone. Things we noted on the journey; there are millions of cows in Ireland all happily chomping grass and causing global warming with their farts; Irish roads don’t so much meander as double back on each other; eight pints is not a good preparation for aforementioned five hour bus trip.
Athlone is a small and very welcoming town. The lady in charge of the BandB looked after us as if we were visiting aristocracy. The town is bisected by the broad majestic Shannon and has copious watering holes and restaurants. It also has a resident Mag, spotted loitering outside O’Neill’s bar dragging on a fag and looking as miserable as only a Mag can.
The game was a nice warm up. Athlone Town adopted a friendly approach with no hard tackles or anything that could be construed as unpleasant. They were totally outclassed but took it in a good spirit.
Richardson again looked sharp, Chimbonda found playing centre half as easy as playing right back and Michael Liddle settled in nicely at left back. Malbranque is as neat and as busy as we expected him to be and at the moment appears to be thinking half a second quicker than one or two around him.
Leadbitter, Chopra and Diouf all scored spectacular goals from distance and entertained a capacity crowd of 6,000.
As we unwound in Gertie Brown’s Bar, the Athlone goalkeeper (second half) came in. We asked him about Diouf,s goal.”Great shot,” he said:”I didn’t see it but it made a hell of a whooshing sound as it went past me.” He was with his dad who was as proud as punch that his son had played well against a Premier League team.
Roy signed autographs for half an hour before the game, St. Niall sat with the fans, resplendent in pink shirt and Sunderland made thousands of new friends in Athlone. A good day’s work.