Streaking at St James’ Park? All in the mind

A fisftful of awards bears witness to the achievements of KATE ADIE, forever associated with trademark war zone accessories of pearl earrings and flak jacket. When we last met back in 2002, she had been BBC TV’s chief news correspondent since 1989. More importantly, she was – and is – a Sunderland supporter.

Kate was late, late enough to make Wear Down South fear it was being stood up. Calls to the BBC at first failed to track her down. Scandalously, two switchboard operators denied knowledge of her. “How were you spelling the surname?” asked one.

Finally, a message reached the woman who, whether or not Broadcasting House knows it, is Britain’s best-known television reporter*. Kate immediately rang my mobile with abject apologies; she had been horribly delayed by transport problems, but the drinks would be on her later.

Since a beer or two at a riverside pub has the edge on coffee at the Royal Institute of British Architects cafe – our original plan – all was forgiven.

Most of us know the outline of Kate’s links with Sunderland. For even longer than she has been the journalist who confirms that a war/uprising/event is serious just by turning up. Kate Adie has been a Sunderland supporter.

Back in the early 1960s, the young Adie could be found every other Saturday afternoon standing with schoolfriends in that corner of the paddock where the main stand met the Fulwell end.

The matchday ritual would begin around noon. “You didn’t go by bus, but flogged your way slowly across town, along Fawcett Street and over the bridge to join this huge stream of people heading towards Roker Park.”

Kate, almost certainly Sunderland’s most famous living daughter, was born 56 years ago this month (NB: at time of interview, 2002). Her adoptive parents sent her to the Church High School -“a very nice school” – and she confesses to a degree of youthful snootiness about the rest of County Durham.

“I remember thinking how curious it was as you got nearer the ground to see all these rather ancient buses full of supporters from Tow Law or Spenymoor or Crook.

“They seemed such far-off places. The small towns and pit villages were somehow seen as separate from Sunderland, and the one time that the divide was breached was at the match.”

Speak to Kate about Sunderland and you are left in no doubt about her strength of feeling for the city – or “town”, as she still calls it through force of habit – and the club. What you do not get is a fund of detailed memories of specific games or players.

Five years ago, when I interviewed her for A Love Supreme, she described herself as a “typical female fan”.

As if to live up to the stereotype, she went on to recall seeing Brian Clough sustain his career-wrecking injury “going up for a header”, when most of us who were there have an entirely different recollection of the incident.

Kate’s explanation runs like this: “I am not a sports fan per se. I never read the sports pages, except for particularly good writers.

“But if you show me a good game or contest in any sport, I love it. I love the Home rugby internationals, for example, or a really good, intense cricket match.”

Yet she cannot deny that with football, the feeling is “more ingrained”.

Take November 18 2000. Kate had bumped into Bob Murray (then chairman) and come away with an invitation to join the Sunderland contingent in the directors’ box at St James’ Park.

“What a wonderful game,” she said. “One of those occasions that make it all worthwhile.

“I’ll never forget it: Newcastle scoring and everyone around you leaping to their feet, leaving you sitting there feeling none too comfortable. Then us scoring twice, and being one of a handful of people standing up and roaring. It was a very weird feeling, like taking your clothes off in front of a crowd.”

Life as a roving reporter, liable to be despatched without notice to any troubled corner of the world, has stopped Kate from getting to more than a handful of games each season.

But she has always kept in touch; sometimes when she is abroad, as in Sierra Leone or Bosnia, she comes across SAFC-supporting servicemen who rely on her access to satellite technology to get a result quicker than they can.

“But I don’t fret over individual games,” she said. “I am much more concerned about the pattern of how we are doing over a season.”

She sees football as “a great communal occasion”, a rock on which Sunderland can build its future.

“I make myself unpopular for saying so, but however proud we are of our history, shipbuilding is dead and gone and we have to move on.

“The new stadium is a great piece of modern architecture, something people can be proud of. Thank God it was built in the centre. I so strongly believe that if it had gone to Washington, that would have been the time to throw yourself off the cliffs.”

Kate’s links with the club seem set to grow stronger. She is involved in a new SoL community initiative, and “with all sorts of little things” likely to take her more often to the North East, she is also hoping to see more of the Lads and be, as she put it herself, “a proper supporter again”.

That will leave one bit of unfinished business. Among her clutch of awards – OBE in 1993, honorary professor of broadcasting and journalism at Sunderland University in 1995 and so on – she is a Freeman of Sunderland.

This entitles her to drive her sheep across Wearmouth Bridge. “And one day, even if it’s just one sheep, I fully intend to do so.”

* Kate’s stint as chief news correspondent ended in Dec 2002, a few months after our meeting, but she still works for the BBC, for example as presenter of From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4.

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