The second part in our four part-series on the ups and downs of 2011 starts in April with lots left for Sunderland to play for. The small matter of survival springs to mind.
Think back to how things looked. Points have been elusive since the slump set in and we seem more likely to be dragged into a relegation battle than reach that coveted European place. So why not shock everyone and start the revival at the Emirates? And then pull enough results out of the hat to climb well clear?
Read on for a reminder of how the second quarter of the year develops, with lots of extracts and links …
* Ahead of the mauling at Man City (5-0), our City “Who are You?” candidate, Peter Kelly is asked whether he misses the pre-moneybags past:
Absolutely not! We can now watch terrific players, in Carlos Tevez a genuinely great one, play in light blue. We see a man in blue passing the ball to another man in blue. It was not always thus!
* Phil Cronin, Sunderland-supporting chief executive of Tombola, SAFC’s kit sponsors (and who suffered along with many more at Eastlands), gives a rare interview (to us) and describes his highs and lows as a fan (he also tells the tale of driving that Mini to Newcastle):
Lows would include every relegation, especially to the third although the season in the third was where I got to see more away games than any other, the 15 point season, not seeing us win at Wembley yet, third round FA Cup exits, derby defeats including this season’s nightmare. Highlights would be; Being behind the goal when Marco scored in the play-offs at St James, Chris Waddle’s free kick at Roker Park which gave me my 15 seconds of fame on Premier Passions, Philips chip in the first 2-1, Quinn’s header in the second, the 105 points season, the screamers in the Stadium of Light Philips(v Chelsea), Murphy, Edwards, Richardson’s free kick, hearing the mags relegation confirmed on my radio, but the one that still tops the lot for me was Gordon Armstrong’s goal against Chelsea in the FA Cup.
* At last a win. And this is how Pete Sixsmith responds to the 4-2 victory over Wigan:
A game and a result like this makes the use of metaphors, similes and clichés very easy to fall back on. The elephant in the room (relegation) was dispatched; certain players stepped up to the plate (none more than Henderson); when the going got tough, the tough got going (Cattermole) and “Cometh the hour, cometh the man” (Sessegnon and Malbranque).
* And then back to losing. Steve Bruce on his injury-hit squad after a humiliating 3-0 defeat at home to Fulham:
It’s quite incredible where we’re without 10 again today and that’s left us in a serious situation.
But there’s nothing we can do to change it, all we can do is keep on going. We have to show some resilience now because the performance today was just not good enough.
* Offering best wishes to the injured Fraizer Campbell:
Salut! Sunderland hopes with all its heart and its passion that he overcomes this injury, makes the strongest possible recovery and goes on to do so well in the game, preferably for SAFC, that he can eventually look back on it as an annoying but temporary setback.
* Tash Scott, a young Sunderland supporter from afar (that Mackem Diaspora has her living in Cornwall), follows up a previous essay on her first visit to the SoL with an equally impressive description of her life as a long-distance fan:
* We announce our annual awards, prizes supplied by When Saturday Comes and Octopus Publishing, for best contributions from opposing supporters:
“A superb season of “Who are You?” interviews, from which any of a dozen, maybe more, stood a decent chance of snatching a top three place in the annual awards, has produced its winners: 1 Arsenal (Tom Watt), 2 Man City (Peter Kelly) 3) Wolves (Andy Nicholls).
* Pete Sixsmith watches Sunderland grab 10th place with a 3-0 demolition of relegated West Ham and offers consoling words to Hammers fans:
Their fans came out of this well. It was obviously a difficult day for them with a totally avoidable relegation smacking them in the face and there was a fear that it could have turned ugly. But they showed their quality with a dignified exit from the Premier League although it must have been hard for them to accept a cuffing from a side that had been on the slide since January.
* Report cards: we ran eight of them, the verdicts on Steve Bruce and Sunderland’s season ranging from exaggerated criticism to exaggerated approval. Pete Sixsmith gets to just about every game, writes impeccable accounts of each of them and was the obvious man to round off the series:
At the end of the day, we finished 10th in a competitive league. It could have been seventh, it could have been 14th. We brought some good players in, lost an outstanding one for reasons that are still rather murky and probably turned in the performance of the season at Chelsea. And we finished as the North East’s Best Team for the third season running. But there’s just that nagging feeling that it all could have been better, if only …
* Jordan Henderson goes to Liverpool for a small fortune and Peet Sixsmith sums up his appreciation of the player, recalling the furore that accompanied the long-ago departure of another Sunderland midfield star …
He never failed to give his best at Sunderland and was always looking for the ball, even when things were going against him. He has a good approach to the game, seems sensible and level headed and has brought a huge amount of money into the club’s coffers. If he does as well as Toddo, he will have an excellent career.
* Len Shackleton: we note with interest how tributes to the great Clown Prince of Football – and ours at that – kept trickling in and round up a few of them …
… for all the talent today I firmly believe that with all the facilities for training and fitness the greats of yesteryear could have held their own with most of today’s top players.
Shack would have been bettered by no one (Alan Hedley)
* Official confirmation of two important summer signings, Seb Larsson and Keiren Westwood:
Salut! Sunderland extends a hearty welcome to both players. Having had our fun with a few of the dozens of names we have been linked with, we now look forward to further good news on the transfer front.
* Million up: in the closing stages of our move for Connor Wickham, Salut! Sunderland pauses in the transfer frenzy for news of its own. We are on the brink of clocking up our 1,000,000th visit to the site and say this …
I’ll tell you what: it makes the effort and time needed to keep this site going seem like a good idea. I would like to thank all the Sunderland supporters, and also the fans of many, many other clubs who come here, for the loyalty, support and interest the figure represents. I don’t expect you to like everything you find here but it is rewarding to know enough of you find something to amuse or inform.
* Stephen Foster, an acclaimed writer (his football books were brilliant; his dog books sold) was an avid Stoke City supporter and had agreed to make “Who are You?” interviews an annual event provided our teams were in the same division. Sadly, he dies at the early age of 48. This is from our tribute, quoting a man who knew him well, Jonathan – Jonny – Ward:
Stephen was my partner’s brother (would have been my brother-in-law). He had family in the NE. Myself and Stephen’s sister Diane live in Hartlepool, with our family. I’m a huge Sunderland fan, so Stephen pointed me towards the interview on Salut! last year and I know he was excited to be featured there.
Stephen really was an inspirational chap, totally charming, witty and intelligent. We shared some great footballing memories together – in particular joining the Stoke throngs at St James a couple of seasons back when they equalised in the last seconds much to the anger of the Toon (there’s a chapter about it in She Laughed No More).
The series is half way complete. More to come tomorrow …