Soapbox: Birmingham memories, fighting Sunderland lasses and plaudits for Fulham

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Such nights don’t come along too often. We’d won promotion and clinched the title, the team were out celebrating with their wives (two of whom got on spectacularly badly as the night wore on). Pete Sixsmith looks back, taking his hat off to Roy Hodgson along the way


As we move
into the closing phase of the season, we once again welcome Birmingham City to Sunderland. In recent years they have been regular visitors at this stage and there have been some memorable clashes between the alleged “second” clubs of their respective cities/regions.

In Reidy’s first promotion season, they were absolutely butchered at a noisy Roker Park. We were on the up and they were on the way down. They were in such a poor run of form that even Paul Stewart scored against them and we were spared the sight of the rotund Barry Fry doing his EasyJet impersonation in front of the main stand.

A couple of years (and a relegation for us and a promotion for Blues) later, we grabbed a point against them at the Stadium of Light in a tense and fraught game as we tracked Forest and the Smoggies. That game sticks in my memory because of a stupendous performance from Dele Adebola, who looked the perfect centre forward that night, and far better than a rather pedestrian Danny Dichio.

We missed out that year, but the year after, Reidy produced a wonderful side that romped away with the Nationwide Championship. Blues were our final visitors as we kissed goodbye to the Football League for ever, confident in the knowledge that we were a club destined to challenge the European aristocracy sooner rather than later; that, at least, was how we imagined it.

Blues were an improving side and took the lead in the first half. A full Stadium roared the Lads home as SuperKev sand Niall Quinn slotted home two goals, both of which looked offside, and we won 2-1.

Colin had driven up form London for the game and we had scrounged a lift through.

On the way home, we stopped off at the Dun Cow in Durham and ended up staying as our lift went home. Several pints of Castle Eden later, we were about to set off for the bus, when a couple of lads came in and said that the team were in O’Neills, the Irish bar in Claypath.

Scoop Randall sniffed a story out and we set off for aforementioned bar. On our arrival we came across the entire first team squad in the middle of a real hooley. Alex Rae was in charge of orders, running around with trays full of drinks while quaffing orange juice.

Andy Melville was looking morose as he had been told that he was being released, Mickey Gray and Martin Smith were buzzing and Chris Makin and Nicky Summerbee were propping up the bar supping Guinness and Blackcurrant – ugh!!

We ended up slaughtered and The Daily Telegraph ended up funding a taxi home – I think (it may have been my hope, Pete, but sadly I couldn’t come up with an excuse – ed). I took the next morning off work with a colossal hangover while Colin staggered through the morning before heading home.

Next day we heard that there had been a sharp exchange of views between the wives of two of the players in O’Neills (Martin Smith’s and Paul Butler’s: one local headline had it as “Wives Let Premier Passions Boil Over”). We missed it. It took place in the front bar while we were schmoozing with Makin and Buzzer in the back. Colin missed a scoop and I missed a few thousand brain cells.

In October when we played at St Andrews, I expected at least a point. We had beaten the plastic Scousers with the aid of a beach ball, while Blues were struggling to score goals and win games. They beat us 2-1 and have never looked back.

That they have had a very good season is down to good fortune with injuries, a settled side and an excellent manager in Alex McLeish. He took them down, got them up and has now made sure that they have comfortably retained their place for next season. He has signed some good players in Dann and Johnson, reformed a couple of nasties in Bowyer and Ferguson and made a great call in taking Joe Hart on loan.

His job was under pressure last season as they limped towards promotion, but quality counts. He has a good pedigree – Motherwell and Aberdeen are good clubs, Rangers are as big as most and he has worked with a national side even if it was only Scotland. And Birmingham have stuck with him. Good sides are built, not created.

Big Hec might have been in the running for Manager Of The Year. But for me, there is only one candidate: Roy Hodgson.

Fulham 4 Juventus 1 is the score line of the century. I saw Fulham at Feethams, not that many years ago, in a Fourth level game. Darlington beat them.

Thanks to Harrods money, and the work of Mickey Adams, Messiah Keegan and Super Brace, they climbed up the leagues into the top division. Under Laurie Sanchez they were on their way back to whence they came. Sanchez went, Hodgson (a man even older than me and Colin) came in and saved them from visits to Scunthorpe, Doncaster and Newcastle.

We beat them at Craven Cottage 3-1 and they were useless. Hodgson appeared on the radio afterwards and complimented Sunderland and Kenwyne Jones in particular. He accepted that it would be hard work to stop up. I wrote them off as did most people. They won five out of their last six games to stop up.

Since then, they have gone from strength to strength, are now an established Premier League club and are successful in Europe. Would that we were there. We need the patience with our management team that Fulham fans have shown to theirs.

Who are you? We’re Birmingham (and out of Villa’s shadow)

Me at 50

We’re on a mini-run, they’ve never had it so good in living memory. Saturday sees Sunderland v Birmingham City, and only a home win would have us seriously believing in revivalist terms. Leigh Bosworth*, pictured with a spoof front page presented to him on his recent 50th birthday, is co-founder of the newly relaunched Yorkshire Bluenoses (a branch of the BCFC supporters’ club until now divided into parts of the county) and rises to the Salut! Sunderland challenge with some great thoughts on Monty, SuperKev, money, cheating, Wayne Bridge v John Terry and his “best season” as a Bluenose …

Salut! Sunderland: So, completely useless against us in the Carling Cup and you haven’t looked back much since. Even Villa fans must be taking you seriously. Explain your great season so far …

The Carling Cup was not going to be a serious competition for us this season and even the £10 a head entry that night was too much for the lack of spectacle dished up by both teams. At least it was easy to get a beer or two beforehand and to get away from the ground afterwards.

As for our journey this season, we’ve had many a regaled cliché (no, not Gael Cliché) with the ‘professional’ pundits: we have had the expected struggle because we were simply not good enough without any proven players, then punched above our weight, dug in and ground out results, ridden our luck, been over the moon, this season’s surprise package and so on…

In brief though, it has been achieved without so-called megastars – who can be quite divisive – but rather with a bunch of honest players, a collective desire that is greater when they are thrown together, giving a fairly formidable team spirit, plus improving football as they have got used to each other, though without the goals the build up play has deserved at times. All in all, a cohesive group of technically competent footballers playing as a TEAM. Johnson & Dann, as the new central defensive partnership have been a wonder to behold, as they were untried at Premier league level, although Big Eck (Alex McLeish) as a former central defender himself, is a good judge of a stopper – possibly better than the fella we used to have at the managerial helm.

Interestingly, a month after we capitulated at the Stadium of Light in the Carling Cup, we beat you comfortably at our place and that was the first in our 15 game unbeaten run that took us into the top half of the table. This coincided with the new owners taking full control of the club and settling things down, which has helped enormously.

Read moreWho are you? We’re Birmingham (and out of Villa’s shadow)

How Sixer observed Birmingham v Sunderland


Pete Sixsmith was called upon again by The Observer to sum up a Sunderland game. What a pity they didn’t ask last week …

THE FANS’ PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICT

Pete Sixsmith, SalutSunderland.com All the beachballs on Scarborough beach would have been needed for us to get anything here. Our inability to beat some of the grittier teams is worrying. City dug in, denied us space and deserved their win. Our midfield never had control and Cattermole was badly missed. Bent should have equalised when we had them on the back foot near the end, but it would have been a point stolen rather than gained. Steve Bruce needs to look at how we approach games like this.

The fan’s player ratings Gordon 8; Bardsley 7, Turner 6, Ferdinand 6, Richardson 6; Malbranque 6 (Campbell 68 6), Cana 6 (Zenden 68 6), Henderson 6 (McCartney 68 7), Reid 7; Jones 6, Bent 6

Paul Rivers, Observer reader It was a deserved win. Sunderland started well, but after the first 10 minutes we pretty much bossed it. Ferguson was the key – he played as sweeper in front of the back four and cleaned everything up. It also made a huge difference playing with two up front; Benitez makes such a nuisance of himself and he linked up very well with Jerome. Steve Bruce got a good reception from the Birmingham fans, while our new owner Carson Yeung must think it’s like this every week!

The fan’s player ratings Hart 5; Carr 7, Ridgewell 8, Johnson 8, Dann 7; McFadden 8 (O’Connor 76 n/a), Ferguson 8, Bowyer 7, Larsson 8 (Carsley 84 n/a); Jerome 7 (McSheffrey 76 n/a), Benítez 9

Who are you? We are Birmingham City

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Who better than Kevin Phillips to talk about this Saturday’s Birmingham City v Sunderland clash? A man with bags of time for both sets of fans, a player who served both clubs well (in our case, outstandingly). There was a snag. The brush-off we received last time we raised such an impertinence with St Andrew’s suggested a phrase containing waste and time. John Baker*, an exiled Midlander who runs the Blues Muse site, is not SuperKev, but he does come up with some punchy answers, one beach ball gag and a fair amount of disdain for Steve Bruce …

Salut! Sunderland: You were pretty dire in the Carling Cup at the Stadium of Light. I take it we’ll encounter a different Birmingham City at St Andrew’s.

You beat our fourth string that reputedly doesn’t exist . . . but they somehow manage to find their way into the first team now and again. It’s true we fielded a weakened team in the Carling Cup against you chaps, but you were world beaters on the night, right?

Read moreWho are you? We are Birmingham City

Soapbox: nearly a perfect day

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A cruise through to the next round of the Carling Cup, a toaster that works, a working day that brings hope: Pete Sixsmith sees us dismiss Brum with a minimum of fuss and reflects on the bright side of life ..

Once in a while you get one of those days where everything runs perfectly.

Early morning, the toast browns perfectly, the shower temperature is just right and the paper girl delivers early.

At work, everything runs smoothly. In my job, the students are well behaved, they learn how to do new things and remember what they were taught last week. Your colleagues smile at you in the corridors, the sun shines and the coffee you have made is as close to perfection as you will get.

At home, there is a surprise cheque in the post, the library book you put your name down for weeks ago has arrived and there are old friends contacting you via Facebook. With a Lou Reed track playing in the back ground, it really is A Perfect Day.

And then you remember we have a Carling Cup Tie against Birmingham City!!!

Read moreSoapbox: nearly a perfect day