As Sunderland settle in the lowest position of our 140-year history, 13th in the third tier, Pete Sixsmith continues his ramblings through the snow in his daytime job and his rambling through his memory in his spare time. But when it comes to his writing does he ramble? No, most certainly not. He does, however, have a fondness for a ’conspicuous repetition of identical initial consonant sounds in successive or closely associated syllables within a group of words, even those spelled differently´ (thank you, Wikipedia). So be prepared for a stirring story, a heartwarming helping, an intelligent interlude, a… … let’s just let the man himself do the business.
Four wins in seven games have given us all a lift – and Sunderland a chance. We know Old Trafford presents a stiffer test than Hull, Watford or hungover Leicester at home, or Bournemouth away for that matter.
But it is a test to which Sunderland have risen and should be capable of rising again. If a Manchester United victory seems the logical outcome, David Moyes has to persuade his men to believe they can cause an upset and play accordingly.
Towards the end of the 2013-2014 season, having already been there and won a League Cup semi-final on penalties, albeit as a bad a shoot-out as anyone could remember, Gus Poyet’s Sunderland went to Old Trafford on the back of great wins at Chelsea and at home to Cardiff, and a draw that ought to have been a win at the Etihad. Could we do it again and more or less ensure Premier League survival?
Pete Sixsmith was there. Let us start with Malcolm Dawson’s perfect scene-setting introduction and then marvel at the beauty of Sixer at his best – in each case as written in early May 2014
David Millward – universally known as Sid, after his band-leading uncle (Salut! Sunderland’s own Pete Sixsmith was very fond of Sid Millward and the Nitwits) – is a Chelsea fan who has graced at least two Who are You?s at this site.
When Sid, now exiled in New England, said he was heading west to Las Vegas for a convention of football’s most lovable fans – all based in the USA so presumably untarred by the Paris Metro brush – and that Gus Poyet would be the guest of honour, we felt a piece coming on. ‘Sure,’ he replied, ‘but it will be rather Chelsea focused. We went last year, the player who showed up was Michael Duberry, a lovely guy. This year we get Mario Melchiot as well as Gus.’
Well, he did warn us. All the same, here – for some midsummer quiet-time madness – is his account. He did try to mention us, but couldn’t quite suppress the temptation to be snooty …
John McCormick writes: while we don’t know what the future will bring, although we know it won’t be orange, we do know what the past was like. It was like the season before, and the season before that. You know what I mean, a typical Sunderland season in which we beat the Mags, had a brush with relegation, changed managers, stayed up, hey hum…
That’s the bare bones of it.
And to put flesh on those bones, here is Pete Sixsmith with his conclusion to our “End of Season Reviews”
The whole Salut! Sunderland team owes our old mate Jeremy Robson a huge apology. He was one of the first out of the blocks to submit an end of season review (you can read the rest by following the link below Jake’s image) but somehow it got lost in the ether. Putting things right, here is his slightly amended contribution edited to reflect events at Stamford Bridge and Dick Advocaat’s subsequent decision not to stay – both of which occurred after Jeremy’s review was written. MD
End of season review time again. There’s no point in recanting the events of the season per se. We were all there and saw what happened, so I won’t. Most of it is best forgotten anyway.
Comparing this season to the previous one might simply read as follows. “Couldn’t manage a point for weeks on end” and “couldn’t do much other than draw for weeks on end.” There’s a line from Boy and Bear’s “Old Town Blues, which is “Shadow of the carving knife, is not the danger but the warning sign”, which sums up this season’s tedious and faltering start and the incredible number of draws. Optimists consoled themselves with the satisfaction of not losing. Realists recognised that a defeat followed by a win would be a more accurate sign of progress. The truth is that there wasn’t any progress. Failure was simply wearing different clothes.
The previous season had seen us lose regularly but not heavily. This was also to change. A capitulation of mammoth proportions away at Southampton knocked ten bells out of the goal difference, and we witnessed one of the finest strikes on goal this season from a SAFC boot. Vergini’s finish was sublime. Unfortunately, it was past Mannone and not Forster. If only Messrs Wickham, Fletcher, and Graham (you can only dream Jozy), could muster such a thing at the right end.
As memories of a League Cup Final appearance faded to distant memory, goals were becoming a rarity. It looked as if the goal drought might be over for Fletcher as he netted twice in November away at Crystal Palace. Apart from his hat trick for Scotland against the Isle of Lundy (sorry Gibraltar – which isn’t even an island), the goal well remained dry until the fat lady was giving her rendition of “Oh Sole Meo”.
Freshly back to the UK having become fed up watching Raptors games and hitting the town with Drake, hopes of ending the goal scoring embargo saw Mr Defoe arrive in a swap deal for the lumbering and hopeless Altidore. Remarkably, many Canadians think they got the sweet end of the deal. Laugh? I thought my pants would never dry. Defoe’s return has not been high but his contribution has been significant, even when playing out of position.
By the time Defoe had arrived, many of our fans were sensing déjà vu, with Gus Poyet sounding increasingly like Steve Bruce in his later period as manager. Eager to criticise everyone other than himself and unable to see the glaring limitation in his tactics, style and team selections. Remarkably and against all odds, we saw the return of Danny Graham from a loan spell at Wolves which was cut short. They weren’t terribly impressed by Danny at Molineux, yet here he was. Not only back in the fold but even more remarkably back in the team, where he more or less stayed. Disastrous home performances and results of which the lowest ebb was the first half collapse against Aston Villa, ultimately saw Poyet leave with only 8 games left.
Enter the Little General. Contracted to the end of the season. We can only assume that Lee Congerton was responsible for this coup (so thanks a bunch Lee!). The most accomplished manager to ever arrive at Sunderland AFC in my life time had come to try and save us. Most fans had more or less given up the ghost. We were as good as relegated. Except of course we weren’t. All of a sudden there was some cohesion, organisation and a much more attacking formation which might actually pose a threat to the opposition. Dick Advocaat knows that to be successful, you have to score at least occasionally. Having said that we were also stronger defensively and that was down to the manager having the courage of his own convictions, dropping the likes of Vergini, Revelliere, and Alvarez on the final run in. A more positive outlook from the team saw our luck change as we got the two penalties at home to Southampton and the two fluke goals away at Goodison. What was it that Napoleon said about his Generals?
When our own Little General arrived he was probably not looking beyond the end of the season. Would he want to stay if we went down? Would we want him to stay? How would he feel if he saved us from relegation? Putting aside Dick’s comments about Mrs Advocaat not wanting him to carry on working, it would seem from his comments and behaviour that he did reconsider. When he burst into tears at the end of the match at the Emirates, it raised the possibility that this was the end of the road for him and his assistant, Bert Van Lingen. The two men have worked side by side for almost three decades. We asked the question, was Sunderland to be the final staging post on their joint careers which had taken them to league titles and World Cups? Avoiding relegation would have been a strange way for Dick Advocaat’s career to end. Was it, we wondered simply the end of the closing chapter to a longer story yet to be written? Some of his comments suggested that he realised what needs to be done at Sunderland, and how to make those changes. In a very short time he established a bond with the players, many of whom he knows are nowhere near good enough, and with the tens of thousands of Sunderland supporters with whom he has found a special place in their hearts. Personally I never warmed to Gus Poyet, but took to Dick Advocaat very quickly. But he’s made his decision and again we find ourselves looking for someone new.
The most significant difference between this season and either of the two previous seasons is that Ellis Short seems to better understand not only what is needed to put this club where it should be, but what mechanisms need to be put in place for that to happen. I’m delighted for Ellis Short, as I’ve been very critical of some of his dealings in the past, and particularly his transfer policy etc. When he took ownership of the club, he must have thought that owning SAFC was a great idea, but not being a football man at all, he really wasn’t sure what that idea was about. There’s a sense that he now comprehends the issues and has made some strides towards finding solutions. The first part of this new jigsaw has to be finding a replacement for Dick Advocaat. Someone with a similar philosophy and feel for the game. Someone who will fall in love with the club and get the team onside. Someone who will be here for the longer term and produce the longed for stability we all crave. If he’s successful in doing that difficult task, then we will have good reason to look forward to the coming seasons with much more optimism than for many a good year.
Malcolm Dawson is of pre-Premiership pre-Sky vintage. He remembers a time when teams like Aston Villa, Nottingham Forest and Derby County could actually win the league. When teams like Northampton Town and Carlisle United could reach the top tier of English football and for a time actually threaten to go top of the league. Of course he wants the team to do well and be as successful as possible but as a fan is he wrong to contend that there should be more to life as a Sunderland fan than Premiership survival?
Driving over Wearmouth Bridge after the debacle that was Poyet’s last game in charge, I glanced at one of the escutcheons bearing the coat of arms and heraldic motto of the City of Sunderland. The words “Nil desperandum” roughly translated as “don’t despair” leapt out at me. Had I been on foot I may well have been more focussed on the stickers placed there by the local branch of The Samaritans but I wasn’t. I was in the car and the journey home had been made much easier by the early departure of half the crowd. I should have been depressed but I wasn’t.
I tuned the radio to “Jazz Record Requests” and planned my evening meal – a comforting pot of home made chicken and chorizo cassoulet made with cannellini beans, cherry tomatoes, Italian herbs, served with a crusty loaf. The world seemed OK. You see I was disappointed but not downhearted by the Aston Villa defeat and an increased probability of relegation
I admit I had gone along hoping for the three points that would lift us up the table but in all honesty what I expected was another abject performance and what I had expected was for us to lose. I expected to lose because that’s what this current Sunderland team unerringly does when faced with a crucial game. Thankfully I missed QPR being exiled in deepest West Lancashire, but my brother had gone along for free and complained that “even that was too much to pay”. The story of too many home games over the past few seasons against sides we should be beating comfortably, has been one of continual disappointment and I wasn’t falling into that trap again. Hull City, West Ham, West Brom, and QPR, together with the majority of games at the SOL last season, just reinforced my expectation that we would get nothing from Villa.
We actually started quite brightly, just as we had against Hull City, then capitulated just as we had against Hull City. Whilst those around me got increasingly animated I sat with a wry smile as the next episode of the SAFC soap opera unfolded. This was the Sunderland we have come to know and still somehow love, in the same way that Dot Cotton loved her son Nick. We keep coming back for more in the same way that Gail Tilsley (Potter, Platt, Hillman, McIntyre, Rodwell) is repeatedly attracted to homicidal psychopaths, career criminals and men with dark secrets. And she still loves her son Nick. Not to mention David!
So Gus has gone. No real surprise there but should we lay the blame solely at his door? Who should carry the can for years of abject failure?
When I was about 7 or 8 I was given a book by one of my older cousins from Fence Houses. That book was Len Shackleton’s autobiography “Clown Prince of Soccer” – a publication which recent comments leads me to believe never graced the bookshelves of Murton Library, but which I remember well. Especially the Chapter headed “The Average Director’s Knowledge of Football” and the footnote which read “This page has been left blank in accordance with the author’s wishes.” Shack had a low opinion of the men (and it was exclusively men back in the 50s) who ran the clubs, but at least those types tended to be local businessmen with some understanding of the people who supported the club, what their club meant to them and accepted the premise that the aim of a football club was to win trophies.
Updated the chapter would be re-titled “The Average Owner’s Knowledge of Football” but the content would remain the same. But nowadays the hyper rich owners of clubs in and around the Premier League are more concerned with balance sheets than trophy cabinets. Ellis Short may be pumping money into the club but he has achieved absolutely nothing. As fans we want more than a healthy balance sheet – at least I do. I want to see a side that plays entertaining football and is at least competitive every time it steps out onto the field.
To be honest I’m not bothered about Premier League status. I am rapidly approaching my 61st birthday (am I really?) and in my lifetime all we have won is the F.A. Cup and a few promotions. We still harp on about 73 because it’s the only significant trophy that the club has lifted in living memory unless you happen to be an octogenarian, nonagenarian or had a telegram from the Queen. If you have yet to reach your mid-forties you have seen us win nowt except a few promotions. Last season’s trip to Wembley will live long in the memories of those of us who were there because it is such a rare event. I’d rather we had beaten Hull in the F.A. Cup last season and gone back to North London for the final than enjoy “The Great Escape.” Enjoy that I did – but look where it has got us. Another year of miserable underachievement, the tearing of hair and the gnashing of teeth. This season I wish we had beaten Bradford, then Reading and had another crack at Cup success even at the expense of relegation which still looks probable unless Dick can turn things around in 9 games.
I’ve actually enjoyed our time in the second division or The Championship as it is confusingly named – the winners of the Championship being only the 21st best team in the country – more than our Premiership campaigns. I’ll qualify that by saying the two 7th place finish seasons were an exception but generally we see more positive attacking football at the lower level, the pre-match build up is much more optimistic and the whole day is much more fun. Add to that you get to go to other places and mix with fans of clubs who are realistic about their clubs’ prospects and it makes for a good day out. We played at Gillingham a few years back and the banter in the pub before and after the game was so good that a group of us decided to go back. Sure enough half a dozen of us turned up in our Sunderland shirts one Saturday when they were playing Walsall. We had a great day and as it was their last home game of the season (we had Arsenal next day) they were having a party, ordered in pizza and asked us to join in. Unfortunately we had a train to catch so had to give it a miss. Invariably my best memories of following SAFC have been at so called smaller clubs. Lincoln City, Grimsby. Bury, Stockport etc. A few pints, good craic and decent footy.
I don’t really get this obsession with preferring the avoidance of relegation to actually watching competitive games that we have a chance of winning. The reality is we can’t aspire to be anything other than a mid-table side at best unless we get a takeover of the Abramovitch variety. I know survival guarantees a big television payout and relegation results in a huge loss of revenue but that’s not my problem. The lure of the lucre is what drives the business model of the owners of our clubs and any on field success is viewed solely in terms of European qualification and more TV money.
Roy Keane did well when we were in danger of dropping into League 1 (the old 3rd Division) but it appears he was frustrated by the club’s inability to push on in the Premier League. Not the most patient of men I believe the situation at the club gradually wore the Irishman down.
Steve Bruce did OK for a while even though his tactical thinking seemed limited but was unable to take us forward. Was that purely down to his ability as a manager or were his hands tied to an extent by the policy of the Board? Martin O’Neill we all hailed as a savour when he was appointed but like Bruce he apparently ran out of ideas. How much was his ambition supported by those in charge of finances? Di Canio’s appointment was naïve but in his brief and tempestuous time he hinted that the culture of the club needed an overhaul.
Poyet too pointed the finger at off the field issues and eventually, like Keane appeared to lose the plot and resign himself to leaving the club. Towards the end a huge disquiet about team selection and tactics lost him the support of the crowd and there were at least three games I went to where the “Gustavo Poyet” song, which had been one of the South Stand’s favourites was never heard, but since Niall Quinn was relieved of the Chairmanship and latterly Kevin Ball’s reduced role in the club I look at Short, Margaret Byrne and the rest of the Board and ask myself if it is them rather than the players and coaching staff who are the root cause of the problem.
But going back to my main point, my feeling is that should we escape relegation again we will have another season of disappointment and frustration looming. The reality is we will not be competing with Arsenal or Spurs, never mind Chelsea, Man City and Manchester United. When the height of our ambition is to finish 12th or thereabouts and if achieving that comes at the expense of entertaining football I question whether it is worth it. Go down though and I can see some great days out and some enjoyable matches. Should we go down and Sixer’s seat is filled by someone other than he, it could easily be myself.
Fancy leaving a comment? Not sure what you have to say fits this post? Go to the made-for-purpose feature – https://safc.blog/2013/07/salut-sunderland-the-way-it-is/ – and say it there
A new era, even if turns out to be a mini-era, dawns. It is fitting that the first Guess the Score with Dick Advocaat in charge of the team should be a rollover, offering two mugs from which to drink your generous servings of what Wikipedia calls “Advocaat or Advocaatenborrel, a traditional Dutch alcoholic beverage made from eggs, sugar and brandy”.
The latest crisis at SAFC had Peter Lynn rummaging through all those vinyl discs in his loft again. He dipped his hand into the box of discarded LPs, EPs and singles and out came Shirley Bassey. Let him take up the story; let us hope Dick Advocaat has the Goldfinger touch and that the title of a long-forgotten promotional single Bassey made for the London tourist board, There’s No Place Like London, can be extended on Saturday night to read ‘There’s No Place Like London to Start the Revival’ …
This is the essential piece on Gus Poyet’s dismissal. Over to a gloomy Pete Sixsmith …
And so the deed has been done. The general consensus here in the North East is that it had to be after that performance on Saturday and that the club and the former Head Coach can now move on and achieve success with someone else.
This will be short and to the point. Gus Poyet, as the world and perhaps even Roy Keane’s doing, now knows, has gone.
Have your say below on who should come in, on what basis and with what hope. Let’s pray an early announcement makes that exercise academic … there is no time to lose.