The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team: Sixer on Gillingham.

Malcolm Dawson writes…..I reckon I have seen Sunderland play Gillingham on four occasions. I must have seen them at home in 2004 and 2005 as I had a season ticket, but I don’t recall much of those games. The first time I went to the Priestfield was in September 2004, when we coasted to a 4-0 win early in a season when we finished top of what had become known as The Championship. I went down with some of my mates from the Heart of England Branch and we had such a good time in the pub pre-match, chatting with Gills’ fans who were enjoying the dizzy heights of the second tier that we decided to go back another time and in 2006 returned in our Sunderland shirts to see them play Walsall. Pete Sixsmith admits he hasn’t seen that much of them but has seen them at Roker Park and other assorted North Eastern football grounds as well as the Stadium of Light and down in Kent. I’ll let him take up the story.

Sixer by Jake


Kent’s finest, some would say only, Football League team, have not much appeared on the radar at Sixsmith Towers over the years. I have seen them three times at Sunderland, have visited Priestfield twice and have caught them at Feethams and Victoria Park. So, this piece may well be a short one (“Thank goodness” say the readers)

My first sight of them was on the 22nd October 1966 at Darlington. Our home game with Stoke City had been postponed due to the opening games of the Home International Championship being played on that day and we had three players involved.

John Parke and Martin Harvey played for Northern Ireland in their 2-0 defeat to England, the World Cup winners turning out the same XI that had triumphed at Wembley three months earlier. Second half goals from Roger Hunt and Martin Peters saw England defeat the home side in front of a huge Windsor Park crowd of 47,897.

John Parke
Martin Harvey

Meanwhile, in South Wales, Jim Baxter was strutting his stuff for Scotland at Ninian Park in a 1-1 draw. Ron Davies’s opener was cancelled out with four minutes remaining, by Dennis Law, and that was the only point dropped by Slim Jim and his mates as they defeated Northern Ireland 1-0 in Glasgow and then went on to win 3-2 at Wembley where Baxter played keepy-uppy and the Tartan Army, with whisky fuelled logic, proclaimed themselves “World Champions.”

So, with my paper round money sewn into my mittens, I caught the No.1 bus from Byerley Road and handed over a bawbee to the gateman at Feethams in order to watch Darlington play Gillingham, a town of whose location I had only a vague idea. A grammar school education in Geography focused on ox bow lakes, the economy of Nigeria and the rivers of Canada, rather than useful things like where on earth were places like Gillingham, Stockport and Cowdenbeath.

Thanks to an excellent website called “Gillingham Scrapbook” I was able to find out what the teams were that day and a report on the game. It was an undistinguished 1-1 draw which confirmed that the Quakers were struggling in Division Three (they were relegated at the end of the season), with the goals coming within 90 seconds of each other and both containing goalkeeping errors.

Darlington stopper Tony Moore failed to come for a cross and Brian Gibbs headed in but 90 seconds later stalwart Gills keeper John Simpson, a native of Appleby who made 571 appearances for them, let slip a fierce shot from Quakers full back John Peverell and the ball slid over the line.

John Simpson

The game had been held up in the first half when Darlington winger George McGeachie suffered a serious injury, the entire crowd heard his knee cartilage snap as it made a sound like a bullet being fired and there was a long wait while he was moved and taken to hospital. McGeachie had played for Dundee when they won the Scottish League in 1962 and ended up at Darlington as he worked as a chemist for ICI on Teesside. He never played again.

There was a crowd of 5,819 and I remember walking around the cricket pitch and back to the bus station, pleased as the proverbial punch that I had managed to exchange a Sunderland badge for a Gillingham one from a travelling Kentish Man (or is it Man of Kent?), replete with Invicta, the rearing white horse.

The last time I saw them was a few months ago at Hartlepool where they were seconds away from being dumped out of the FA Cup by a National League side. Pools had drawn 1-1 at Priestfield and, with seconds left, were 2-1 up in the replay. Goals by Carl Magnay and Paddy McLaughlin in the first half had put Pools in control, but Max Ehmer had pulled one back.

With six minutes left and the visitors desperately looking for salvation, Pools manager took off forward Luke James and sent on defender Conor Newton to shore up the back four. There was a rumbling of discontent amongst the home support as James was perfectly placed to take advantage of the gaps that Gillingham were leaving in their quest for the equaliser and their fears were founded as keeper Scott Loach missed a cross and Carl Magnay handled to stop the ball going in. Impressive striker Tom Eaves rattled home the penalty and the Gills went on to win 4-3 in extra time.

As far as Sunderland goes, I first saw them in a Division Three game at Roker on the 30th January, 1988, just over 31 years ago. I had missed the play off game as I was committed to taking the Aged P’s to East Midlands airport for what turned out to be my mother’s last foreign holiday before she died and I remember picking up scores from it on the Radio 2 news as I sat in the passenger seat of the Mini Metro and my father drove and dropped lighted cigarettes on the floor.

That day in 1988 ended in a 2-1 win for us, with Gary Bennett opening the scoring in the 9th minute and Marco doubling the lead in the 27th before he went off ten minutes later. Mark Cooper, then Gillingham’s record signing, pulled one back in the second half but we saw the game out (would that we could do that now!!!) to remain top of the pile.

Marco and Benno in their Quaker days

The teams who performed that day, in front of 16,195 people were’

Ian Hesford; John Kay, Gary Bennett, John McPhail, Reuben Agboola; Paul Atkinson, Paul Lemon, Steve Doyle, Gordon Armstrong; Eric Gates, Marco Gabbiadini subs; Frank Gray, Keith Bertschin (for Marco 36)

Ron Hillyard (who ended up 8 appearances behind John Simpson); Karl Elsey, Graham Pearce, Gavin Peacock (ex Mag, now a pastor in Calgary), Gary West, Colin Greenall (713 games for various clubs including Blackpool, Bury and Chester) Howard Pritchard, Trevor Quow, Steve Lovell (their current manager), Mark Cooper, David Smith subs; Les Berry, Irvin Gernon.

They have slipped a bit recently and could well be in the relegation places when they pitch up at the Stadium. This is their fourth visit in the league and they have lost two and drawn one. That was in 2003-04 and was a 1-1 draw.

You knew that was coming didn’t you…….

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Sixer’s Hartlepool Soapbox: bravo Benji, bravo (later) France, bad show Byrne’s boys

Hero, villain or just working the system?

Not so cool at the Pool, said Peter Sixsmith. Benji Kimpioka was cool, as were others of the young players at Jack Ross’s disposal. Catts and Honeyman, despite Ross saying the right things about how they were working for him, were distinctly uncool. What we all think of their agent, the club’s former CEO Margaret Byrne, may be best left unsaid. Sixer’s report – he chose the Victoria Ground over pub or armchair view of England losing decisively to Belgium – fills in the gaps while Monsieur Salut happily fetes France’s World Cup success, broadly deserved …

Read moreSixer’s Hartlepool Soapbox: bravo Benji, bravo (later) France, bad show Byrne’s boys

Sixer’s Sevens: Kimpioka spares the blushes to maintain a superb pre-season (for him)

Jake: ‘welcome back’

The 2018-19 edition of Sixer’s Sevens, in which Pete Sixsmith or a super-sub sums up each Sunderland game in seven words, gets properly under way today. Yes, he had a first pre-season friendly the other night, when Darlington beat us 1-0. But Pete may have been keeping one eye on news from St Petersburg, when France were beating Belgium by the same score, and offered only a Sixer’s Four – ‘a rather embarrassing defeat’ – so we made do with his Soapbox match report next day.

The game at the Victoria Ground was heading the same way until, with almost the last kick of the match, when our young Swedish prospect Benjamin Mbunga Kimpioka equalised. He’s having a great pre-season, with two hat-tricks for the Under 23s already. Their opener? ‘One down to sloppy defending,’ wrote Pete,’there’s a change then’.

So here we go with Pete’s first (written seconds before our goal) plus – for those not of a nervous disposition – a reminder of how Sixer and others captured each game last season. The squeamish should stop at the final game (when we improbably beat the champions, Wolves, 3-0) …

Read moreSixer’s Sevens: Kimpioka spares the blushes to maintain a superb pre-season (for him)

On Sunderland beating Hartlepool 2-1 and Mannone ‘heading for Reading’

An unofficial edition of the series …

This is not really Sixer’s Sevens, much as it relies on Pete Sixsmith’s reflections from Victoria Park, where Sunderland’s pre-season campaign continued with a 2-1 win against Hartlepool – and news of Vito Mannone’s likely departure.

Read moreOn Sunderland beating Hartlepool 2-1 and Mannone ‘heading for Reading’

Sixer’s Hull City Soapbox: something to shout about in the city of culture

Jake: ‘well knock me down with a feather’

Malcolm Dawson writes……I half expected Pete Sixsmith to go up to Whitley Bay yesterday to watch the Northern League Cup Final (the last game of the Northern League season) in which South Shields hammered their rivals from ower the Tyne, North Shields by five goals to nil. But no! Peter is made of sterner stuff and made the journey down the East coast to Kingston upon Hull and for once didn’t come home wondering if he shouldn’t be finding more entertaining ways of spending his Saturday afternoons.

HULL CITY (away)

In a dismal season we clutch at anything that reminds us that watching football should be a pleasure rather than a chore that has to be endured and the win at the KCOM Stadium fell into the category of mild ecstasy rather than the usual deep despair. It made for a pleasant journey home – a first for me this season.

We came away from the City of Culture (of which more later) with three points and some pointers towards next season, whether under the supervision of Gloomy Dave and the ownership of the Absent Missourian, or perhaps new owners with new managerial ideas. There are indications that there are two consortia interested in buying the club (and its huge debts) and that they may want their own man in place. We shall see. It maybe that M Salut, financially fat on his ESPN earnings, is one of the consortia members. Or, then again, maybe not.

We had it confirmed that we have in Jordan Pickford (He’s One of our Own), a top class goalkeeper. This was the best I have seen him play for us. It was a flawless performance, one that should comfortably boost his stock within the game and his transfer value.

There were three things that really struck me about him yesterday. First of all his ability to come for the right ball at the right time as he now had an idea of what his defenders could and couldn’t do. His judgement was spot on and he caught, punched and palmed away as well as any Sunderland keeper I have seen.

Secondly, his positioning. There was a spell in the second half when the Tigers were well on top and were pushing for the goal that may well have saved their precarious Premier League place. A cross came in from Elmohamady and was met with a thumping header by Liverpool loanee Lazar Markovic. It looked a certain goal but Jordan (He’s One of our Own, ya knaa) had positioned himself superbly and made an outstanding save to keep it at 0-0.

He’s one of our own

Thirdly, his distribution. One pass from him in particular stood out. His amazingly accurate kick went over the head of centre half Rannochia, leaving Jermain Defoe with a clear run at goal. It should have been the opener, but Jermain took a second too long and his shot was saved by Jakupovic. It was a pass not a clearance, something he has been doing all season. Throughout the game, he dropped the ball on Anichebe’s head or put it just in front of Defoe and that meant that Hull could never relax at the back which contributed to the tension that stifled their game.

Top marks to Jordan – those of us who have watched him since he made the Under 21 team years ago are not surprised at how well he has done – neither are the fans of Darlington, Bradford City and Preston North End whose clubs helped to nurture him and show the advantages of the loan system. And, of course, He’s One of our Own…..

We had two loan players performing in our Real Madrid strip at Hull. For Javier Manquillo it must have been galling wearing the all-white as Real had walloped his parent club Atletico in the all Madrid Champions League semi on Tuesday night. He looks a decent footballer but suffers from being a right back playing at left back. Every time he gets the ball he has to transfer it on to his right foot and that often means that his final pass or cross is intercepted by a recovering defender. When he returns to Spain, he will understand the meaning of the word adversity.

Sunderland in their faux Real Madrid kit

Jason Denayer has been a decent player for us this season and, although probably not good enough for Manchester Coty, he will make progress in the game. He is enthusiastic (I have likened him to a sheepdog chasing sheep over the fells) and is not frightened to make a tackle. Employed in midfield above Larsson, Rodwell and Gooch, he did his job well tackling, heading and generally running about with none of the world weariness that two of the three aforementioned names too often exhibit.

He was joined in the team’s engine room by George Honeyman who justified the faith that Gloomy Dave placed in him by turning a solid performance which may bode well for him getting a new deal for 2017-18 (the Comeback Year). He was neat and tidy, picked out a couple of really good balls to Defoe and in what will probably be a Championship clash next season, showed that he may well be an important player. Like Jordan, he’s One of our Own, albeit from Mag (and Ruth Archer ) territory in Prudhoe.

John O’Shea showed that he deserves another contract with an impressive display of football and captaincy. The more I see of him, the more I like him as a player and as a man. He has the attitude to go on and become a coach and manager, possibly with us. He likes the club and the support and I expect to see him making his Championship debut on the first weekend in August.

Didn’t need his boots to find the back of the net yesterday

He played a key part in the opening goal. He dropped short to Honeyman at the corner and was not picked up. His flicked header bamboozled a static Hull defence and there was Billy Jones, who had previously been given a torrid time by Grosicki, to turn the ball into the net and send the 2,500 fans wild. I thought that we deserved to be ahead as we had played the more controlled football while Hull seemed to think that if they fell down in the box, Neil Swarbrick would eventually give them a penalty. Their antics reminded me of Norwich last season – and look what happened to them…..

The second goal was a sharp ball by Larsson which Hull failed to read and it was bundled home by a relieved Jermain Defoe. He has stalled recently but he has been an excellent player for us and wherever he goes in the summer, no Sunderland supporter will wish him anything other than success and happiness. Like O’Shea, he has been more than a footballer at Sunderland.

Apparently, City manager Silva and striker Niasse had both predicted a comfortable win for what turned out to be a toothless Tigers team. They overstepped the boundary between cockiness and confidence and looked deflated at the end. With a trip to Palace and a home game with Spurs to come, they needed this one and although not certain to go down, they will have to play much better than they did against us. Former Sunderland player Alfred N’Diaye was eclipsed by the quietly influential Didier Ndong and the Tigers offered little craft or guile in midfield. The much vaunted Harry Maguire looked as if he was going to cry when the first goal went in.

No matter who owns the club – this is who it really belongs to

As for The City of Culture, it was a disappointment. I fully expected to see street corners full of mime artists climbing out of imaginary boxes, artists wearing smocks sitting at easels frantically painting and poets in floppy hats and bow ties extolling the virtues of Spurn Head and Hull Kingston Rovers. Instead, the entire population appeared to be eating fish and chips on the cold, wind-blown streets of a city that I really like and shall be revisiting in the summer to look at some of the exhibitions and events that we may be seeing in Sunderland in four years time.

The journey home was saddened by the demise of Hartlepool United as they slipped into the National League and who will be exchanging visits from Luton and Portsmouth for those of Bromley and Guiseley, hopefully only for a year. We wish them well. Relegation can be a cleansing process as our Tyneside friends have shown.

Our support was magnificent at Hull, with no aim other than to show people that whoever owns, manages or plays for the club, it is our club. We are there for life – even if it is in the Championship.

FA Cup Third Round: five good, five bad. Everton, Notts County make both lists

Bobby Kerr and the FA Cup, May 5 1973, from Art of Football

… in which Pete Sixsmith looks back on the good, bad and exceedingly ugly FA Cup 3rd Round ties he remembers with affection or disgust …

Excitement levels among Sunderland supporters, it has to be said, have not been high over the impending FA Cup tie with Burnley.

I have my ticket due to the Cup Ticket option but am considering missing out in order to watch a tasty FA Vase tie between Shildon and Atherton Collieries. But it did get me thinking about epic and disastrous third round clashes in the past.

Read moreFA Cup Third Round: five good, five bad. Everton, Notts County make both lists

Sixer’s Hartlepool Soapbox: a trophy name to relish, Notts County to come

Bradley: still time to support this event

At Facebook, Nick Barnes could barely contain his excitement at the commentary duties that lay ahead of him: ‘a beautiful evening for the carnival of football that is the Checkatrade Trophy’. Needless to say, our Pete Sixsmith was there too and, without getting too enthralled by the spectacle, quote enjoyed the rare sight of a Sunderland team winning a game …

Read moreSixer’s Hartlepool Soapbox: a trophy name to relish, Notts County to come

Pure Poyetry: Hartlepool 0 SAFC 0 – Hartlepool 0 SAFC Development Squad 3

Malcolm Dawson writes…unlike Saturday today was a scorcher until we got to Monkey Hanging country that is, where it was overcast and I was glad I had taken a fleece with me. Three thousand, two hundred and fifty two Sunderland fans were in Victoria Park to watch Gus’s men in action for 60 minutes, then like last night at Carlisle, a brand new team of 11 Development Squad players hopeful of catching the manager’s eye for the final third. And very good they were too. A full eye-witness account will come tomorrow but for now hear what Senor Poyet had to say in his post match e-mail to M Salut and the world in general.

Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox
Jake captures the Bard, with thanks to Owen Lennox

Dear Colin,

You don’t usually have the chance in football when 11 players come on, really fit, for the last 30 minutes that want to make an impact and show that they want to be a part of the first team.

They’re young, show plenty of ability and know how to play together, and it was nice for them to enjoy playing in front of so many people. Normally you don’t get that chance when you’re in the under-21s.

We were a bit worried [about Andrew Cartwright] because he took a big knock and was a little bit dizzy, so we’re dealing with the situation first to make sure nothing’s wrong.

It was a clash of heads so he probably won’t remember that he scored two goals today!

Again, I think it’s important we look at the youth in the Academy and give those players the opportunity to perform.

It was a better quality [than Carlisle by the team that played the first hour]. We didn’t score, but overall I thought it was a better performance.

I’m not too worried about results in pre-season – it’s about performances and getting the fitness to be ready.

Thanks for your support,

Gus Poyet

Sunderland’s Twelve Days of Christmas: (10) Hartlepool United and Arca’s day

Jake wasn't there either
By Jake

Pete Sixsmith
digs into the memory again to find a 10th Christmas period game about which he can reminisce as a safe alternative to slitting his wrists in despair at Sunderland’s latest act of shooting self in foot. Here he recalls one of the happy moments from Julio Arca’s time at the club …

Read moreSunderland’s Twelve Days of Christmas: (10) Hartlepool United and Arca’s day

Soapbox Tote double: SAFC, Hartlepool, Hull, Gateshead – and David Meyler

Are there telling clues about first-team prospects and planning to be had from watching the reserves? Pete “I’m no football junkie” Sixsmith caught two such games yesterday and reports on both, with an emphasis on how the impressive resilience of David Meyler is bearing up after his second dreadful injury setback …

As some of you may know, I have recently retired, allowing me to spend more time with my ever diminishing collection of full beer bottles. It also gives me the opportunity to winkle out obscure midweek afternoon football fixtures and join my fellow retired, anoraks and obsessives in near deserted football grounds.

This season,our reserves are playing a number of their fixtures in the afternoon at the Academy. Unfortunately, they are not allowing the retired etc in to watch on Health and Safety grounds as the club are in the process of being sued by a spectator who was hit in the face by a wayward ball at a game last year.

Many behind the goal at Roker Park and the SoL over the years should now be contacting Messrs Sue, Grabbit and Run.

Read moreSoapbox Tote double: SAFC, Hartlepool, Hull, Gateshead – and David Meyler