John McCormick’s contributions to Salut! Sunderland have been immense, as writer and editor. Despite the serious health issues that have confronted him, he has continued in his tireless way to post articles and research and write his own exemplary work, often analytical and backed by meticulous statistical date, all presented with far more technological nous than I can muster. He has been a great mainstay of this site and deserves the rest he has now prescribed for himself.
John McCormick introduces his own farewell: regular readers will know I was told I had a malignant tumour in December last year and was given a scan to see if I had secondaries just before Christmas 2018. That scan revealed a lesion on my liver but couldn’t determine whether it was malign or not. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I received final confirmation that it wasn’t, which closed a sequence of tests – all clear – and ensured that this Christmas would be merrier, and this New Year happier, than the last.
Malcolm Dawson writes…….there was a gathering of the clans in Accrington on Saturday. A veritable Salut! Sunderland fest before kick off.
At this time of year Pete Sixsmith is otherwise engaged bringing joy to the young of the North East so I arranged to meet up with associate editor John McCormick (who was making use of Sixer’s ticket) in the Peel Park Hotel, adjacent to where Stanley used to play many years ago. It’s a very cosy boozer with a good selection of real ales and it worked out that John and I found ourselves sitting next to Rob Hutchison and his daughter Olivia, both of whom contribute to the pages of our humble website from time to time.
At the same time as the Accrington branches of Wickes and B&Q were rapidly running out of stocks of gopher wood, Rob was nervously checking his phone to see if the game was still on.
We decided that if it should be called off before 2.00 p.m. Rob would have a few more pints before making his way back down south and as I had driven there, I would see if the Peel Park Hotel was an actual hotel that did bed and breakfast, so at home did we feel and so quaffable was the Copper Dragon Best Bitter – brewed to suit that special Northern palate according to the tasting notes I read.
But the news came through as the downpour subsided to a drizzle that the game would go ahead so John and I took the car nearer to the Crown Ground (WHAM Stadium) and making the last part of our way there on foot, bumped into one Paul (Sobs) Dobson. Sobsy is better known for his contributions to ALS and seems to be the BBC Look North’s go to guy when they need a vox pop of a Sunderland fan. Sobsy will be contributing something to our advent calendar on Christmas Day, so don’t miss that when it will be a bumper edition. Take a look while the kids are tearing the Christmas wrapping off their prezzies, while the sprouts still need another hour of boiling or when Her Majesty is rabbiting on about Brexit or whatever else is on the agenda this year. Oh and be warned “The Great Escape” is a film with Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Donald Pleasence and not a biopic about Paulo de Canio, Gus Poyet, Dick Advocaat or Sam Allardyce.
The rain had subsided briefly but it started again as John and I entered the ground, and got heavier as we passed the double decker bus selling beer and the row of portaloos supplementing the normal facilities. Taking my seat who should I find next door but one? None other than Peter Lynn, “Wrinkly Pete” of this parish. It got even more torrential as the players were trying to warm up and just before kick off Heart of England branch stalwart Terry took his seat next to me, looking like the proverbial drowned rat, took one look at the state of the pitch and predicted there would be some shenanigans in front of goal later. He was remarkably accurate.
I’m finding it difficult to recall a lot of detail about what there was of the game yesterday, partly because of where I was and partly because of the weather. As usual at away games the whole of the away crowd was standing, and despite being in a section of the ground with seating I had to put my arthritic knees to the test, but being almost at the end of the stand, the far nearside corner was completely out of my line of vision and a lot of the play seemed to take place there.
The conditions were making play difficult. On a couple of occasions a high ball played towards McLaughlin just didn’t bounce. The ball was sticking in the clarts so some short passes were not reaching their intended target, some balls which initially looked to be over hit stopped dead allowing the player to recover and sometimes if McGeady, Gooch or Oviedo went off on a run they would leave the ball behind.
It looked to me that Stanley had adapted to the conditions better though I don’t remember McLaughlin having to make a save in the first half, whilst Power sent a rasping shot wide and McGeady saw a powerful effort fly over the crossbar after some good work from Maja down the right wing and Oviedo hit a free kick through the legs of the Stanley wall, after Maja had been brought down on the edge of the penalty area, forcing Accy keeper Ripley into low save, which I think was the only shot on target all half. Nil – nil at the break.
The rain really came down second half and at times it was like watching through one of those metal beaded curtains that you see in butchers’ doorways, designed to keep the flies from the dead meat. John’s mobile footage shows just how bad conditions were, but please note, the slope is just from the angle of the camera – the pitch itself does not resemble Lords or the home grounds of Yeovil Town or Tow Law.
We took the lead when Maguire showed his energy and sprinted yards to close down their keeper, who had started off in acres of space controlling a long back pass. As the Scotsman quickly closed him down he went to hoof the ball upfield but Maguire jumped, turned and the ball hit the back of his shoulder. We watched as bounced into the net much to the chagrin of Ripley who tried to convince the ref it had struck Maguire’s arm and to the delight of the Sunderland support. The Accy fans behind the goal, who had been noisy all game with their two drummers leading the way, went silent for a time as Maguire celebrated in front of them before running across and doing the same in front of us.
We just about deserved the lead I thought, though we by no means were dominating in the Lancashire mud bath. Not so long after Stanley equalised and it could all be put down to the conditions. McLaughlin failed to hold on to a low shot from close range, Flanagan slipped trying to get to the rebound, a third effort was scrambled off the line before the ball was finally bundled into the net with James (or it might have been Gooch) just failing to do enough to prevent the equaliser.
Not long after referee Oliver Langford had a word with both managers and the fourth official before taking the players off. Mixed comments from the Sunderland contingent leaving the ground, most seeing it as a sensible move but some complaining that the ref should have ended the game when we were ahead in the misguided belief that the result would have stood.
So another rearranged game to fit into a busy programme and a Checkatrade draw that pits us at home to the Mag’s U21s. I bet after what went on at Port Vale in the week, the club and the local police can’t wait for that.
It is time to conclude our series based on (mainly) electronic conversations between Salut! Sunderland writers and Charlie Methven, executive director of the club and a minority shareholder.
We thank Charlie for his time and full, diligent responses. Not every Sunderland supporter is yet convinced, either that the takeover from Ellis Short leaves Stewart Donald, Charlie and their team in a strong financial position or that bargain acquisitions from Scotland will win us League One.
We will see. For now, the right noises are being made and the level of communication between club and fans is healthier than in the past, possibly healthier than at any time in the history of Sunderland AFC.
It’s time again for Salut! Sunderland writers, regular or occasional, to look back on a season that carried the now customary threat of relegation before bursting into life with another of our extraordinary late escapes. The reviews will appear pretty much in the order they are received – feel free to have a go if there’s something pressing on your mind – and end with the thoughts of our indefatigable chronicler Pete Sixsmith. Accordingly, we start with associate editor John McCormick …
Colin Randall writes: it is not just Sunderland AFC that knows the meaning of struggle. Salut! Sunderland has its moments, too. I am talking readership levels. Victory – and defeats for those who remember them – in the Wear-Tyne derbies always boost numbers, though not as much as they once did. So do John McCormick’s statistical epics on relegation prospects among the bottom eight (or so) clubs. When Monsieur Salut, John or deputy editor Malcolm Dawson come up with a catchy headline, the effect can be the same because of the way website aggregators work. The common denominator, I am sad to say, is other clubs. We often draw big hits when the content, and therefore the headlines, mention them. Purely Sunderland-themed articles do not, with honourable exceptions, have the same effect.
This suggests we are not quite getting it right for SAFC supporters. Our Facebook group has more than 500 members but there are some days when we do not attract even that number of visitors to the site. Here, after John McCormick has set the scene, is your chance to tell us what it is we are doing wrong, what we should be more or better, what we should not be doing at all …
John McCormick writes: regular readers will know that I’ve been tracking the progress of SAFC and other at-risk clubs by means of my “dodgy numbers”. I’ll look back on how they all fared some time after Pete Sixsmith finishes the end of season reviews, with a view to selecting teams and methods for next season’s relegation watch.
In the meantime, here’s a by-product of my tracking exercise, a chart detailing our climb to safety and the key events of what turned out to be a long hard slog. Click for a clearer view …
John McCormick writes: when the fixture fairy first waved her wand I thought I might struggle to make more than a handful of matches. It turned out I was right; over the season pre-booked flights, rearranged games, competing demands and a pregnant daughter all took their toll. So, too, did my lowly position in the loyalty points league. Our away support is so good that there are loads of fixtures where I can’t get tickets in my own right and, sometimes, even the best efforts of stalwarts such as Pete Sixsmith aren’t enough, as became clear from game one; Burnley away was the first target I missed.
In fact, I only managed three games. Even so, in a season when we did little, they all stood out for some reasons.
Malcolm Dawson writes…..I wonder what the atmosphere was like on the supporters’ coaches which were delayed by the incident on the M62. Frustration at the knowledge they were going to miss a decent amount of the first half or a resigned sense of relief that they wouldn’t have to sit (or stand) through another disappointing performance as an expansive Everton team took us apart. At least that was the pre-match script. Dick wanted a point and most of us expected that even that might be beyond the lads. Of course there was some optimism from last week’s performance and result but Everton are thought of as our bogey team – or one of them at least. I watched on telly enduring the inane comments of Michael Owen as the BT coverage was a few seconds behind the Radio Newcastle commentary. I couldn’t believe our luck going one nil up but with the amount of possession, attacking flair and time left on the clock it’s a good job I don’t indulge in game betting, because I would have had us down for a 2-1 defeat. As the clock ticked I hoped we’d hang on for a point but surely it was only a matter of time. Then Defoe somehow got a hip onto Johnson’s shot and for the second time in the game the football gods smiled on us and relief washed over me. I expect Dick had similar emotions. Here in his very brief post match e-mail he acknowledges our good fortune, credits the wonderful support and shows a fine grasp of maths and an understanding of percentages. Thanks to John McCormick for the pictures.
EVERTON 0 SUNDERLAND 2
The players gave 100 per cent and the support of our fans was brilliant from beginning to end. We had a bit of luck on our side but that sometimes happens.
We worked hard and it was very effective. The back five, including the goalkeeper, were very positive and the other players had to work very hard too. Last week’s shape was good, today a little bit less, but the players keep on working and that’s important.
It was a special goal for Danny; he works so hard. He deserved that – a reward for the attitude he has shown. Jermain has a God’s gift – he knows where the ball will go and it was a good goal for him too.
The fans were fantastic again. They stood right behind the team – it was great.
John McCormick writes: I’m beginning this on December 29, the day after we’ve drawn against Villa in our 19th game of the season. With match reports from Villa (er, whatever happened to Bob Chapman’s?), then a game on New Year’s Day, then a cup match, the site will be busy with posts for the next few days, so my reflections will take their chances and appear when there’s a gap (just identified! – Ed).
I don’t think it’ll need much updating. My forecast is that Jozy won’t score against Man City. I seriously doubt whether Fletcher or Wickham will, although I don’t think the result’s a foregone conclusion. In fact, I’d keep Fletch at home and save him for the Leeds game rather than have him battered and risking injury against City … let us see
John McCormick writes: Tony Fay and I were colleagues once but our paths diverged a good few years ago and I didn’t know whether I’d be able to contact him or if he’d want to take part in the Who are You? series.
I’m glad to be able to report that I was and he did as Tony, with apologies to Blackadder, is redder than a red squirrel which fell into a bucket of red paint at a Simply Red concert. Here’s his view on all things Liverpool, and some things Sunderland: