John McCormick writes: Regular visitors will be used to Paul Summerside’s thoughts popping up on the site. He’s here often enough to have his own tag – A view from the Avenue – and he always has something interesting to say. Today is no exception as he takes the opportunity to look back over the summer and the season to date.
This being a short piece, Paul posted it on our facebook page first but it’s good enough to go up here and it’s important enough to be read twice. So thanks, Paul, for letting us move it across.
Tom Jolliffe* cannot see beyond an away win at the Stadium of Light tomorrow. At least he applies a neat sense of humour, and traces of sympathy, to his asnwers about our plight and his club Aston Villa’s buoyant current state and longer-term prospects (which should not, in his view, include much room for Lewis Grabban beyond the Championship). And however controversial this will be, Monsieur Salut thinks he’s closer to being right than wrong in his assessment of Steve Bruce …
Out with the mugs and in with the print or t-shirt. For the next two games, Guess the Score has the ear of those excellent people at Art of Football, occasional sponsors of Salut! Sunderland competitions and run by Nottingham Forest fans among whom we found a Who are You? candidate earlier in the season.
So guess the score in Sunderland vs Fulham, be first with the right scoreline and you will win one of the two Niall Quinn/Kevin Phillips items shown: a fine print or a t-shirt depicting two heroes of Sunderland’s relatively recent past.
Monsieur Salut writes: Why does Salut! Sunderland exist? What prompted its creation? What was my first game? What have been my highs and lows of supporting Sunderland? All the kind of questions we regularly ask Who are You? candidates. This time the boot was on the other foot. The newish Football Friends site wanted answers from me. Here they are – and do check out the site for chats with those responsible for other club blogs …
Malcolm Dawson writes….we’ve already had some belting stuff from our friends in SAFC NASA. What follows is no exception. Jesse Burch may not have seen our boys as often as the rest of us but he shares our passion, shares our pain and has, through some long distance form of osmosis, absorbed the DNA of the true Sunderland supporter. Whilst most of us back in the UK were snugly tucked up in bed he was there to witness the latest pre-season outing against the Mexicans of Pachuca and he suffered at first hand, what those of us who live a bit closer to Wearside experience on a much more regular basis.
Here’s Jesse’s account of his day.
SAFC 1 – FC Pachuca 3
I’m embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t sleep the night before SAFC’s match versus FC Pachuca. I live in Los Angeles and set my alarm to wake up at 4:30am for the drive up to Sacramento and was lights out at 10pm. But I lay there and tossed and turned until 12:30am, like a kid on the eve of Christmas. “I’m too old to be behaving ilke this,” I thought to myself. But I couldn’t help it. The day had come.
From the moment I heard that Sunderland would be traveling to California I knew I’d be there to watch them play. So I wasn’t surprised in the least when I woke up before my alarm went (at 3:45am), rolled out of the bed, and into the car at 4.
Because I was unencumbered by my kids and wife — and their requisite rest stops and bathroom breaks — I was able to get to Sacramento in about five and a half hours, which is very good time. Unfortunately, because I got started so early, that brought me to Sunderland’s pub HQ a full two hours before they opened. Nevertheless, I parked in the back beside a trash dumpster, rolled the windows down to fully appreciate the aroma and cool down (it was already hot), and jotted a few thoughts for this dispatch.
As I was struggling to sleep the night before, I was struck with the realization that my heroes, my team, were in the same time zone I was. It’s perhaps a trite or simple observation, but hear me out: my experience of Sunderland is intrinsically-tied to distance and time. The thousands of miles from England and the subsequent shift in what is for me traditional “game-time” (early breakfast) colours a lot of my experience of supporting Sunderland. It’s exceedingly unusual for me to have a day spread out before me in which to luxuriate and celebrate before making my way to the ground to watch the team I love so much.
As I was ruminating on this, Bonnie, from the Bonn Lair, saw me as she was getting into her car to make a market run. “Here’s another Sunderland fan!” she said, to no one in particular. I introduced myself and she kindly allowed me to head inside the pub where it was much cooler.
The Bonn Lair is a really, really great little pub — with an emphasis on little. I can see why its proprietor, David, was concerned about how many punters we’d be bringing in, as it’s cozy inside. But lining the walls were pennants, flags, memorabilia and scarves from every club under the sun. The decor was comfortable and homey, and as I sat myself down in a deep booth to wait, I was happy about what was the random choice of this pub based on its proximity to Bonney Field.
In my conversations with SAFC they had suggested that there could be between 150-200 people coming over from England, in addition to those in the US affiliated with NASA. I had done my best to publicise the location, but anxiety started creeping in as the pub staff were making preparations around me. And even though I wasn’t the host, per se, I started to worry that the promised numbers wouldn’t show.
Thankfully, shortly after the pub opened, I was joined by some of my friends from NASA Region 9, and then more, and then more. Before I knew it, the pub was a blur of red and white — some old faces, some new; some from a few hours’ drive, some from as far away as Holland! But the one unifying feature of the lot was their kindness. Indeed, I have yet to meet a Sunderland supporter who isn’t an all-around decent person. The old adage that “he’d give you the shirt off his back” applies to pretty much everyone I met yesterday.
As the afternoon passed, we drank and ate and laughed and talked — mostly about the team and the debut of the new away kit, but also about our various families, lives, and interests — and before we knew it, it was game time. Some of the NASA folks had bought tickets to a chartered bus to the ground, so we headed across the street to ride to the stadium. Once there, we hurried through the fairground — where a garish and busy county fair was very much in swing — and made our way to our seats.
It was a discordant environment, what with the field surrounded by a pointless monorail track, Ferris wheel, and sounds of carnival rides. It all rendered the match almost an afterthought, but I felt a slight surge of excitement to finally be there, to finally see the Lads in person after a little over eleven years.
Unfortunately, the excitement turned to almost immediate revulsion as the Lads took the pitch in what I can only describe as one part away kit, one part highlighter pen, one part Kermit the Frog costume. Dear God. What are we wearing?! A chorus of “Green Army!” sprung up to our left as I put my face in my hands. I’ve seen bad kits before, but this takes the cake. We look like fluorescent popsicles. Toxic waste. Lime lollies.
Anyhow, the match started brightly and my initial horror was quickly put to rest as Jack Rodwell put us in front quickly with a well-worked goal.
And then we went back to being Sunderland. I had hoped we wouldn’t be worse than we’d been on Tuesday, and we weren’t. Much. But we weren’t that good either. Pachuca sprayed the ball around comfortably for the next 80 minutes, we stood off them, they scored three goals and Pickford made a good penalty save. Other than that, honestly, the only highlight of the match — for me, anyhow — was fellow countryman John Calfas’ lyrics to a new song about the abomination we were wearing. (Blinded by the kits/They’re green and they glow/And they’re giving people fits.)
But here’s the thing that ultimately soured me to the match — and I intend to write the club about it, because this is just not on, in my opinion:
After the final whistle blew, the players, en masse, simply walked off the pitch, their backs turned to the red and white in the stands, to the flags adorning our end of the stadium, to the support who had travelled far further than I had on their own dime. O’Shea and Pickford turned halfheartedly, clapped twice, and joined the rest. No acknowledgment. No thanks.
The gentleman next to me muttered, “They did the same thing on Tuesday.”
What did I expect? Certainly not to be joined at the pub by the whole squad or anything. I’m not unreasonable or stupid. But this was downright disrespectful. Something, lads! A wave. A clap. A thank you by way of simple acknowledgment for the support and effort to be here and watch you go through the motions (and lose, again). Someone needs to have a word.
But despite my disappointment I returned to the thought I had after sitting in Santa Monica for the NASA General Meeting back in October and watching us lose 8-0 to Southampton: that SAFC is the support first, the team second. Sometimes I feel they don’t deserve us.
Indeed, as Niall Quinn so astutely pointed out, “”If Sunderland produced a team as good as the fans, then they’d be in Europe every year.”
We made our way back to the pub, singing as we did on the way to the match, and parted ways until the next time. Despite feeling let down by the players, I thought, “I am still wholeheartedly devoted to this club.” Because the club is the people.
Someone should remind the Lads.
Jesse on himself:
I’m Jesse Burch, US-born and bred and have been supporting Sunderland since the year SuperKev won the Golden Boot.
Why Sunderland? Totally, utterly random. A friend of mine invited me to join a Premier League low-stakes, week-to-week betting pool whereby we’d pick results for quarters.
Like I said: low stakes. To make it interesting, he suggested I follow a team myself, but the only ones left (his mates had chosen their teams already) were Southampton, Derby, and Sunderland. I did my bit of research, liked the Quinn-Phillips partnership, have always loved an underdog anyhow – and the rest is history. I could’ve walked away without reciprocity at any time in the last 15 years, but I can’t. I’m Sunderland ’til I die.
James Bentley is the author of an imminent book about one of the best seasons in the history of Bury, albeit one overshadowed, as he now explains, by grim events in British football. One of the stars of the Bury squad, jusrt 15 strong, was Wayne Etwistle, who made 53 starting appearances for Sunderland between 1977 and 1979, scoring 15 goals. James takes up the story …
Tuesday 13th April 1999 was a night both sets of supporters at Gigg Lane would remember for a long time.
Malcolm Dawson writes….Dennis Walton became the proud owner of two Sunderland inspired designer mugs, courtesy of our sponsors Personalised Football Gifts with a banker 0-0 prediction for the game against Fulham. M Salut, currently sunning himself in uptown Havana, will no doubt be in touch on his return. Gus has suggested that he won’t be picking Phillips and Quinn so I guess that means Nicky Summerbee and Alan Johnstone will not be needed either. What our current manager conveniently forgot to mention in his “stuck in the past” comments was that part of the reason that the deadly duo did so well was that we had two wide men who regularly created scoring opportunities, creative attacking fullbacks/midfielders in the shape of Mickey Gray and Julio Arca and cultured midfielders like Claudio Reyna and Stefan Schwartz playing alongside them, players who looked to move the ball forward, not just sideways and backwards.
The most potent we have looked all season in my opinion, was in the Derby match at the O3 arena and at the Etihad after City scored. In both of those games we had players pushing forward at pace (or what passes for pace in this current side) and looking to get into the opposition’s faces. With all the comments emanating from the Academy of Light this week suggesting Gus will stick with 3-5-2 let your head rule your heart and start your prediction – SAFC 0 to give yourself a chance. Alternatively go with your heart and suggest a scoreline where we actually find the back of the net. Burnley fans are also welcome to enter and any Claret and Blue winner will receive a mug in their team’s colours.
Usual rules apply – the first and only the first person to come up with correct scoreline will be deemed the winner. Any first time posters whose comment is held for moderation will not be disadvantaged as the system logs their time of entry. M Salut’s decision is final of course so multiple entries will be disqualified though as far as I know we’ve never had a problem with that yet – desirable as these mugs are.
Malcolm Dawson writes……less than a week ago, a somewhat panicking M Salut contacted me to say that he had failed to track down any Aston Villa fans willing provide their views for our “Who Are You” feature. So out went a post midnight e-mail to my friends in the Heart of England Branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association and next morning, before I’d even had time to microwave my porridge and brew up my pot of Rington’s finest, my marras had come up trumps with the contact details of two seasoned Villa supporters up for the task. And as is the often the case three hours later I got a third response and M Salut a fourth! Hopefully those two will still be willing when the return fixture comes around. For this first meeting I give grateful thanks to Chris Mains and Craig Hailes two long serving Villa regulars who have taken time out from their hectic Christmas preparations to provide us with their thoughts ahead of Sunday’s game.
With reports from the Hull game on Boxing Day, inevitably taking centre stage on Saturday and Villa up on Sunday, I have taken the unprecedented step of publishing this WAY ahead of schedule.
MD: A good start to the season, three wins and a draw – then a run of tricky games brought four defeats on the trot against the League’s big guns, followed by a 2-0 loss to QPR, who many expected to be this season’s whipping boys and a sixth successive defeat at White Hart Lane? How was the mood around the club then? Lambert has had his critics – is he the right man for the job?
CHRIS: To be honest I am still unsure about Lambert, his tactics sometimes leave you scratching your head, and we are in reality no better than when he joined us, but then you see how West Ham and Newcastle have improved of late by staying with their managers despite a lot of supporters calling for them to go, and you wonder if it will be the same with us. I am not convinced. He is doing what the chairman wants – keeping us in the Premier while spending small money.
CRAIG: The mood at Villa Park was grim and one of it is going to be another struggle. Despite a positive start things went downhill quite quickly and we once again became the team you could guarantee to get points off. Could not believe the result at QPR as many Villa fans thought that this would be a valuable 3 points. If you cannot get points at QPR then what is the point of being in this league? Lambert picked a very negative side for this game which actually fitted in quite nice with the negative play we had been playing the previous 4 or 5 games. Aston Villa surely must have the least amount of possession inside the opposition’s half. Villa fans were calling for a new manager but what is the point as he has just signed a new contract. However under Lambert we have taken more points away from home which is a startling statistic.
MD: If not explained in your earlier answer, has victory against sides who are bound to be in the relegation mix given you hope that the team is heading in the right direction?
CHRIS: I have always thought we would be safe, but we actually play better against the higher teams than the lower ones. I do not think we are moving in the right direction though. Our best players will, without doubt be sold and replaced with players who need time to integrate, which means we do not improve or build the team for the next level.
CRAIG: Villa do not do well against relegation sides, despite the recent victory over Leicester City. That was a game of two poor teams to be honest. And it was our lowest home attendance in the Premier League for 15 years. Remember Fulham last year, who had not won in 10 games and then along come Villa and we get easily beaten. Burnley was a valuable point but we did not do much in the second half and if Burnley had quality finishing then we would have been beaten at that ground too.
MD: The Roy Keane resignation maybe came as a shock to some, but not to me. I saw him at a reserve game threatening to fight with some railway workers outside of the ground and he came across as someone who finds confrontation difficult to handle. He resigned from Sunderland 5 days later. Was his presence at Villa beneficial do you think, or is the club better off without him?
CHRIS: At first I thought he might knock a few heads together and challenge some of the “stars” who were more than happy to not be playing and still picking up the wages, but this only works for a small time (we did improve for a bit) and then the modern day footballers realise that the power is with them not the management team (in most clubs). We have been better the last few games, which makes you think it wasn’t Lambert’s idea to have him in the first place.
CRAIG: The club are better off without him really. Unsure what he actually did for Aston Villa and at a reserve game he appeared really moody and angry. Something wasn’t right and so he resigned. Pity Lambert did not join him.
MD: Where do you see the strengths in the team and which positions still need improving?
CHRIS: We have seen of late a few players come to the front, Benteke is showing he knows where the goal is again, and when he wants to be he is very hard to defend against. Okore has come back from injury and is looking assured in defence, Hutton has been the surprise of the season, both in defence and going forward, and we cannot forget Guzan who I think is one of the top 3 goal keepers in the league, which with the way we play sometimes he needs to be. To improve we need some better wingers to get the ball into the big man.
CRAIG: The Goalkeeper has kept us from conceding lots more goals that we might have done. At the moment I would say Guzan is a major strength and quite often sees more of the ball than any other player. We have more weaknesses at the moment. We need effective wingers and another striker I’d say. Other weaknesses are defending against long shots; keeping possession of the ball; playing the ball backwards all the time; finishing scoring chances. We very rarely score from corners and are poor at aerial duels. When the ball goes in the air, we give up.
MD: Do you have any affinity with Sunderland – the club, the city, the supporters or is it just somewhere “grim up north”?
CHRIS: I have been to Sunderland a few times both with work (Nissan) and with the Villa and have always found the people to be hospitable and friendly. Also Sunderland is no more ”grim” than most of the Midlands.
CRAIG: I really enjoy Sunderland and have been to the ground 5 times to watch Villa. I missed last season because it was New Years Day. Fancy having a fixture like that on New Years Day. It is a ground we do well at too, although I do prefer the old seating arrangements for away fans. I go for the weekend and stay at the Marriott Hotel in Seaburn. The beaches are lovely and your pier makes a good walk after a heavy night out. Sunderland is actually my favourite away day and I think Sunderland voted Villa as the best away fans one season and quite right too.
MD: What have been your highs and lows in your time supporting the Villa?
CHRIS: I was lucky enough to be part of the “glory” years of the early 80`s and have been to Wembley a few times. Both good and bad. Recently I would say beating Birmingham City 5-1 was a very good day and the Semi-final home game against Blackburn, when we won 6-4 (7-4 agg). Both teams and both sets of supporters should be very proud of the way they played and supported that night. As for lows, there are too many over the last few years to mention them all, but going out of the cups to some of the “smaller” teams gets me annoyed, even now. I do not think that any club truly understands how important a good cup run is to the supporters. The best memories are always cup games.
CRAIG: Winning the League Cup in 1996. A great squad we had then. The European Cup in 1982 and the Super European Cup in 1982-83. Those were the days. Football league runners up in 1992-93. League Cup Runners up in 2010. Surprisingly we made it but we were well beaten by a better team. Unfortunately since Martin O’Neill left, the club has declined. Finishing lowly in the Premiership and 3 seasons ago really thinking about being relegated. The club also appointed an ex Blues Manager Alex McCleish in 2011 which will long live in my memory as one of the most disastrous appointments ever. Sacked the following year and quite right too. The board just don’t appear to listen to the fans which is a great shame as we are a massive club.
MD: Who are the greatest players you’ve seen – or wish you’d been around to see at Villa Park?
CHRIS: I would say the team of `81 – `82 and then selected players like David Platt, not just for his goals but also for his work rate, Juan Pablo Angel, who truly loved playing for the club and the Scandinavian pairing of Martin Laursen and Olof Melberg. I wish I had been able to see some of the Villa greats such as Charlie Aitken, some of the stories you hear are great.
CRAIG:Atkinson, Daley, McGrath, Staunton, Yorke are all great players. Would have loved Ronaldo to have played for us but we would never pay his wages. We need a few massive stars to come to the ground. Our problem is we get rid of our best ones because we cannot compete with the bigger boys!! Milner, Young, Barry have all moved on. Will Delph and Beneteke be next?
MD: And who should never have been allowed to don the Claret and Blue?
CHRIS: So many to choose from, but a few would be Bosko Balaban, David Unsworth, Sasa Curcic. All promised a lot but gave very little, although the most disappointing was Stan Collymore, the prodigal son returned….did very little and then left.
CRAIG: Alex McCleish as the Claret and Blue Manager NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Stephen Ireland NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! He was rubbish and quite often gave up.
MD: Of the current squad, Kieran Richardson, Alan Hutton and Shay Given have all plied their trade at Sunderland, the last two on loan and lest we forget Darren Bent is still officially a Villain. Gavin McCann, Craig Gardner, Tommy Sorensen, Super Kevin Phillips, and of course Roy Keane are all links between our clubs in recent times. Any thoughts on them and is there anyone notable I’ve missed off the list?
CHRIS: Some really good players there. They mostly have performed well, although I have no idea what happened to Bent, he was wonderful when he first came and then lost the plot completely, although I think that other teams may have given him more of a chance to get back to form than we did.
CRAIG: These are all great players naturally although some better than others. Darren Bent was good at the start of his move but rapidly went off. Rumour has it he went shopping one afternoon instead of coming to the ground, despite an injury. Craig Gardner – well fancy him scoring for the Baggies against us early in December! Kieran also got sent off in that game too for a challenge. Not good links so far between Sunderland and Villa. Kevin Phillips played well and then ran out of steam. That’s what happens at Villa, they come on a good record and then it all goes pear shaped. Why? Because of our negative and defensive displays!
MD: What will be this season’s top four and bottom three?
CHRIS: Top 4 is pretty predictable: Chelsea, Man City, Man U and Arsenal. Bottom 3 not so easy – I’ll go for Leicester, Burnley and Hull. I would like to say the Baggies but I think they have enough with a full team available, but 1 or 2 injuries will make it close.
CRIAG: My tips for the top 4 will be Manchester City Champions, Runners UP Chelsea then Arsenal and Manchester United. The bottom three will be Leicester City 20th, QPR 19th and C Palace 18th (TWO London clubs to go).
MD: Where will our clubs finish if not mentioned in the last answer?
CHRIS: I think we will both be safe, between 10th and 15th.
CRAIG: Aston Villa 12th and Sunderland 13th. Both safe!!!!!
MD: Diving has been an issue we have questioned opposition fans about for years now, well before Match of the Day took issue. Any thoughts on that? Is it something the game should be looking to stamp out or have things gone so far that it has become an accepted part of the modern game?
CHRIS: I hate diving, remembering we have had one of the worst ones ( Ashley Young) and I hated it then. They need to make stance and begin sending players off for it. Its blatant cheating, and there is no place for it. Mr Young was doing it again last weekend, not good!
CRAIG: Players who dive should be booked. Did you see the Ashley Young and Gabby Agbonlahor incident when Villa played Manchester United? Shocking and totally unnecessary. Ashley is well known for that and it’s a great shame and bad sportsmanship. Referees need to come down hard on this.
MD: Can you think of one step the club or football authorities generally could take to improve the lot of supporters?
CHRIS: Standing areas in grounds again. We all stand in my area anyway, I can’t remember the last time I sat down. We have been trying to get one in our ground for a while now, I think it will happen soon.
CRAIG: It always concerns me the prices of match day tickets. Football is now a business instead of a game for the every man. Why are local derby ticket prices suddenly 10 pound more expensive? It’s nice to see some clubs agreeing the same price for an away ticket when the return game is played; eg Swansea and Aston Villa agreed the same price for both sets of fans. Shocking some of these prices are.
MD: Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
CHRIS: Yes I will be there. As for the score, it will be close. I hope for a win but would be happy for a draw.
CRAIG: I will be at the game and the score will be……… Aston Villa 2 Sunderland 1. Then Sunderland 1 Aston Villa 2. The double is looming for the Claret and Blue over the Black Cats.
Chris on himself: I have been a season ticket holder for a long, long time. Went to first match in 1980 against Spurs and we won 1-0. I was hooked from that point on.
Craig on himself: Been a villa fan since 1980 when I was 7 years of age. Used to support Pompey!!! Villa are great when it comes to Charity events and Community Events and this is what I like about them. C’mon Villa Boyssssssssss!
Pete Sixsmith pays tribute to Kevin Phillips and that, loyal readers and any visitors from SuperKev’s pre and post-SAFC stop-off places, is all that is needed by way of introduction. Apologies to Leicester, Watford, Aston Villa and Baldock Town – ran out of headline room …
As Birflatt Boy would have it, both Pete Sixsmith and Monsieur Salut have been guilty of wilfully wishing Simon Mignolet well. But is it right that the Sunderland Echo quoted him as saying once he learned of Liverpool’s interest, he set his heart on leaving? Zero mention, we learn at the Blackcats list, ‘of being sad to leave, hard decision, enjoyed his time here, appreciated the support’. Well, maybe he’s already said as much elsewhere. It would still cut no ice with our shadiest contributor …