Salut! whimsy: talking tee shirts, cats and magpies

Malcolm Dawson writes…… claims in a recently published book by football agent Jon Smith, only add weight to my belief that not only is Salut! Sunderland monitored by Sunderland AFC to find out just what the thinking fan is thinking, but is also the go to site for the players themselves (though maybe not ex players like Jozy Altidore or Danny Graham). The author claims that last season the Sunderland squad wanted to have special tee shirts printed up showing a black cat mauling a magpie. The club denies the suggestion was ever seriously considered and I can well believe that it was proposed in a light hearted way by one of the more fun loving, combative members of the squad after seeing some of our graphic maestro Jake’s illustrations. Jake’s contributions are most welcome and the site just wouldn’t be the same without him.

Take these examples for instance, following our wins at the ground that we stopped calling Sid James Park and renamed the 03 Arena.

Jake: 'no live Magpies were hurt in the making of this image'
Jake: ‘no live Magpies were hurt in the making of this image’
Jake is the Sunderland fan exiled in Spain who provides the vast majority of illustrations we use on the site. Either of these might have been passed around the Academy of Light and it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to picture the Lads after training having a laugh and using them as inspiration for their upcoming derby battle last season which we won – by 3-0 for a change.

Jake: black and white bird 0 Black Cat 3
Jake: black and white bird 0 Black Cat 3

Tee shirt controversy is nothing new.

There are still Sunderland fans who can never forgive Lee Clark for wearing one which bore a Geordie phrase seen as insulting by Wearsiders. Personally I couldn’t get worked up about that. As I saw it, at that time he was at Wembley supporting the team he had followed as a lad with a few of his mates and they would have treated it as a laugh to get him to wear it. I know plenty will disagree with me – but he never let us down where it mattered, on the pitch wearing a shirt with the Sunderland badge on it.

Lee Trundle, when playing at Wembley, removed his shirt to reveal a tee shirt with a cartoon image of a semi naked man in a Swansea top taking a leak (note not a leek) on a Cardiff City shirt. Trundle was later arrested for public order offences after his post match celebrations.
Not quite in the same league but both former Sunderland star Kieran Richardson and current squad member Steven Pienaar have demonstrated their faith in Jesus through the medium of underwear.

But just to show that sometimes things are more important than tribal rivalries, Jake came up with this image on the right.

Finally another image that tickled me, though Jake informs me that it isn’t one of his.

Salut! Sunderland commemorates another victory over our friends up the road
Salut! Sunderland commemorates another victory over our friends up the road

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Aston Villa v SAFC Who Are You?: Not Keane – on Darren Bent.

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.

Jake: One of the Football League's oldest rivalries will resume on 28 December 1914
Jake: One of the Football League’s oldest rivalries will resume on 28 December  2014. They first played on 26 December 1890

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.

Jake has ways of making them talk
Jake has ways of making them talk

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.

The perfect Christmas tipple. - Other beers are available!
The perfect Christmas tipple. – Other beers are available!

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.

Jake: 'so what's your theory, Charlie?'
Jake: ‘so what’s your theory, Charlie?’

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 Mains - Claret and Blue through and through
Chris Mains – Claret and Blue through and through

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 Hailes - a Villain at heart
Craig Hailes – a Villain at heart

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!

The unsettling of our stars: just tell Arsenal Sessegnon is hopeless

As seen by Jake

It is refreshing to come across a general football website that does not merely lift what it can from the mainstream press but offers its own comments on the material it finds …

did so today, reporting Mail and Express stories suggesting Arsenal are preparing to offer up to £20m for Stéphane Sessegnon and £6m for Kieran Richardson before describing such targets as representing a “big step backwards” for the Gunners.

The site’s writer, who uses The Newshound as his canine nom de guerre, dismisses the reported interest as “more befitting a Europa League challenge than a move forwards”. Promising “no disrespect meant to the Black Cats”, which can safely be taken as an admission of disrespect, CaughtOffside’s rottweiler declares that neither player is “better than what is already available to Wenger now”.

He says that while the suggested price tag of £6m for Richardson sounded good value for money, it “would surely not appease Gunners fans who want to see the club bring in top notch talent”. As for Sess, our star “has improved a great deal in his second season at the Stadium of Light but a £20m valuation, as place by the Express is simply ridiculous”.

It is indeed ridiculous, Newshound. Ridiculously short of the heights to which his value has soared during a run of performances that has made him a serious contender for recognition as the best performing player in the Premier just now.

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I made that point in a comment that briefly appeared at CaughtOffside before being deleted for what I can only think was the pathetic reason that it included a link to Pete Sixsmith’s assessment that Sess was by far the most accomplished player on the pitch (even though he was deployed out of his most effective position). Here is the link that site to show we’re above such pettiness.

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I added that while I considered the writer’s judgement to be completely wrong – Richardson, arguably, was the best back from either side on show in both games against Arsenal – I hoped his Londoncentric view prevailed.

Image: addicted_Kevin

It would be wonderful if we could just tell Arsenal or anyone else, if the stories have any substance, to re-arrange off and bog into a well-known phrase or saying. But the unsettling of players in these stories, whether the result of journalistic imagination, agents’ manipulation or – heaven forbid – germs of truth, is sadly par for the course.

Let us hope that players we need recognise that they are part of a terrific revolution under Martin O’Neill at the Stadium of Light, one that Asamoah Gyan must be kicking himself for having greedily opted out of.

I regard Richardson as an important member of our first-team squad, more much useful because of his varied qualities than some fans have given him credit for.

Maybe just maybe, Sess will also see that there is infinitely more value in playing week after week for a proper club, where his skills and commitment are fully and warmly appreciated, than competing for bench space and occasionally turning out for a brand many of whose supporters cling to a belief that they are entitled to win every game.

And take it from us, Arsène (assuming you are still in charge come the summer): The Newshound is right, Sess is vastly overrated and is under no circumstances worth the £30m+ he’d cost you if Ellis Short is half the businessman I take him to be. Buy Gyan instead.

Monsieur Salut

MON day: a fine start?

M Salut
offers some advice to Martin O’Neill on the fines he may wish to consider imposing after yesterday’s defeat-from-the-jaws-of-victory at Molineux …

The competitionclick here – to come up with a new name for Martin O’Neill column at Salut! Sunderland is still open.

OK, the new manager does not yet know he’s to have one. But whether he chooses to sent out post-match e-mails or rely on simple statements and comments, his thoughts will be distilled on these pages just as Steve Bruce’s were.

Read moreMON day: a fine start?

The Aston Villa Soapbox: must we settle for mildly entertaining?

Aston Villa, M Salut decided as he walked away from the Stadium of Light, are not a team of thugs. Darren Bent is doubtless “one greedy b******” (there are sensitive souls looking in), though I quarrel with the “only” of the chant; Agbonlahor gives a decent impersonation of a man in training for an Olympics diving medal and Richard Dunne can act like an immature and unpleasant schoolboy, as he did after conceding the foul that led to our second equaliser. For all that, it was not a dirty match and both sides did try to play. But Pete Sixsmith wonders whether “mildly entertaining” football is what both sets of fans must accept as their lot …

Twelve months ago, I was sitting in a darkened room with a cold towel over my head as I tried to get over the 5-1 drubbing at Sports Direct Park. It was probably the worst result in my Sunderland watching experience and, to be honest, I still haven’t fully recovered from it.

Read moreThe Aston Villa Soapbox: must we settle for mildly entertaining?

Soapbox: Blackpool rocks, Bent saga rolls on

With a long wait before our next game, we must now endure a week of speculation about comings and goings (surely Ricardo Fuller, a sub more often than he starts at Stoke, is not really demanding £60,000 a week as reported today; what will Mr Bent make of that?). Pete Sixsmith, has all these things in mind as he returns from a happy trip to the seaside …

That’s more like it. After a week where of non stop chat from players, managers and fans, we finally got down to what the game is all about – actually playing football.

Read moreSoapbox: Blackpool rocks, Bent saga rolls on

Brushed-up images of Steed and Kieran, noble words from Bent

More graphic design wizardry from addick-tedKevin, but also a few words of appreciation for the efforts so far from two of our players – plus unqualified admiration for Darren Bent’s outstanding response to a worthy honour…

First of all, on the eve of Sunderland v Arsenal, let us hear it for two stars of our (slowly) improving season.

Steed Malbranque’s performances have oozed class, and even a level of stamina we didn’t know he possessed.

And Kieran Richardson, not always as convincing a member of our first team squad as discerning SAFC fans would like, has surely confounded critics with a string of excellent displays in a left-back position he was asked to fill in the first place because there was no one else good enough.

Read moreBrushed-up images of Steed and Kieran, noble words from Bent

Should the Lee Bowyer question replace the Eduardo question?


Fans with highly developed abilities to read lips and interpret body language detected attempts by Lee Bowyer to influence decisions by the referee, Anthony Taylor, in Saturday’s match against Birmingham City.

In particular, Bowyer – old pic courtesy of “Michael Kjaer”‘s Flickr pages – stands accused of trying to persuade Taylor to reduce us to nine men by sending off Kieran Richardson.

Read moreShould the Lee Bowyer question replace the Eduardo question?