Sunderland vs Charlton and the return of the prize Guess the Score

Guess the Score is back, and so is our illustrator Jake

Monsieur Salut writes: roll up, roll up to place your predicted scoreline for the opening game of our return to the third tier – or to claim old prizes I somehow overlooked (one Evertonian, Bernard Walker, is in that category and will receive his I-won’t-let-this-change-me award, a mug, for correctly forecasting the dismal result of last season’s League Cup game, as soon a possible.

Read moreSunderland vs Charlton and the return of the prize Guess the Score

Michael Gray and the grey area of when a ban isn’t a ban

Jake: 'sometimes you just have to meddle in other people's business'
Jake: ‘sometimes you just have to meddle in other people’s business’

How does anyone get the impression they have been banned from a football stadium when they haven’t? Monsieur Salut remembers being told he was banned from a folk club in Newton Aycliffe, after comments in his folk column for the now-defunct Evening Despatch, and having to attend a hearing by the club’s committee to get the ban lifted.

With Micky Gray and Sunderland AFC, it’s a little more mystifying.

Read moreMichael Gray and the grey area of when a ban isn’t a ban

Do they mean us? Redknapp’s ‘worst team’ jibe, Adrian Durham’s ‘basket case’ club and more

How much should we care what others think of us?
How much should we care what others think of us?

It’s been open season on Sunderland.

Harry Redknapp tells Alan Brazil on TalkSport we’re the worst team in the Premier League.

Steven Fletcher gets it in the neck for posing with his brash new £260,000 Lamborghini parked next to his £160,000 Bentley in front of another brash possession, his house.

And back at TalkSport, Adrian Durham calls us a basket case of a club that has ruined Connor Wickham’s career. It’s not all bad, though; Dick Advocaat says we have so few current internationals that we needn’t worry too much about injuries this weekend.

There you have a snapshot of the negative coverage heading our way in recent days.

With our abysmal record this season, it should come as no surprise. We cannot pick up points against the top clubs and we cannot pick up many against those struggling with us down at the bottom. The football has been dire and, while there was a big improvement at West Ham, it was an improvement from atrocious to mediocre and we lost anyway.

Let’s take the anti-SAFC news agenda step by step:
* ‘Arry: On any assessment, he failed at QPR other than getting them quickly back up again (we’ve had managers like that who then couldn’t hack it in the top flight and they didn’t all have the money and geography – London attracts players – at his disposal].

This is what he told Brazil: “I think it’s going to be very, very difficult [for QPR to stay up]. But, having said that, I think Sunderland are bang in trouble. My honest opinion, I think Sunderland at the moment are the worst team in the division. QPR went there and beat them 2-0 just a few weeks ago. I think they’ve got it all on, Sunderland. I think it’s going to be tough.”

My first instinct was to denounce his outrageous calumny. Then I pulled myself up with a jolt: perhaps he’s right. I was only a little reassured by this exchange of tweets with a fellow-supporter:

I accepted in response that I’d settle for the standings to be as they are now after the last games of the season. Then, the table will have exposed ‘Arry’s lie if Stu is right that what counts is total performance over the whole season.

Jake: 'this time last season he gave us hope'
Jake: ‘this time last season he gave us hope’

* Adrian Durham: Connor Wickham ruined his career by joining Sunderland – a talented footballer who chose the wrong club

I’ll admit I dislike Durhan’s whiny voice. But he does the job he’s paid for, winding people up with all that whining.

It would be comforting to know at least some Salut! Sunderland readers are far too young to remember Shots at Sleeman.

Alan Sleeman was a Sunday Sun (ie Tyneside not Murdoch) sports journalist who liked to enrage fans of the North East teams and wait for the deluge of anger to pour in. Once received, it was sorted and stuck on a page with that heading, Shots at Sleeman. Durham is like that, deliberately contradictory to the extent that the discerning listener can often feel he has espoused an inflammatory case that he does not actually endorse but is guaranteed to bring in the callers (is it true, as I saw on twitter in the same thread, that TalkSport callers pay a premium rate?).

The thrust of his case on Wickham is that here is a player who greatly impressed him before he joined Sunderland but has had his natural progress disrupted and derailed by a constant managerial changes, repeated exiles on loan and utter failure by the club to show him the necessary guidance or even play him in his best (central attacking) position.

Here’s an extract:

The ongoing debate about English talent failing to develop after promising early signs needs to look at examples like Wickham. All the ability, but no significant strides made. He should have made that progression. The fact that he hasn’t is down to Sunderland being a complete basket case of a club.

Maybe and maybe not. Durham’s evidence of this uncommonly great talent consists of snatches of brilliance in an England Under 17 game, a sub’s role in a Championship match showing him to be “one of the more technically gifted players” on the pitch and, a few months later and still in what we used to call and other countries still call Division Two, a superb run from his own half and the coolest of finishes.

That is pretty thin stuff. But yes, we paid lots of money for Wickham and saw the same potential. So Durham may have a point in saying he has not been properly nurtured at Sunderland and has not even been given the proper “slap in the face” needed to eliminate what one of his past managers described as his “playboy model” tendencies.
Perhaps in the short time he may be with us, Advocaat – provided he sees the unfulfilled potential – will recognise this and use it to help Sunderland’s survival bid and Wickham’s long-term prospects.

Jake: 'any chance of a lift, mate?'
Jake: ‘any chance of a lift, mate?’

* Fletcher’s flash car:

There is Sunderland history for this kind of contrived row. After the relegation of 2003, Mick McCarthy fined Michael Gray two weeks’ pay and stripped him of the captaincy for turning up in his new Ferrari when ordinary SoL staff were losing their jobs because of the players’ failure to stay up.

Check that link, by the way, and you’ll find it is from 2008 when Derby were facing relegation and Rob Savage was involved in a similar boy’s toys controversy. Paul Jewell, then Derby manager, said: “At this moment, Sunderland are the worst team in Premier League history because they went down with a record low number of points”. Derby went on to break the record in style, with just 11 points (our worst having been 15 and 19).

To be honest, I cannot be bothered to say much more about Fletcher’s car, beyond this thought: most SAFC fans, at a guess, couldn’t care less about such displays of affluence if only the players concerned were doing the business on the pitch, which demonstrably Fletcher – among many others – is not.

And I promised
one bit of better news. Advocaat has been talking aup the value of ugly wins – yep, we’d take a few of those – and spelling out why we should not fear the internationals could add to injury woes:

From The Daily Mail

‘The only important thing in the final games is winning. The way we do that is not important. So if we win games very ugly I like that. We will play very negative if the need is there.’

Advocaat has given his players the early part of the week off, an agreed rest period which is the legacy of Gus Poyet’s ill-fated reign. The Dutchman joked that the club don’t have too many international players so their preparations for the visit of North-East rivals Newcastle a week on Sunday will not be disrupted.

The upshot of all this is clear: we can dismiss ‘Arry’s thoughts as irrelevant, adopt a couldn’t care less attitude on players’ tastes in runarounds (while asking for more achievement in their day jobs), aim Shots at Durham and look forward to however many wins, and however ugly, needed to stay up.

M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake
M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake

Peter Reid and Micky Gray: footie banter and Shields spice

Credit for image: What Culture*
Reidy in his playing days?*

Sometimes people asking for plugs make Monsieur Salut cross. Sometimes he doesn’t mind a bit.

In fact, the Sunderland-supporting events host Phil Hourigan did not strictly speaking ask for one, but included M Salut as a recipient of a direct message at Twitter – @salutsunderland in case you’d like to follow – about his latest function, featuring Peter Reid and Mick(e)y Gray at Hedworth Hall, South Shields on February 6.

Read morePeter Reid and Micky Gray: footie banter and Shields spice

McCormick’s Craic: where old footballers – and their boots – go

No, that isn’t the goal of John McCormick‘s career you see in the above clip, though the one he does remember from his playing days was a cracker, too. Or so he says. But what does life hold once those days come to an end? John explores the business of coming to terms with age’s reality check …

Read moreMcCormick’s Craic: where old footballers – and their boots – go

Michael Gray: that penalty miss, those drinks and other priceless Charlton recollections

A Love Supreme

Michael Gray has found that when one door opens – allowing him to embark on a promising new career as a TV and radio pundit – another he wishes had closed years ago stays open, wider than ever.

As he puts it in a terrific interview in The Guardian:

“Nobody’s interested in my England caps, in me finishing seventh in the Premier League with Sunderland or Blackburn … none of the good stuff. All they want to hear about is that bloody penalty. I don’t mind that now but at the start it was one of those stories I didn’t want to talk about. But looking back, I think it marked a point where I became a stronger person and it helped get me to where I got in my career.”

So he wouldn’t necessarily thank Salut! Sunderland for repeating Stephen Worthy‘s account from the Blackcats list – except that it does add wonderfully to the folkore surrounding those momentous few seconds of a momentous day …

Read moreMichael Gray: that penalty miss, those drinks and other priceless Charlton recollections