Fans, understandably, look at new signings and, if a player is coming on a free transfer, feel underwhelmed and wonder whether progress is actually being made.
Long experience has taught Monsieur Salut to avoid rash judgements just because July starts without any major new additions. On that wretched but sometimes useful thing that is social media (beware, Trump’s there a lot), there are already early signs of concern, dismay and even panic among Sunderland supporters. Trump hasn’t yet expressed a view.
But Lee Burge, a goalkeeper newly released by Coventry City. arrives at the SoL as stand-in and competition – PLEASE, not as a replacement – for the excellent Jon Mclaughlin. He and Conor McLaughlin, a full back from Millwall, appear to be Jack Ross’s choices and for as long as we keep the faith in Ross, we must trust his judgement.
And come what may, Burge and McLaughlin – their photos appear by courtesy of safc.com –
deserve and get the traditional Salut! Sunderland welcome.
Monsieur Salut introduces the latest prize Guess the Score competition. Don’t worry if your entry is ‘held for moderation’ – it can happen if you haven’t posted before or are using a different computer – as we will know when you tried to post it and if more than one reader correctly predicts the outcome, that will determine who was first …
At the beginning of the season, Rod Liddle – that most acquired of tastes as a man and a writer – wrote about Sunderland in The Sunday Times: “Let’s see how these overpaid moppets cope at Scunny on a cold January afternoon.”
Liddle is a Millwall fan so presumably won’t be there to “see” how things go.
This will be my final dodgy numberspost of the season. (If you haven’t seen the previous ones you can follow the link above, and/or those below). There is still a game to go, and two questions remain unanswered, but we can now look at the league table and judge how well our start of season pundits did. Their choices for the top six spots, in order of popularity were: Middlesbrough, Aston Villa, Fulham, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Sunderland.
Three out of six, and wrong about the top two. Is that a “not bad” verdict or something worse?
I had one of Millwall or QPR pencilled in as my London weekend away. Circumstances meant neither could be but those circumstances also meant we could book some time away at the back end of winter. We chose to visit the Lake District as February changed into March.
I took the photo of Newlands on the Wednesday. I’d have taken one of Shap on the Thursday but I didn’t dare take my hand off the wheel.
Pete Sixsmith, in contrast, was looking forward to a weekend at home. Like my week away, it turned out out to be not quite as expected:
John McCormick writes: Rob Hutchison, or maybe his daughter Olivia, sent his post-match verdict to M Salut, who sent it on to me. Short and sweet it is; like the aforementioned Olivia and certainly not like me or that other Short we’ve come to question.
Pete Sixsmith wasn’t travelling to this match and what appears here is likely to be a joint effort with John McCormick, Pete Sixsmith and Monsieur Salut – all from afar – and maybe Bob Chapman from the Den all chipping in. As M Salut writes, Sunderland’s failure to respond to Millwall’s second half pressure after taking the lead in the first half has led to an inevitable equaliser. ‘Have we enough character to weather the storm and see the game out?’ an increasingly exasperated Benno asked and the feeble resistance since the interval suggested worse was to come. Benno’s comments, and the commentary of Nick Barnes, exposed all our failings in a game that had to be won, not drawn, not because in-form Millwall are a soft touch but because our need is desperate. The seven-word verdicts are a) M Salut’s contingency offering and b) Bob’s view from the Den …
Most weeks, readers of Salut! Sunderland drop by on Friday morning to catch the latest instalment in Pete Sixsmith’s twin series, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground (if the game in question is away), Team (if it’s at the Stadium of Light).
This week, the Millwall edition was posted earlier than usual – namely at this link.
Stephen Jones*, our Millwall ‘Who are You?’ volunteer, joins the growing number of outsiders who doubt our ability to get out of trouble. Gone are the words of encouragement from earlier in the season. People who do not support Sunderland see the same signs as those who do. Of course, a few wins would change everything. But where are they going to come from given the difficulty we have in avoiding defeat let alone taking three points, no matter who the opposition? And a word of warning for our flaky defence: George Saville, who scored twice against us at the Stadium of Light, has been having a barren spell and may see a game against us as just the opportunity to start hitting goals again …
Pete Sixsmith is a member of the 92 Club and if you take in all the non league, lower league, overseas grounds and empty stadiums he’s visited, is probably a member of the 7,092 club. Today he takes us back to a time when loon pants, platform shoes, tank tops and kipper ties were the fashion but on his visit to Millwall there would have been plenty of calf length Levis, Ben Sherman shirts, braces and Doc Martens on show.
Like us of course, Millwall have left their long term home for what can now be described as a newer (rather than new) stadium. How time flies!
Another double up here as I have been to The Den, Cold Blow Lane, New Cross, SE14 and The Den, Bermondsey, SE16. No new names for The Lions. They left The Den for The Den in August 1993, almost a quarter of a century ago and I finally made it there in September 2014 when I saw Birmingham City beat them 3-1, of which a little more later.
My first visit to The Den in Cold Blow Lane was on a warm day in August 1974. It was the opening game of the season, so optimism was high amongst both sets of supporters. We had wasted the previous season swanning around the Second Division as FA Cup winners and there was a realisation amongst the support that promotion was a necessity this year. To that end, we had signed Bob Moncur from Our Friends From the North to give us some stability at the back and Bryan Robson, Sunderland lad but former Mag, from West Ham United to score the goals to fire us into the Promised Land.
However, the league was particularly competitive that year. Two major clubs in Aston Villa and Manchester United had been relegated form the top tier and the third one, Norwich City, were no slouches either. Add to that a Blackpool side who had missed out on promotion in the final game of the previous season (at Roker as well) and a competitive pair of Bristols (ah yes Benny Hill was popular in 1974! Ed.) and it would not be easy.
The build up to the game had passed me by as I was touring Yugoslavia with Bob Miller, a fellow teacher at Ferryhill. We had travelled around by train, visiting Belgrade, which I didn’t think much of, Sarajevo, where I stood in the footsteps of Gavrilo Princips, the young Bosnian who shot the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in July 1914 and Dubrovnik, where we stayed for two weeks soaking up the sun and the slivovitz, the ferocious plum brandy that the Yugoslavs drank, used as paint stripper and for preserving the bodies of their newly departed.
It was my first sojourn abroad apart from the day trip I had made to Budapest in 1973 for the Vasas game. We travelled by train from Calais, through France and Switzerland, where we woke up one morning to the site of the Alps and agreed they were slightly more imposing than the Pennines. From there, it was through Italy glimpsing Milan and Turin before crossing the border just south of Trieste. A group of Yugoslavs got into the compartment and bribed us with beer and food to wear some of the clothes they were sneaking in from Italy. On a hot summer night we sat like Michelin men as the customs police went through the Yugoslavs’ bags looking for sweaters, shirts and socks.
The next three weeks passed idyllically as we soaked up the sun and the local culture. Yugoslavia seemed a contented country with the their Communist leader Marshal Tito’s picture everywhere. We camped in the shadow of the stadium in Sarajevo and almost got to see a game in Split – but it was not to be.
The journey home was interesting. We had little idea of what was going on as British newspapers were scarce and expensive but we were aware that something had kicked off in Cyprus. On our return to Belgrade, the entire Yugoslav army appeared to be on stand by and there were rumours that all trains had been commandeered and that regular services would not run. However, Tito did not let this Sunderland supporter down and we caught an overnight train to Paris, then on to Calais and across to Dover on Sealink . This was the Friday before the game and we stayed with Richard (“Dick”) Smith (sometimes of this parish) on the Friday night, travelling up to New Cross next morning. Sixsmith Minimus had joined us by then having travelled down on the United bus from Dowson’s Paper Shop in Shildon.
The ground was a shocker. I am sure that Millwall fans loved it but it was a horrible place to watch football for the away support.
Situated between a series of railway lines with industrial sheds all around it, it paid homage to the powers (if that be the word) of corrugated iron. The stands were unpleasant to look at, the terracing was a weed collector’s paradise and it was easy to see why they rarely lost at home. And that was before we met the crowd. We decided to take seats in the main stand, paid our £1.20 or whatever it was and sat near the back with as decent a view as you could get in a ground that was designed for naked hostility rather than watching the beautiful game.
We lined up;
Jimmy Montgomery; Dick Malone, Ron Guthrie; Dennis Longhorn, Dave Watson, Bob Moncur; Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes, Vic Halom (la,la,la,la,la,la), Bryan Robson, Tony Towers sub; Rod Belfitt.
Millwall’s team was;
Bryan King; Brian Brown, ‘Arry Cripps; Dave Donaldson, Alan Dorney, Doug Allder: Frank Saul, Derek Smethurst, Alf Wood, Brian Clark, Gordon Hill sub; Billy Kellock.
The first names I find fascinating. When did we last have a Dick or a Dennis or a Tony playing for us? Being called Bri(y)an obviously helped you get into the Millwall team and they had an Alf and a Doug. How names change…. If we still have a club in twenty years’ time, we will be roaring on Skyler and Henry.
The seats were little protection from the vociferous Millwall support who were not particularly welcoming and lived up (down?) to the expectations that we had. Bobby Kerr put us ahead and when Tony Towers doubled the lead in the 38th minute, fighting broke out with another group of Sunderland supporters sat nearby. It quietened down a bit when ‘Arry Cripps pulled one back but got nasty at half time and even nastier towards the end when we ran away with it thanks to Vic Halom and Billy Hughes scoring in the last ten minutes. The Metropolitan Police appeared in the seats and cracked a few skulls with their truncheons and we slunk out for New Cross station.
On the way out, head down practising my best Sarf East London accent, I was approached by two students from Broom Cottages Secondary Modern School. Stephen Hopper, known to all as Gus, and Billy Watt, a big, red faced farm lad from Hett, alas no longer with us, were grey. They stuck with us and Billy, who was not a good scholar and who enjoyed working the younger teachers, said to me “Mr Sixsmith, get me back to the station please. I’ve never been so effing frightened in my life.” We told them to be quiet, put them on the right platform and they got back to central London in one piece.
It was a good start to the season and we went on to play some very good football. This was the year we lost 3-2 at Old Trafford in a game that was Match of the Day and was widely regarded as the best game of the season. We also lost 3-2 at Blackpool when a peanut vendor distracted Billy Hughes as he was taking a penalty to put us ahead and then Mickey Walsh went and scored a sensational winning goal in the last minute. We went to Villa Park for the final game of the season (a winner takes all match) and we lost it in front of 57,000. Interestingly, we used 17 players that year. Two of them were Trevor Swinburne who played twice and Stan Ternent who was an unused substitute on two occasions. And we still didn’t go up.
My visit to the New Den was to tick off my 91st League ground and was a humdrum game against Birmingham City. The Lions did not roar that night and City came away with a comfortable 3-1 win. Ian Holloway was the Millwall manager then and he got a tough time from the home fans and left soon after. City scored through Clayton Donaldson and David Cotterill in the first half with Lee Gregory pulling one back after half time. Wes Thomas finished it off in the 83rd minute to prompt a spate of booing and abuse, the likes I had not heard since an NHL match in Washington in the 1980s. The ground is decent and the Millwall supporters I spoke to that night were open and friendly. The days of Harry The Dog have gone but they will be up for this one and our younger players may find it an intimidating afternoon.
Now is the time to unleash The Rodwell … Remember, we have only 12 games to save our universe.
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