The Brexit issue: The good and not so good Europeans of Sunderland AFC

Malcolm Dawson writes…..I was 19 when I was first able to vote in a General Election. Sunderland were the holders of the F.A. Cup and for just over a year the UK had been members of what was then known as the Common Market. Labour became the biggest party after that election in early 74 and promised a referendum on whether or not we should remain in Europe, but with a minority of seats in the House of Commons, P.M. Harold Wilson called another election within six months and got the majority he was looking for. After some negotiation with the powers that be in Brussels, a referendum was held in 1975 when 67% of voters supported the decision to remain.

Europe of course was a vastly different place then. The governments of Spain and Portugal were still dictatorships and despite East Germany’s official name of the German Democratic Republic none of the post war Eastern Bloc countries were democracies. The Baltic states were still a part of the USSR as was the Ukraine and most of the ‘stans.

Fast forward 44 years and I am soon (aged 65 and 7 months) to receive the first instalment of my state pension and bus pass, still with no clear idea if or when we will be taken out of the greatly enlarged institution now known as The European Union, whilst Parliament is prorogued and there seems to be as big an impasse as ever.

I’m not sure I have ever fully understood the arguments for and against and there are still some waverers out there, so to simplify matters I’ve decided to select two teams of  former players of Sunderland AFC to help me decide whether we should (as the Clash once sang) stay or go. And like our esteemed Prime Minister (and I’ll leave you to decide whether I say that ironically or not) I will set out the case for remain today but tomorrow tell you why leaving is an option worth considering.

I have used three criteria in my negotiations:

  • The UK must have been in the Common Market/EEC/EU at the time these players wore a Sunderland shirt in a competitive game. Unfortunately this rules out some great players such as King Charlie.
  • The players must have been EU nationals at the time they played for Sunderland so the fantastic Claudio Reyna and John Mensah are excluded.
  • I must have seen my selections play in the flesh. As I moved away from the North East in the early seventies, and with work commitments and my own involvement in sport for many years, the majority of my team inevitably comes from the Peter Reid era and later. I never got to see Thomas Hauser but EU nationals playing for SAFC were thin on the ground in the 80s and early 90s anyway.

So here, playing 4-4-2 with 7 subs is my REMAIN team.

GK: no thought required here. After Monty my favourite Sunderland goalie of all time is Thomas Sorensen.

Click on the image for the You Tube clip of his penalty save

Having been unable to get a ticket for the 1998 play off final, despite my having been to 43 games home and away that season, I decided I would get a season ticket for our second year at the Stadium of Light and I saw The Great Dane make his debut from my seat in the Premier Concourse, in the opening fixture – a 1-0 victory against QPR. He went on to play 57 times that season, only missing one game when Andy Marriott deputised. The Championship winning side took the title with 105 points with Tommy only conceding 28 goals in the 45 league games he played that season. He saved an Alan Shearer penalty and was the reason the club went on a pre-season tour of Denmark – one of my favourite overseas trips.

Back 4:

Want to see PC score against the Mags? Then click on the image.

RB proved a problem as Poland was not in the EU when Dariusz Kubicki occupied the number 2 shirt so I racked my brains before remembering Patrice Carteron. The Frenchman came to us on loan from St Ettienne but only played 8 times for us – hardly a glowing SAFC career but he did score once in a 1-1 draw at home to the Mags. That in itself gives him hero status so he makes the starting line up.

CBs. Somewhat easier to find a spine in defence with a few more to choose from but I’ve gone for Younes Kaboul and Stanislav Varga.

After a dodgy start at Leicester when he was all over the shop and a sending off for two bookable offences at Bournemouth, Kaboul became one of the stalwarts of Big Sam’s battlers, forming a solid defensive partnership with Lamine Kone helping us pull off another great escape. It took many of us by surprise when he was allowed to go to Watford, citing family reasons.

Jake’s graphic was soon redundant
Stan the Man

In contrast Varga made an instant impression when he debuted in a 1-0 home win against Arsenal in the first game of the 2000/01 season. Unfortunately he was badly injured in the very next game at Maine Road but recovered sufficiently to form an impressive partnership with the Brazilian Emerson Thome as the team went on to finish 7th in the Premiership. Stan was born in what was then Czechoslovakia but won his 50+ caps playing for Slovakia after the former communist state reverted to two independent nations.

LB didn’t take much thinking about the name Patrick van Aanholt immediately springing to mind. Although a registered player with Chelsea, van Aanholt came to us after several loan spells, including one where he appeared seven times for the Mags and twenty times for Coventry City but we never held that against him. Signed by Gus Poyet the Dutchman was a regular during the great escapes under Dick Advocaat and Sam Allardyce. PvA played in 95 games for us scoring 8 times and despite being sold to Crystal Palace in the 2017 January transfer window still finished joint second top scorer under David Moyes with three goals with only Jermaine Defoe bagging more!

Jake’s PvA graphic

There was plenty of healthy competition for the midfield berths but in the end I have gone with:

Steed Malbranque, Yann M’Vila, Eric Roy and Emanuele Giaccherini.


Steeeeeeeeeeeed! The cry would go up whenever the Belgian produced a moment of magic. Signed by Roy Keane from Spurs, after spells at Lyon and Fulham, Malbranque was versatile enough to play in any of the midfield roles. I’ve put him on the right hand side of my XI but he could quite easily swap sides and play left wing or move into a more central position if required. He was eventually sold to St Ettienne having played 102 times for us, yet surprisingly only finding the back of the net once. Although born in Belgium Steed played all his representative games for the French U16s, U18s and U21s.

Yann M’Vila. For me the writing was on the wall that the club was going down the pan when there was no move to sign M’Vila and American DeAndre Yedlin after Big Sam had engineered yet another great escape.

Slipped through our fingers

M’Vila came to us on loan from the Russian side Rubin Kazan and didn’t have the best of starts, being sent off after an hour in an Under 21’s game against Norwich for head butting an opponent. But he was one of the mainstays of the side that season and earned a MoM award for his part in the 3-0 demolition of the Mags at the SoL, describing it as the best atmosphere he had ever experienced. We all thought he would be signed permanently in the close season and he apparently even paid his own air fare to ensure the deal could be done but for whatever reason it never materialised. It was that which made me think that Ellis Short had lost interest and was not prepared to see Allardyce’s ambitions through to fruition and I was convinced that we would have a new manager before Christmas, even before England’s defeat to Iceland and the offer of the England job.

Ooo la la it’s Eric Roy

Eric Roy. Oooh ahhhh – it’s Eric Rwah ye knaa. Has there ever been a more cultured player to wear a Sunderland shirt? Possibly but there can’t have been that many. Strong in the tackle, confident on the ball and capable of picking out the perfect pass Eric Roy was signed for £200,000 from Marselle in 1999 and although only making 27 appearances for us, left an indelible memory on those of us who saw him. The Frenchman was a shoe-in in my Remain side.

How Jake saw Emanuele Giachherini

Giaccherini might be a debatable selection but I always liked the diminutive Italian who suffered badly with injuries whilst at the club. Tricky on the ball and capable of scoring some fantastic goals as well as giving the side some width, he was a creative winger who provided plenty of assists enabling others to get on the scoresheet. And if you are still a bit doubtful, 29 appearances for the Azurri shows he wasn’t half bad.

Up front another shoe-in with the legend that is Niall Quinn leading the line. Centre forward, manager, Chairman, overseas ambassador the man many of us refer to as Sir or even Saint Niall once said “I learnt my trade at Arsenal, I became a footballer at Manchester City but Sunderland got under my skin.” I don’t really need to go into his playing career but after an injury blighted first season at Roker Park which saw us relegated from the Premier League Quinny went on to form a deadly partnership with Super Kevin Phillips which saw us make the Championship play-offs, get promoted with a record points haul and take the team to successive 7th place finishes in the top flight.

Top man all over the pitch and off the field

Not only was he a tremendous footballer and ambassador for the club and the game but he showed what a top bloke he was when he donated the not inconsiderable proceeds of his testimonial to children’s hospitals in Sunderland and Dublin.

For his strike partner I was tempted to go with Marco Gabbiadini but despite his Italian heritage Marco was born in Nottingham so instead I’ve gone for a real Italian in Fabio Borini. I thought Fabio was a bit of a curate’s egg. I liked him the first season when he came to us on loan from Liverpool. I thought he always worked hard and was capable of scoring some cracking goals, but he went off a bit after he signed for us permanently, having originally elected to fight for his place in the Liverpool team. Of course the fact he scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over the Mags had nothing to do with his inclusion nor the fact he also scored a penno against them!

Fabio Borini – boom boom. Click on the image for one of his goals that sunk the Mags.

He suffered a fair bit with injuries during his spell with us and I was surprised to find that he actually played a total of 93 times for us. How well he would have linked up with a player like Niall Quinn I’m not sure but to be honest, I was a bit limited in my choice of a second striker and Fabio was really the only one I thought fitted the bill.  

Subs Bench:

I had a number of stoppers in mind. Mart Poom, Jurgen Macho, Simon Mignolet, Lionel Perez and the late Martin Fulop all came to mind and Thomas Myhre didn’t qualify as Norway has never joined the EU, so in the end I settled for Don Vito Manonne, as much for the support he gave to Bradley Lowery and his family alongside Jermaine Defoe, as for his prowess between the sticks. Top bloke.

Bernt Haas. We’ve not had that many decent EU nationals at right back and initially I discounted Hass as he played his internationals for Switzerland but looking him up I found out that he was actually born in Vienna so being Austrian by birth qualifies. He came to us from Grasshoppers but as far as I know never played cricket. However he did play 27 times for us. A place on the bench for him but it was a close call between him and Pascal Chimbonda.

John O’Shea makes the bench for his sterling service to the club as a central defender and captain. There are those who will question the influence he had within the dressing room and the boardroom and he has been accused of undermining some of the managers he has served under but to me he was a stalwart of the club and at one point I wondered if he would be offered a coaching role when his playing days were over.

Jan Kirchoff is included not only because of his ability to play centre back as well as in midfield, but also because when he was fully fit he was pure class. He had a bit of a nightmare debut at Spurs but on his day was one of the best. Calm on the ball with the ability to find a defence splitting pass he was another whose Sunderland career was blighted by injury.

Stefan Schwarz and Bolo Zenden are another two hard working midfielders who make the bench. Schwarz I feel was often underrated but the work he did off the ball, denying opponents space and closing down passing options was first rate. Add to that his prowess in dead ball situations and he is unlucky not to make the starting XI. Bolo would give us a bit of width should we need it and a bit of height too when that was needed. Who will ever forget that great left footed volley he scored against Spurs at the SoL in 2010?

Niklas Bendtner. A bit stuck for a sub forward so I shall overlook his misdemeanours in the centre of Newcastle and in various pizza shops. I never felt he really achieved his full potential with us whilst on loan from Arsenal, though he was another in the side who got a goal against the Mags.

That’s it then. The Remain side of players making the case for the EU.

Tomorrow those who we probably wish we’d never seen on Wearside making the case for the Brexiteers.


If there is any copyright claim on the images used in this report, not answered by “fair comment” please let us know and we will remove or acknowledge as requested.



French Fancies: ‘star chroniclers’ Henry Winter, Sam Wallace and tenuous Sunderland links

France’s leading Sunday newspaper hails four stars of Premier League football writing

France’s leading Sunday newspaper hails four stars of Premier League football writing[/caption]

How can I make this sound like it has the least thing to do with supporting Sunderland? Monsieur Salut asks himself the question and finally manages to come up with an answer …

Read moreFrench Fancies: ‘star chroniclers’ Henry Winter, Sam Wallace and tenuous Sunderland links

The Mighty Quinn: is the great man coming to the rescue?

‘I learned my trade at Arsenal, became a footballer at Manchester City but Sunderland got under my skin. I love Sunderland’

[polldaddy poll=9968809]

UPDATE: to no great surprise, the early voting has “unbounded joy” way out in front, with “joy” and cautious “hope” following on. But Sixer and James Hunter remain unconvinced the story even has legs …

The Chronicle’s James Hunter, who writes well on SAFC, advises us to to treat the reports with caution. Then along comes the BBC with its own version, namely that our absentee owner Ellis Short has spoken to (or, as the Beeb inelegantly puts it, “spoken with”) Niall Quinn about a possible consortium takeover.

Salut! Sunderland has no inside information. But it sincerely hopes – or, since I can speak only for myself, Monsieur Salut hopes – it is true.

Read moreThe Mighty Quinn: is the great man coming to the rescue?

The Sunderland v Fulham Guess the Score with classy Niall/SuperKev prize

Niall and SuperKev: click the image for more details

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.

Read moreThe Sunderland v Fulham Guess the Score with classy Niall/SuperKev prize

Has the luck of the Irish in English football run out?

Kevin O’Neill is an Irish football writer who knows his subject. In a new book, he traces the declining role of Irish players in England’s elite clubs. Since his research covered plenty of Sunderland-related content, we invited him to introduce his project ….

With this book,
I recall better times for the Irish in England’s leading clubs, largely before the introduction of the Premier League and subsequent influx of foreign players.

Sunderland supporters are fully aware of their club’s own strong links to the Emerald Isle, a bond that continues today with Aiden McGeady and John O’Shea members of Simon Grayson’s squad. Among the Irish stars whose careers I review are Niall Quinn, properly seen as a Sunderland hero, and the man he later – when chairman – appointed as manager, Roy Keane.

There’s an interview too with another former Sunderland boss, Martin O’Neill, and former club defender Mark Rossiter – [he didn’t play much for us but was there when I saw us beat Arsenal 3-2 in a League Cup game at Highbury – Ed] as well as an interview with Sunderland fan Martyn McFadden, editor in chief [crikey Martyn, that’s a grand title – Ed] of A Love Supreme.

My origins are in the Irish midlands town of Athlone, a place familiar to Sunderland supporters through pre-season visits.

Firstly, I wish to thank everyone who helped me get the book to this stage, and particularly past and present players who gave me their time. They provided invaluable insight and experience into what it’s like for Irish players, young and old, to be part of English football.

The result, I hope, is a factual, hard-hitting account of what has happened to the Irish in top-class English football over the past 20 years.

I try to find out how and why their fortunes have deteriorated so dramatically – and quickly – while also recalling better times when the Irish triumphed in England with great regularity.

Through a series of face-to-face interviews with current and retired players, the book describes how young Irish teenagers fend for themselves in the cut-throat world of Academy football and considers those who have fallen by the wayside in their pursuit of fame and footballing fulfilment in England. I pose the question of whether the Irish can ever again prosper at English football’s most successful clubs.

* Where Have All the Irish Gone? The Sad Demise of Ireland’s Once Relevant Footballers will be released by October 16 2017, is priced at £12.99, and will be available to purchase at Amazon, Waterstones and various other book stores and platforms to be confirmed.

The publishers say the book tells a story of dramatic decline, an ‘ultimate riches-to-rags affair’ in which Irish players have largely become irrelevant at the top English clubs.

The author can be reached on Twitter @kevoneillwriter

Ten Years After: when Carlos Edwards and Keano warmed Sunderland hearts

Monsieur Salut writes: it seems an awful long time ago. Then, BBC Radio Newcastle’s brilliantly excitable Simon Crabtree had produced the Mother of all Goal Commentaries with his description of Carlos Edwards’s scintillating winner against Burnley to push us closer to promotion (achieved as champions with the 5-0 away win at Luton in the final game). It’s in the superb YouTube clip you see above.

But Ten Years After – OK, a little more than 10, since the Burnley  match was on April 27 and the Luton game on May 6 – we all need to have our spirits lifted. Then, we were in the hands of the Drumaville consortium, a group of Irish businessmen led by Niall Quinn as chairman and Seaham-born John Hays as vice chairman. I have seen the message Niall sent Drumaville’s surviving veterans after our relegation was confirmed this season; it was a model of dignity and pride.

Can the memory of that astonishing bottom-to-top transformation inspire whoever, ultimately, accepts the job of managing Sunderland and whoever is subsequently the club’s owner(s). We shall see. But here is how we reported on promotion 10 years ago …


Read moreTen Years After: when Carlos Edwards and Keano warmed Sunderland hearts

Big Sam’s flight home – is Short shooting Sunderland in the foot again?

View FromDeputy Editor Malcolm Dawson isn’t party to what goes on behind closed doors at the Stadium of Light. Like most supporters he relies on gossip and what is reported in the media. But that doesn’t stop him reflecting on events at the club and drawing his own conclusions.

It had to happen didn’t it? It had to happen because it always happens.

We end the season on a high (17th position) and look forward to bigger and better things to come. Optimism rules in May but it doesn’t take long before it is swept away by the goings on at a club that always seems to find a way to turn even the most positive fan into a bit of a worrywart. At least it does me.

A couple of months ago I renewed my season card certain that 2016/17 would see us shoot up the table, positive that we would be threatening the top half no less, assured that under Big Sam’s stewardship we would at last see some stability and were a club moving forward. The rapport that had developed between the manager, players and the fans, the fight that that squad showed in the last five months of the season convinced me that the emotional bond and the passion, on and off the pitch would ignite the club under a manager who knew what he wanted. There was only one way to go.

It doesn’t take long for that mindset to evaporate. As things stand presently I am looking at a club racked with uncertainty and heading for another season of disappointment. That little Jiminy Cricket voice is no longer making itself heard and the negative thoughts I have about Ellis Short’s stewardship are returning as I detect an influence that will see us starting another season looking for a new manager with a squad no longer fired up by Big Sam’s (and our) vision of the future.

I may be being unfair to a man who has to look after his personal interests as well as those of Sunderland AFC and I certainly don’t want to see us do a Blackpool, Portsmouth, Leeds or Coventry City but I detect the influence of an owner determined to show just who really runs the show – a stance that could see us go from a position of strength to relegation fodder again. I thought a few weeks ago that he had learned through past mistakes but the overwhelming feeling I have now is that he hasn’t.

Jake: 'MD airing his dirty laundry in public' ..'
Jake: ‘MD airing his dirty laundry in public’

We could have predicted that England wouldn’t do well in the Euros. We could have predicted that Hodgson would be out of a job by the start of the month. I’m not sure that we could have predicted just how many people would lobby for Sam Allardyce to become his replacement. It seemed Sam’s time had come and gone when the FA didn’t have the facilities to watch his Power Point presentation but now it appears that not only is he becoming the bookies’ favourite but also that the club he currently manages is doing its best to alienate him. Only a week ago I was hopeful that even if he was offered the England job he would turn it down. I saw a man on a mission who envisaged great things on Wearside. Now I detect a man frustrated by a club which seems not to be 100% behind him.

I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes and like most people my gut reaction comes from what I see myself and what is reported in the media but Big Sam’s return from Austria has me worried. The failure to sign Davide Santon at the last minute has me worried. The apparent lack of progress with both Yann M’Vila and DeAndre Yedlin has me worried.

When Allardyce was appointed he brought one man with him – Mark Taylor. Taylor was (we are led to believe) the man who brought about the Kirchhoff, Kone and Khazri deals. A man who was to be dismissed by the club just weeks later. But now with a new chief executive at the helm (and to be fair less than two weeks into his new post) it would not be unreasonable to suggest that Big Sam must be fuming with the lack of activity in the transfer market. A few years back when Quinny was chairman and doing the rounds of Supporters’ Clubs he talked about the games that agents and clubs played in an attempt to best serve their own interests when trying to sign and sell players, but our current manager must be frustrated by the club’s apparent inability to strengthen his squad with sufficient time to get them all working his way. The first pre-season friendly is just a week and a day off.

So how significant is his return from Austria and why is he back? Could it be that as I type, he is at the club thrashing out a new contract and holding high level discussions with top transfer targets or is he taking the opportunity whilst in the country, to check the powers that be at the Football Association have got a laptop and an overhead projector?

If it’s the former then I think we can still look forward to the new season with anticipation. If it’s the latter then I fear the worst.

View from the NW Corner: ideal opportunity to move Sunderland forward

Malcolm Dawson writes……off the field activities have dominated the news coming out of all three of the North East’s big clubs (I’ll stretch a point and include Boro!) in the past two weeks. Last night’s game at Leicester might have put us back in the bottom three (but didn’t) but there’s no doubt it’ll be the weekend that brings squeaky pants time. Have the Mags timed Benitez appointment on purpose, recent experiences showing that a new manager wins his second game in charge when it is a local derby? Hopefully we’ll be feeling more confident about surviving another relegation scare by Sunday tea-time but whether we stay up or not, the time is now right for Ellis Short to learn from past mistakes and move the club forward.

Mrs Logic's fanous photo
Mrs Logic’s fanous photo
I am pretty sure that somewhere within the bowels of Sunderland Football Club, there is an employee whose job description contains a section requiring him or her to monitor web sites such as Salut! Sunderland, RTG etc. as well as keeping tabs on what is being said on social media. I am also pretty sure that one of the ways professional journalists gain information and ideas for stories comes via the internet.

When I was Chair of the Heart of England Branch of the Supporters’ Club if you Googled “Sunderland supporters”, our website was always at or near the top of the list. I did several radio interviews and had a couple of e-mails from Sky Sports on the strength of this.

I have made no secret of my feelings about the way SAFC has been run since the departure of Niall Quinn from the boardroom. My criticisms of former Chief Executive Margaret Byrne, and ultimately owner Ellis Short are there for all to see in articles and comments I have made on this site. I made the link between the re-structuring of the club and a lack of progress on the field and negative publicity off it, both of which seemed to have worsened since the departure of our former centre forward. I made many of those statements before I had seen similar ones elsewhere though I’m not arrogant enough to think that others didn’t have the same thoughts. Recent headlines and articles, (see for example: and offer similar views.

Recent reports suggest that maybe the Irishman has been approached to return to the club which he admitted “got under his skin.” I hope so because we need someone who understands our region, our club. Except it’s not our club any more. It is part of the portfolio of a Texas billionaire and I don’t see him having the emotional attachment to Sunderland AFC that a true fan has. I don’t buy into the theory that you have to have a lifelong affinity to a particular club to feel passionate about it. Take Gary Bennett, Kevin Ball, Marco Gabbiadini, as well Niall Quinn himself as proof of that. Super Kevin Phillips and Dick Advocaat have also shown how the club can affect a professional who only came to do a job in the first instance.

I don’t get the passion that those mentioned have shown when I look at Ellis Short. I thank him for the financial commitment he has shown, coming in as he did when the recession hit Drumaville Consortium looked to sever their ties, but I have been critical of many of his decisions. Firstly appointing himself Chairman wasn’t necessarily a mistake, losing the expertise and footballing brain that Quinny brought to the boardroom was. The restructuring of the club off the field has brought abject failure. It may be that’s the business model he wants but supporters want to see success on the pitch above anything else. However, with the huge amount of money that Premiership football brings it is surely a mistake to ignore the football side of things, even when commercial concerns are given priority.

Niall in earlier times
Niall in earlier times

So would the return of Niall Quinn be the answer? After all it was he who persuaded Ellis Short to invest in the club in the first place and Margaret Byrne was his appointment. But (and here’s the rub) a structure was set up that in my view patently hasn’t worked. Off the field the negative publicity from the Di Canio, Ricky Alvarez and Adam Johnson affairs all reflect badly on the club and the club’s reaction to them only fuelled the fire. The criticisms of Di Canio’s appointment seemed to take the club by surprise but surely anyone with a knowledge of the area could have predicted it. Was Miliband consulted ahead of the appointment? Then to make the statement it did and to end with “Neither Sunderland AFC, nor Paolo Di Canio, will make any further comment on this matter.” did nothing to assuage the concerns of those who felt strongly about the issue.

Fast forward a few years and when it was obvious the club’s handling of the Adam Johnson affair produced a similar statement, with a similar ending there would be more to come. Unlike M Salut I did not see this as a “dignified” response but as a fudge – a denial of the club’s part in the whole affair, with no apology to the victim or the victim’s family. Don’t tell me that Margaret Byrne didn’t see that statement before it was published. That she immediately decided to skip the country was yet another example of her head in the sand approach. She claims she didn’t share her knowledge of Johnson’s activities with the rest of the board. She may not have done but I and many others could see from the outset that that initial statement would not be the end of the matter.

I do not think that had Niall Quinn still been involved in the club’s administration things would have been allowed to develop in the way that they did.

When I did a Q&A for a West Ham website just ahead of Advocaat’s last game in charge I was asked who I thought would go down. I identified Aston Villa, Newcastle and Sunderland as three clubs with big problems. No great insight perhaps but I made the link that all three had imposed a system of player recruitment that put the power in the hands of people not directly concerned with performances on the pitch. Advocaat clearly didn’t think a lot of many of the players brought in over the summer. He was still struggling to make a team from a host of substandard players on high wages. Players brought in by Di Fanti or Congerton on contracts negotiated by and approved by Margaret Byrne. And look where that’s got us.

The signs are that Sam Allardyce made his demands clear before he came and has taken a more hands on approach to player recruitment and retention. Look at the club website and see how many players we have out on loan. Look at the summer signings – Vergini, Coates, Matthews all in and out with little impact on the team. Look at Valentine Roberge, picking up his wages for doing what? Is he even training with the team? And there’s still Alvarez claiming he doesn’t even know who holds his registration.

Now is an ideal time for Ellis Short to recognise his mistakes, listen to advice from those who know the game and know the region. Niall Quinn may or may not be considering a return to Sunderland AFC but whoever the owner brings in needs to have the intelligence, the knowledge of football, the understanding of just what SAFC means to the area and the ability for communicating with the media that Quinny has shown.

Malcolm Dawson with SuperKev back in the days when the football was worth watching.
Malcolm Dawson with SuperKev.

Sunderland Out West: Muppet Show where fans were the real stars

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

Jesse - post caffeine fix on the road to Sacramento
Jesse – post caffeine fix on the road to Sacramento

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.

And on the drive before the coffee stop
And on the drive before the coffee stop

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.

Jesse's flag at the pre-match pub
Jesse’s flag at the pre-match pub

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.

Graeme and Riki
Graeme and Riki – SAFC through and through
Red and White Army at the Bonn Lair
Red and White Army at the Bonn Lair

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.


It's time to put on make up - it's time to light the lights - it's time to get things started
It’s time to put on make up – it’s time to light the lights – it’s time to get things started – click on pic for a better look at the green kit

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.”

All the way from Jarrow to California
All the way from Jarrow to California

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.”

Our bus - their bus
Our bus – their bus

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.

safc nasa

SAFC v Burnley Guess the Score: be first with Sunderland nil


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.

Malcolm Dawson yearning for the days of "kick and rush"!
Malcolm Dawson yearning for the days of “kick and rush”!
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.

You could be the next No 12
You could be the next No 12

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.


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Jake flags the new feature allowing you to have your say on topic or off
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