Sixers Sevens: Norwich have all the possession, we score all the goals

Jake: ‘it won’t always be pretty’

Pete Sixsmith took his time in getting to Norwich, so we can look forward to an account of his ground-hopping as well as a match report from U2 at Carrow Road, where the seats have no name. (and perhaps Pete will include an explanation of what this means with his report**).

For now, though, we’ll have to make do with the instant, seven word verdict that he sends to M Salut immediately after the final whistle, and doesn’t it make a nice change from what he was sending last season? …

Read moreSixers Sevens: Norwich have all the possession, we score all the goals

Norwich City vs Sunderland: them and us, friendly foes

Jake: ‘what’s it like to win the the league?’

By now you should have caught up with all our post-Bury and pre-Norwich coverage. Go to the home page – https://safc.blog – if not and simply navigate.

Meanwhile, Martin Penney from the Norwich My Football Writer site put some questions our way …

Read moreNorwich City vs Sunderland: them and us, friendly foes

Norwich Who are You?: ‘we couldn’t even cheat properly, but watch Fulham!’

Gary Gowers

Towards the end of the 2015-2016 season, Sunderland went to Norwich and won 3-0 as part of the Big Sam race for survival. We stayed up, they went down. Before the game, we were able to introduce readers to one of the best Who are You? interviewees of the season, Gary Gowers*. So good were his replies that he took second place in the HAWAY awards – he never received his prize, but we are trying to rectify this now.

As Sunderland’s second Championship game takes us back to Carrow Road, it seemed an ideal opportunity to catch up again with Gary, the editor of http://norwichcity.myfootballwriter.com. Sit back for another terrific read in which he lays into the arrogance of City’s squad last season and expresses no surprise at our own predicament. He’d quite like Catts in Norwich colours but is distinctly cool on James Vaughan and Lewis Grabban. All the same, he predicts a top six place for Sunderland (and for his own side) …

Read moreNorwich Who are You?: ‘we couldn’t even cheat properly, but watch Fulham!’

Norwich vs SAFC prize Guess the Score: a repeat of 2016 would be nice

A banner Jake produced for 2016 game that we won 3-0

We’ve had a first winner in this season’s Guess the Score series and it’s yet another correct prediction from Paul Devine, a Sunderland supporter exiled in the Netherlands. He sensed we would draw 1-1 with Derby County and was right.

As I write, the Bury League Cup game is still to come. There may be another winner to announce from that tie (NB: the obvious update is that I am delighted we got through).

But now on to Carrow Road.

Read moreNorwich vs SAFC prize Guess the Score: a repeat of 2016 would be nice

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Team: (3) Norwich City

Norwich. Pulls Ferry and Cathedral

This is turning into a classic series from Pete Sixsmith. Can he possibly keep it up? If he can, there must be a book in this gripping series of reminiscences from a man who has seen more football grounds than Donald Trump has mislaid staff.

In the third instalment of The First Time Ever I Saw your Team, Sixer again mixes football nostalgia, history and travelogue as he prepares for a weekend’s trip to Norwich City with a look back to the first time he visited Carrow Road …

After experiencing one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution in Bury, with its steam railway, its statues of Sir Robert Peel and John Kay (the inventor of the Flying Shuttle rather than the legendary SAFC full back of the late 80s and early 90s) and the home of Richmal Crompton of William fame, we take to the road once again.

This time we are travelling in an easterly direction, ignoring the high Pennines and touching on the low Fens as we trek along the A17/47 super route to what has oft been described as “Britain’s nicest city”, Norwich.

Read moreThe First Time Ever I Saw Your Team: (3) Norwich City

Sunderland’s 10 relegations: down with a Wembley twist

Pete Sixsmith

Pete’s going to be busy for a while, so there’s a good chance we’ll have a new manager – maybe a new owner (not to mention the possibility of a new prime minister) – before he gets back to this series. In the meantime, here’s his take on relegation number 4.

Like the first three, and like his other musings, it’s excellent stuff

Read moreSunderland’s 10 relegations: down with a Wembley twist

Sunderland’s 10 relegations: The Coventry conundrum (part 2)

Sixer by Jake

John McCormick writes: I was there, at Goodison, that night. For a long time afterwards I felt cheated but I was prepared to accept that Coventry fans would think “tough” – I would have done so in their circumstances. Nevertheless, I always harboured a resentment towards Jimmy Hill and when I heard Coventry fans had clubbed together and paid for a statue, which the man himself was invited to unveil, I couldn’t wish them well.

Pete Sixsmith may offer sympathy. My thoughts are a bit more Karmic: Get rid of the statue, Coventry fans, look what it has brought you.

Read moreSunderland’s 10 relegations: The Coventry conundrum (part 2)

Let’s meet again: Gary Gowers, a Norwich City winner

Gary Gowers at Wembley
Gary Gowers at Wembley

This is our second re-run of a winning interview in the HAWAYs, Salut! Sunderland‘s annual awards for the best Q&As with opposing fans for the Who are You? series. Gary Gowers, a Carrow Road regular since the age of six, editor of NorwichCity.MyFootballwriter.com and the Norwich City voice at the Metro newspaper, came second (see announcement of awards at https://safc.blog/2016/06/haway-awards-1-west-bromwich-albion-2-norwich-city-3-tottenhams-littlejohn/0.

Thanks, Gary, for some great answers. Sorry you had to go down but naturally over the moon it was you, not us. Here is the interview as published before we went to Carrow Road, beat them 3-0 and set ourselves up for survival. As our deputy editor Malcolm Dawson put it when awarding high marks to Gary’s entry, ‘Gary Gowers 9/10: cos his name is nearly Gary Owers (lol) … Another good piece from a fan with no airs and graces or illusions who sees his club like we see ours’ …

Read moreLet’s meet again: Gary Gowers, a Norwich City winner

HAWAY awards: 1) West Bromwich Albion 2) Norwich City 3) Tottenham’s Littlejohn

Jake: 'with thanks to all opposing fans who participate'
Jake: ‘with thanks to all opposing fans who participate’

 

 

The judges have spoken. We have winners in the HAWAYs, Salut! Sunderland’s annuals awards for best interviews given by opposing supporters in the Who are You? series. HAWAYs, as you will have worked out, are otherwise known as Highly Articulate Who are You?s.

Another season produced another crop of excellent contributions. And we are again indebted to our prize sponsors, the friendly folk at the famously half-decent football magazine When Saturday Comes and the purveyors of fine football tops at Classic Football Shirts.

When Saturday Comes: 'half-decent' football magazine, entirely decent Who are You? co-sponsors
When Saturday Comes: ‘half-decent’ football magazine, entirely decent Who are You? co-sponsors

For 2015-2016, the voting ended with a runaway victory in first place and a tight battle for second.

Dawn Astle, daughter of the late WBA legend Jeff, was the clear winner, our voting system giving her 38 points, 16 ahead of the nearest rival. Dawn wins a subscription to When Saturday Comes and her interview will be republished here tomorrow.

Jeff's daughter Dawn and granddaughter
Jeff’s daughter Dawn and granddaughter Taylar before an FA Cup game at Reading

“An outstanding piece,” said John McCormick, associate editor. “For me, this was WAY ahead of the rest. “Well written and heart warming,” added Peter Lynn, aka Wrinkly Pete. Both had her in first place, as did Monsieur Salut while our deputy editor Malcolm Dawson placed her second, with Pete Sixsmith including her in his “highly commended” group.

“Another excellently scripted piece from a true football fan,” said Malcolm. “That her dad was one of the greats just adds to the relevance and her tireless work for the Jeff Astle Foundation deserves as much publicity as possible.”

Salut! Sunderland's friends at classic Football Shirts are
Salut! Sunderland’s friends at Classic Football Shirts, and co-sponsors of the HAWAYs, invite you to take a look at their special Euro 16 pages by clicking anywhere in this sentence

Scant consolation for relegation but Gary Gowers pipped the Tottenham Hotspur-supporting Richard Littlejohn, unrivalled master of Mr Angry columns in the Daily Mail. He collects a £25 voucher towards any purchase from Classic Football Shirts.

Gary Gowers at Wembley
Gary Gowers at Wembley
Richard Littlejohn
Richard Littlejohn

For Sixer, who chose him for first place, Gary “sums up the ‘niceness of Norwich’ which will be missed next season. He fully understands the difficulties of keeping a (relatively) small club with no major financial backers in the top level and supports the manager who almost kept them up, but not quite. Lovely quote about Defoe and his entourage – ‘Norwich is a small city and would struggle to accommodate them all’. Just good writing from start to finish.”

Malcolm’s winner would have been Littlejohn: “Well written piece as you would expect from a professional journalist. Realistic and humorous. Liked the Wayne Bobbitt reference but, like Sixer, you won’t catch me buying a Daily Mail.”

Richard will win a suitably designed mug, which is unlikely to change his life.
If another of our usual sponsors responds belatedly and positively to our cap-in-hand approach for prize sponsorship, we will find another worthy candidate for a special late award. Contenders in that category would be Sam Myers (Everton), who won marks from Wrinkly Pete for declining to name any player who should never have been allowed to wear his club’s shirt; the Exeter City pairing of Paul Sussex and Neil le Milliere and Watford’s Ben Clarke.

Paul “Sobs” Dobson, the star A Love Supreme chronicler, was on his own in selecting Ben in any position and had him first for his interview, “a good appreciation of how their recent achievements have been accomplished and not getting too rose-tinted about the future”. Of Gary Gowers, Sobs said: “Realistic to the point of … well, I’d never be that realistic about a Sunderland team!”

Our thanks to the sponsors and to the judges, but also to all – or almost all – the interviewees we found during the season. There were honourable mentions for both Swansea City “Who are You?” candidates, Newcastle United’s Adrian Darnell and one fan from each of the Manchesters, United’s Chas Banks and City’s David Mooney.

We had perhaps better not adopt Sobs’s idea of an additional award for the most irritating interview of the season, and there are no prizes for guessing which two (this and that) he may have had in mind.

* Each of the top three interviews will be reproduced in the coming days. All interviews in the 2015-16 series can be seen at https://safc.blog/category/who-are-you-2015-2016/

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

Season reviews (7):staying up under Allardyce – as seen from down under

Malcolm Dawson writes…..last year Marcus Procopio, as Aussie as pie floater, vegemite and snags and tomato sauce joined our happy band of contributors with an early season summation of all that was wrong at SAFC. It’s well worth a revisit by clicking this link. In it he suggests that as long as a combination of a badly run organisation and a poisonous culture in the dressing room and on the training ground prevailed, Sunderland AFC would find it hard to progress. Consider the changes in personnel both on and off the field since January and correlate that with the most positive and optimistic feelings for years that currently surround our club (despite let’s not forget finishing 17th) and it’s hard to disagree. Although he lives about as distant from the Stadium of Light as is possible he continues to watch from afar and still doesn’t like what he sees. However, as always, he remains hopeful…

Marcus Procopio
Marcus Procopio

“Listen, here’s the thing. If you can’t spot the sucker in your first half hour at the table, then you ARE the sucker” – Mike McDermott in Rounders.

This take on an old poker proverb has become increasingly apt in describing Sunderland in the Premier League. Half way into each of the last few seasons, it’s been incredibly difficult to find three obviously worse teams than ours. The remarkable thing is that, somehow, we haven’t been cleaned out and sent packing.

Having completed yet another fortunate escape, the question now is whether we can become a real player at the Premier League table – or whether we’re destined to be the league’s perennial fish.

Mr Nostradamus

Whenever I write my end of season reviews, I like to look back at some of the things I wrote at the start of the season. This time around, a couple of gems stick out:

My early season article on Salut! which included the following:

An insipid pre-season has now been followed up by two losses to start the season – to teams unlikely to feature in the top half of the table at its end. There are plenty of questions and there is genuine concern that we do not have the answers.

(For the record, Leicester won the league…(!) and Norwich were relegated. One out of two isn’t so bad is it?).

My opening match day comments on the Not606 Sunderland forum:

As we all know, the league’s schedulers have finally decided to stop sodomising our club and we actually have a chance to get off to a good start this season.

Leicester (A)
Norwich (H)
Swansea (H)
Villa (A)

Here are the possible outcomes for us after 4 games. What would you accept as a bare minimum?

WWWW (12 points) 
WWWD (10 points)
WWWL (9 points)

I put these in the ‘not impossible, but quite unrealistic’ category. If we achieved any of these starts we’d be completely buzzing to say the least.

WWDD (8 points)
WWDL (7 points)

Either of these would be very solid for me and what we should be aiming/hoping for.

WWLL (6 points)
WDDD (6 points)

I would happy with either of these. Although, the 3 draws would be frustrating.

WDDL (5 points)

This is the minimum point of acceptability for me. Not a flyer, but still not a disaster either. Definitely hoping for better than this.

WDLL (4 points)

This would be below par, even by our modest standards. At least we’d have a win.

DDDD (4 points, and lots of stuff being thrown at the telly by me)
WLLL (3 points, with a call for some counselling)
DDDL (3 points and broken lounge room furniture)
DDLL (2 lousy points, a claim on my home insurance and me saying ‘the EPL is overrated crap anyway’)
DLLL (1 effing point followed by Di Canio coming out and saying ‘see, I wasn’t so bad and I never had that kind of budget’)
LLLL (zippo and work being started on Advocaat and Short effigies)

For the record, our first four games netted two losses and two draws – the third worst possible outcome out of 15.

Lowering the bar

It’s well documented that we’ve had some very poor starts in recent seasons. However, you really need to see the numbers from the opening 9 games our last 5 seasons to get a full appreciation of this:

2011-12: 2-3-4 (9 points) – Bruce

2012-13: 1-6-2 (9 points) – O’Neill

2013-14: 1-1-7 (4 points) – Di Canio

2014-15: 1-5-3 (8 points) – Poyet

2015-16: 0-3-6 (3 points) – Advocaat

That’s a total of 33 points from 45 games which pro-rates to 28 in 38 games.

If you take only the last three seasons, then it’s 15 points from 27 games – which prorates to 21 points over 38 games… delicious!

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

Aside from our disgraceful opening points tally, this season stood out from the four before it for one other major reason: we were winless, hopeless and gormless after 9 games – which included games against Norwich (H), Swansea (H), Villa (A), Bournemouth (A) and West Brom (A).

Not to disrespect any of these teams – but if you can’t beat any of them at all, then you’re not making a great case for staying in the Premier League and you’re going to have a bad time.

Yet another Messiah

We can now add Allardyce to the list of O’Neill, Di Canio, Poyet and Advocaat, as managers that have come in mid-season and miraculously and emotionally kept us up against the odds.

I want to believe that things are different this time around. I really do. Some encouraging things in this respect are:

* Adam Johnson is gone.
* Margaret Byrne is gone.
* Danny Graham is gone. (Bit harsh on the hard working Graham I think. I suspect Fletcher may have had a more negative influence on those around him – MD.)
* Allardyce is a highly distinguished, experienced, proven and savvy manager who Alex Ferguson thinks is ‘massively underrated’.
* Allardyce has made some positive cultural changes – most notably getting the youngsters involved with the first team.
* The Kone, Khazri and Kirchhoff combo acquired in the January transfer window were inspired purchases which completely changed our season and the whole nature of our first team.

As good as those things are, the most encouraging thing for me comes in the form of raw numbers. Here are the latter halves (i.e. last 19 games) of our last 5 seasons:

2011-12, 24 points: 6-6-7 (GF: 22, GA: 24, GD: -2) – O’Neill.

2012-13, 17 points: 4-5-10 (GF: 21, GA: 30, GD: -9) – O’Neill/DiCanio.

2013-14, 24 points: 7-3-9 (GF: 26, GA: 28, GD: -2) – Poyet

(NB: this included 4 wins in a row just before the final day of the season – and a stretch of 2 points in 9 games before that).

2014-15, 18 points: 4-6-9 (GF: 15, GA: 26, GD -11) – Poyet/Advocaat.

2015-16, 27 points: 6-9-4 (GF: 29, GA: 24, GD +5) – Allardyce.

It is this more than anything that gives me the best and most realistic hope yet that we won’t be next season’s fish.