Lars Knutsen prefaced the e-mail which arrived this morning with “We need a win against Sheffield Wednesday”. There’s no disagreement there. Nor will there be, I suggest, any disagreement with his proposition that “Reidy’s master coup was of course the signing of the legend, Kevin Phillips for a mere £375000 from Watford”.
From Sheffield Wednesday to Peter Reid might seem quite a jump. But there’s logic to Lars and he draws some interesting parallels in his latest missive:
Malcolm Dawson writes……….in his latest instalment of relegation reminiscences Pete Sixsmith recalls the season which saw SAFC leave Roker Park and also the Premier League – their seventh relegation from the top flight of English football. Surprisingly, he doesn’t mention the Sky documentary series “Premier Passions” which made Sunderland the talk of the footballing world for a time and a cult figure out of Tommy, the groundsman. My own two abiding memories of the end of that season are of Neville Southall carrying the ball out of the penalty area, leading to Chris Waddle scoring a free kick in the last ever league game at Roker and of the loon who jumped on a police motorbike outside Selhurst Park to hoots of laughter from the Sunderland fans and an over the top reaction by the boys of the Met, whose aggressive shouts and use of police batons turned what had been a good humoured and cheery post match atmosphere (despite the result) into one of threat and menace.
CHEER UP PETER REID
Picture the scene. It’s a Sunday night in May 1997 and Kings Cross Station is busy as thousands of Sunderland supporters make the long trek home from the pre Harry Potter/Parcel Office East Coast Main Line terminus, cramming onto the trains that will take them home to a summer of misery and soul searching and make them wonder if it is all worth it.
We had lost to the Premier League’s worst supported team in a stadium that made Roker Park in its death throes look good. We took 12–15 thousand supporters to that benighted part of South London known as Selhurst Park, knowing that if we were to beat Wimbledon we would start off at The Stadium of Light still in the Premier League.
A new era would begin for Bob Murray, Peter Reid and various assorted players and we would go on to establish ourselves as a challenger to the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea.
Except we lost 1-0.
Paul Stewart had missed a chance that would have kept us up and sent Coventry City down. A Craig Russell cross was put over the bar by the Cumbrian and when Jason Euell scored in the 85th minute, the game was up. Back to the Championship we went.
And back to Kings Cross went Pete Horan and I after M Salut had given us a lift to some suburban station [I’m convinced I drove you all the way to Kings Cross, you ungrateful lout – Ed]. Vodka was purchased and openly taken onto the train. Police knew it was pointless trying to stop the consumption of alcohol by thousands of bitterly disappointed Sunderland followers who had heard that Coventry City had gained an unlikely win at White Hart Lane (complete with compulsory late kick off) to stave off their own relegation yet again.
As the white stuff slid down I said that that was it. No more Sunderland. They had let me down for the final time and I would no longer go. They could struggle on without me and I would stop wasting time, money and emotional commitment and take up another hobby – stamp collecting, making Meccano models, writing down train numbers – anything that would spare me the pain and upset of what I had just suffered.
I cancelled my ticket for the Stadium of Light on the Tuesday and for the next few months paid little attention to the results. I went to a few games that season but not many. I thought the bug had been swatted once and for all and to some extent it had. I am not as involved. I have ups and downs but the Cardinal Fang-like fanatical devotion has been dissipated – although not completely extinguished.
It was the relegation that never should have been. We did well for the first half of the season and wise signings like Tony Coton, Niall Quinn and Alex Rae complemented the likes of Kevin Ball, Craig Russell and Steve Agnew. There were some good wins. The first away game saw a wonderful 4-1 win at Nottingham Forest, there was a wonderful 3-1 victory at Goodison, where Michael Bridges and Lionel Perez were outstanding. Perez made a stunning penalty save and an even better one from a Duncan Ferguson header. Bridges was sublime. Chelsea were walloped 3-0 with Bally getting a great headed goal and John Mullin and Micky Gray put Manchester United away in March.
But we didn’t score enough goals. There were too many games that ended 0-0 and too many single goal defeats. The killer was at home to Southampton, a game that had we won, would have kept us up and sent the Saints down.
But we lost 1-0. We went down and Southampton scratched enough points to dodge the drop.
The only time we were in the relegation zone was on that last Sunday after the Wimbledon defeat. We had been eleventh at Christmas but had only a single win between beating Arsenal (a comical Tony Adams o.g.) in January and the 1-0 triumph at Middlesbrough in April, where Darren Williams became a cult hero by scoring the winner in front of his own people.
Reidy tried. He brought in Chris Waddle and Allan Johnston to give us a bit of width and craft and it almost worked. Both scored in an emotional last game at Roker as we did the double over Everton. But it wasn’t enough and the Stadium of Light had to make do with Stockport rather than Spurs and Manchester City rather than United. City went down that year and Stockport were the second best side in Greater Manchester while Port Vale ruled the roost in the Potteries.
The You Tube clip of the game at Selhurst is interesting. There are long forgotten products being advertised. Scorpion Lager and Elonex computers on the shirts and around the ground Tripleprint and Alliance and Leicester where you got a smarter investor.
Match of the Day was not advanced enough then to split the games on a minute by minute basis so John Motson had to be careful not to give anything away regarding the other scores. However, the anguish from the thousands of Wearsiders in the stadium must have made even the dimmest viewer realise that Coventry City were winning at Spurs.
This is a longer 20 minute MOTD clip
Reidy built a very good side the next season and an even better one the year after by which time I had drifted back, still supporting but a little more detached.
The exam factory which is the study at Sixsmith Towers has now closed and I shall be heading for Bury on Friday to welcome Simon Grayson. The two Everton loanees are big, strong players which is what you need in the Championship. I have seen them and been impressed by them when Everton Under 23s have played at Hetton.
A day on the East Lancashire Railway beckons, followed by food in Ramsbottom (the name of the snake in The Sooty Show)before doing the gate at Shildon v Darlington on Saturday.
Then, off to Tenby in Pembrokeshire to purge my brain of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, the invasion of Manchuria and the Anschluss with Austria the analysis of which I marked 308 separate answers. I shall be reading anything but 20th Century History for a week.
Cheer up Peter Reid…….
Peter Sixsmith’s pre-season is well under way. He has already seen the Lads play at Darlington and the Development Squad at Tow Law and Consett. He has seen Bishop Auckland and Queens Park. That’s the well established Glasgow side and not the upstart Rangers from West London – surely the only team to be named after two others. I expect he’s been to others I don’t know about and has his weekend planned taking in some Scottish junior football and maybe a senior game or two before heading off to Boston and Doncaster to see whatever versions of Sunderland teams are put out at those grounds next week. But as Dick and the boys prepare to return from Canada, Pete finds his thoughts drifting more than a decade to what was a sad time for him, both on and off the pitch.
Pre season in Andalucia.
It has been a pleasure reading the accounts of the North American branch as Sunderland played games in Sacramento and Toronto and an even greater pleasure to read of a Sunderland victory in Ontario. It may have been scrappy, but as the poet Burns (almost) said, “a win’s a win for a’that”.
I have done a few pre seasons abroad in the past. Dublin, Cork and Galway were brilliant for the craic if not the football, Athlone was a great trip despite a six hour bus journey from Belfast, Amsterdam was a blast and Heidelberg was a wonderful base to visit Hoffenheim a few years ago. All have been written about on Salut, but the site was probably a glint in M Salut’s eye when we visited the Spanish region of Andalucía in August 2002 for games with Sevilla and Algeciras, both of which were lost and both of which were the harbingers of what turned out to be a dreadful season.
I travelled with Pete Horan. In those dim and distant days, I had no internet access, no computer and no idea of how to use one. He had all three, so he booked the flights, the hotel and the car hire. I bought a guide book to Seville. It was a trip that was due to last for five days but, for me, it was nearly cancelled. My father died the night before we were due to set off and I felt that I could not go. The death was not unexpected as he had been ill for a while and as I had been principal carer and I was on holiday, I felt that I should stay to do all the things that needed to be done.
Insurance would have covered some of the costs and Pete fully understood and sympathised and I had rung him to tell him that I could not go. He was going to wait until the next morning to cancel, when a white knight came riding over the hill in the shape of my youngest brother who was returning from a road trip to Dundee. He insisted that I went and assured me that he would take care of all the administration that needed to be done. So, the next morning, we were sat at Manchester Airport, drinking a Ritazza espresso and waiting to board the plane. I was uncharacteristically quiet and had qualms about going but I ultimately felt that my father, no lover of football but a man who had enjoyed his holidays, would have approved.
Pete had booked a GM Zafira and we picked it up at Malaga airport. He had driven in Spain before and was happy to do so again and we had a pleasant run through the hills to Seville, passing huge advertising hoardings for various brands of sherry – bulls, matadors and Orson Welles looking down on the motorway.On arrival in Seville, we were blown away by the beauty and the majesty of the city – and totally disorientated by the road system. No sat nav meant that we had to map read. No Spanish meant that we were trying to read road signs. We got lost. We asked people who tried to explain. We got lucky and found a sign that directed us to the hotel.
Now Pete has booked us into some gems in his time, (Dublin and Amsterdam spring to mind) but this one was the best. From the outside it was as unprepossessing as any chain hotel in the UK; from the inside it was like walking into something from a Moorish fantasy. There was a courtyard with a gentle pool and flowers all around. The rooms were arranged around it giving a feeling of peace and tranquillity which was much needed after a long and emotional day. The rooms were tiled and the balcony overlooked a quiet street. Bliss.
The evening was spent drinking beer and sherry and discussing the merits of rival Amontillados while sampling tapas. We asked how to get to the Stadium Ramon Sanchez Pijuan but our requests were met with derision by the working class occupants of the bar. “Sevilla is for the toffs. We workers support Betis. You should go there.” Those sentiments were repeated a number of times over the next two days. If you want to curry favour with a Seville taxi driver swear allegiance to Betis and their club slogan “Viva el Betis manqué pierda” – “Long live Betis even when they lose”..
The next day was spent in what is one of the finest cities in Europe. The Moorish influence was everywhere and the Alcazar was a splendid sight. The Cathedral and Christopher Columbus’s tomb were breath taking as were the gardens that adjoined it. The food was good, the sherry perfect and the sun shone. My spirits were lifted and I was pleased that I had made the trip. The stadium was a short taxi ride from the centre and we arrived in good time. I don’t think that the arrival of Sunderland had created much of an impression on the support and the crowd was not great. Neither was Sunderland’s performance as we stumbled to a 1-0 defeat thanks to a blunder by new signing Phil Babb and failed to muster a reasonable attempt on goal. The Sevilla support munched on their sunflower seeds and were not impressed by their English guests.
The following morning, as we walked along the banks of the Guadalquivir River into town, we discussed the previous night’s performance. Neither of us was impressed. We analysed the squad player by player and concluded that there were at most, six players that were Premier League quality. Memory serves that they were Sorenson, Gray, Phillips, Thome, McCann and Reyna (if fit). We were not impressed with the likes of McAteer, Babb, Williams, Bjorklund, Bellion and Kilbane. We were convinced that relegation was a distinct possibility.
Our stay in Seville over, we moved onto Algeciras after a very pleasant road trip through Cadiz (no singeing of Castillian beards by we two) and then round Cape Tarifa with its winds and currents to the ferry port of Algeciras. Goodness knows why we chose to play a Spanish Third Division side in such a fly blown and distinctly unpleasant town. The hotel was poor, the clientèle dangerous and the general mood was one of simmering violence. It was a hopping off point for North Africa and all that that entailed.
We were fortunate to meet up with some Sunderland people who lived there and they gave us a lift to the tidy ground where the local team played. Look over the fence opposite the main stand and there was the Rock of Gibraltar looming out of the Mediterranean, probably the strangest thing I have ever seen from a football ground.
If Seville was a disappointment, this was a disaster. Reid shuffled his pack and played youngsters like McCartney and Butler against a side who had a complete and utter thug at centre half. It ended up with a 2-0 defeat and the two youngsters being sent off, George for a foul and Tommy for throwing a punch, both of which paled into comparison with the violence meted out by the home team.
I have two other memories of that game, one involving the Rock and the other Emerson Thome, which come to think of it, had similarities. The Rock was bathed in moonlight in the second half and was certainly far more interesting than the dross on show on the pitch. And as for Emerson – he was an unused substitute that night, but when he took his top off, he revealed a six pack that had Pete and me gasping in admiration. Mrs Thome was a very lucky lady indeed.
We came home the next day to face the funeral and the aftermath and for a while it put football into perspective. But you slough off the depression and look forward – except that there was no looking forward. Reid accepted that there were glaring weaknesses in his squad and attempted to address them by signing Stephen Wright, Matty Piper, Marcus Stewart and Torre Andre Flo.
The prediction from the banks of the Guadalquiver was correct – and if we thought that 19 points was bad, there was far worse to come.
See all articles in the Sunderland Out West series at https://safc.blog/category/sunderland-out-west-2015/
Peter Reid is 57, Niall Quinn 47. Perhaps too late to return to Man City as midfield dynamo and target man. But both would receive huge warm welcomes if they could find time to get along to one of the functions run by the City Disabled Supporters’ Association. The invitation is extended via Salut! Sunderland by the association’s secretary, our ‘Who are You?’ interviewee, Mark Barber*. How about three unlikely points for ‘predictably unpredictable’ SAFC, as Jake called us the other day, in return for an evening with Reidy and Niall? I bet they’re rooting for us, not City, in both forthcoming games …
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.
Lars Knutsen remembers Sunderland managers he has met, with especially fond memories of seeing Peter Reid and his players at what people rightly still call the Seaburn Hotel, celebrating a famous win at St James’ Park, and looks briefly at the records of those who had to make do without meeting him …
Transfer deadline. What transfer deadline? If you catch Peter Reid on TalkSport later, ask him about his playing comeback in east Durham. *Images courtesy of the WhatCulture website …
The long break between games made it a quietish week, but there is still plenty to look back on if you missed a daily dose of Salut! Sunderland …
It was good to have an upbeat Bruce’s Banter, the e-mail Steve Bruce sends out after each game. Click here to see what he had to say about the 4-0 win against Stoke City. He mentioned some big individual performances but stopped short of naming names.
Steve Bruce had every right to rub the noses of media pundits in the mess of Stoke City’s collapse at the Stadium of Light.
Football, as Plymouth Argyle said in a club statement justifying the sacking of one of Bruce’s Sunderland predecessors, Peter Reid, is a results business.
If anyone out there thinks we’re overdoing the Ithics Files – reproduction at Salut! Sunderland of gems from It’s The Hope I Can’t Stand – then they should tell SAFC to get a move on with meaningful news.