Pete Sixsmith gets back to roots with a trip to Old Trafford, not to see Seb Larsson score an unlikely winner or Vito Mannone make the penalty shoot out saves from Adnan Januzaj and Rafael to earn a Wembley appearance but to savour a great day out for a man fond of the oval ball as played by 13 men on each side rather than 15. The outcome of the Rugby League Grand Final and the ups and down of his beloved Leeds Rhinos set him wondering about Simon Grayson’s ability to inspire the discipline and commitment needed to move Sunderland up the Championship table.
As always with Pete’s outings, what you are about to read combines incisive sportswriting, travelogue and wit …
They say that your first love is the one that you look back on with the most affection, even though you may have found deep satisfaction or a mutual love-hate relationship with the partner that you eventually settle down with and live all life’s ups and downs. I know these things. I read them on the back of a matchbox.
So it is with the teams that you support. Sunderland AFC and I were manacled together in 1962 and that hardware has stayed securely tied since then, apart from a brief escape in 1998 after a needless relegation which a little investment and some shrewd buying would have prevented.
Before and after that, it’s been like Jack and Vera Duckworth’s marriage – plenty of ups and downs, lots of shouting and cursing and a fair bit of weeping when things went desperately wrong, but a commitment that has stuck through thick and thin, with thin being noticeably more represented than the former.
But it was still a weekend of pleasure rather than the usual Sunderland-induced pain, according to Pete Sixsmith. He saw some decent non-league football, albeit watching Shildon lose, and some rugby league. He’s already worried about Saturday but put aside such cares to compose another piece of classy writing combining sport, social observation, politics and travel …
Thanks to Middlesbrough for making the quarter finals of the FA Cup. Not only were they brushed aside by Manchester City, their presence in what used to be called the Sixth Round, spared us from having to go there on a Saturday and thereby probably spoiling our weekend.
Malcolm Dawson writes……Rafael – the latest gentleman’s gentleman in situ at Sixsmith Towers must have expected a busy weekend warming up the Taylor’s pork pies and chilling the Timothy Taylor’s Landlord while Pete Sixsmith settled himself in front of the telly for the World Cup Qualifiers and alongside the radio for Test Match Special. But he would have been surprised, for after brushing down the moleskin trousers and polishing the monocle, he had the weekend to himself as the aforementioned Sixer took in a Four Nations match on the west coast before following his hometown team into the nearest National Park to witness an F.A. Vase tie that just might see the victors on the road to Wembley.
RUGBY LEAGUE AND THE FA VASE
Unlike some, I look forward to the international breaks. It means that the weekend is not fraught with anxiety about the latest relegation battle and I can watch a game without coming out feeling as if I had just been horse whipped by Donald Trump.
I got my fix this weekend in Workington and Pickering. The former is a gritty and largely unlovely, one time iron manufacturing town in West Cumbria and the other is an attractive market town set on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. Both venues gave me far more pleasure than trips to Manchester or London have done this season.
The Workington visit was for a Rugby League Four Nations game between New Zealand and Scotland. The Kiwis are regarded as one of the two best sides in the world, along with their friends across the Tasman Sea, while Scottish Rugby League is regarded as being even lower in world standings than Scottish football. Or at least it was until Friday. New Zealand were expected to win while the Scots were expected to put up gritty if limited resistance to the likes of Shaun Johnson, Jesse Bromwich and Jason Nightingale. Made up of some good Super League players like Danny Brough and Lewis Tierney and some decent Australians in Lachlan Coote and Euan Aitken, they had given England a shock at Coventry the week before. But surely not against the Kiwis?
They did. At one stage they had a 12-10 lead, coming back from a Broderick Crawford (10-4), before two quick fire tries from Gerard Beale looked to seal it for the Kiwis. Isaac Luke, kicking into the wind and rain that only Cumbria can produce, failed with the conversions, but they still looked set for an unconvincing win and a re-match with Australia at Anfield next weekend.
But up stepped Huddersfield stand off Danny Brough to set up Euan Aitken (Scots name, Aussie born and bred) to crash over the line, leaving the outstanding Brough to put the conversion between the sticks for an unexpected 18 all draw. Wonderful stuff.
It was a fitting end to a very pleasant day with coffee taken at The Llama Karma Kafe near Penrith and tea taken at The New Bookshop in Cockermouth’s impressive main street. A stroll along it shows you the flood level in 2009 when it was at least 5’ deep and every business was awash with water from the fast flowing, bank bursting River Cocker. Jennings Brothers Brewery suffered particularly badly but has been repaired and restored and the brewery shop is as good a place to start a short tour of the town, home to William Wordsworth and Ben Stokes.
Workington also suffered in those floods with a bridge being washed away and a Police Officer losing his life while trying to protect it. Workington Town play at Derwent Park, a stadium built in the 1950’s and looking it. They have a long covered terrace down one side but no real “ends” as there is a speedway track that forms the circumference of the playing area. Like Halifax Town’s Shay, Newport County’s Somerton Park and Berwick Rangers Shielfield Park, the smell of burning exhausts and burning cinders lingers on long after the speedway season is over.
Pickering Town play in the Northern Counties East League and are doing well in it. They went into their FA Vase clash with Shildon on the back of a good win at second placed Liversedge and were quietly confident of causing an upset. There was a familiar name in the Pikes squad – Jules Gabbiadini, son of Marco, although not blessed with the huge thighs of his father.
The upset failed to materialise as The Railwaymen cantered to an impressive 5-0 win. Two early goals from Michael Rae (no relation to Alex as far as I know – he is a Poolie) both expertly taken put Shildon in a very strong position. Daniel Moore scored a very good third to finish the contest before the interval. Minutes into the second half David Ferguson, once a regular at Hetton for the Under 21’s, scored a fine fourth after some intricate passing bamboozled the Pikes’ defence and Amar Purewal, recently signed from Darlington, wrapped up the scoring to give Shildon a fine 5-0 win.
The ride over had been damp and dank until I hit Sutton Bank, the steepest main road in England with a 25% incline. At the top, the fog had descended and,had we been playing Sutton Bank Rovers, the game would have been off. But it lifted and there was a relatively pleasant run through Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside to Pickering. Lunch was taken at Elizabeth Botham’s Bakery and Café where a minor complaint about the malted bread used in my Whitby Crab sandwich resulted in the manager offering me a packet of ginger biscuits, the keys to her car and a lifetime supply of Lemon Drizzle cake as compensation. I settled for a Rustic Brown loaf.
No more international breaks until March. Four months of unrelieved anxiety beckons.
Bob Chapman seems to have had the sort of awayday Monsieur Salut most enjoys (except when there’s the cherry on the cake of a win to make it even better): pre-match pints with John Marshall and the Woods brothers, Mick and Gerard, followed by Sunderland goals to cheer and at least the avoidance of defeat along with the feeling, still weak but growing, that things may indeed be going to get better.
Bob steps up to the Soapbox because Pete Sixsmith took himself off to Wembley for the utterly one-side Leeds Rhinos’ victory over Hull KR (50-0). He draws attention to the highlight of his afternoon, Lizzie Jones’s tearjerking rendition of Abide With Me stirring memories of her husband Danny, the Keighley Cougars and Wales player who died from a heart attack after feeling unwell during a game in May. That was worth reproducing here and I challenge you not to be moved.
One grain of pure white snow, Bert Jansch wrote in his classic song about drug addiction,Needle of Death. It hasn’t yet become quite that bad at Sixsmith Towers. Pete Sixsmith still has a few sporting outlets to get him through the early summer and there is the World Cup to, er, look forward to. Meanwhile, he’s cross about being deprived of fair prices at Fulham, great pies at Wigan and decent beer at the Brunswick in Derby …
As I said in an earlier Countdown to Wembley piece, I didn’t make the 1985 or 1992 cup finals. Nor, it must be said, have I made any of the playoff games, finals or otherwise. The nearest I have ever come to them was to arrive in Sunderland the evening after the loss to Crystal Palace.
So Pete Sixsmith got away with his act of desertion, truanting from the first home game of the season to watch an oval ball at Wembley, and still has the treat of Reading at home to come. Here he offers thoughts on the more than slightly embarrassing postponement – and Warrington’s comfortable victory over Leeds in t’other game …
Pete Sixsmith has been back at the chalk face, enriching young lives and earning the means to enable him to attend Premier League games again next season. Or will he forsake round footballs for the squashed variety? Ask him at the wrong moment, when he’s just been thinking about Joey Barton or recapturing his Rugby League youth, and you risk hearing a disturbing response …
With the season over, not a huge interest in the playoffs and even less in England’s fortunes, anoraks like myself desperately search for a weekend fix.
Just when you thought money in football could hardly be more unfairly distributed as it is, along comes some Anfield suit with plans to make it unfairer still. At least Pete Sixsmith was able to enjoy some non-league fare and Rugby League before a new encounter with the ugly face of corporate football …
What a peaceful weekend away from the noise and commotion of the FA Premier League. I spent my Saturday afternoon watching a thrilling local derby between Shildon and Bishop Auckland, in front of a crowd of about 300, no TV cameras, a smattering of replica shirts and the ability to walk around the ground chatting to various folk while watching the game.
No one is quite sure what this is doing here. Has Salut! Sunderland taken leave of its senses? Has Rugby League taken over from football? Let Pete Sixsmith – who went back to Old Trafford one week on, and not to collect his personal copy of Sir Alex’s non-apology to Alan Wiley – explain …
Continuing the theme of Club v Country, I have to say that I couldn’t give a rat’s a*** about the “national team”. Ever since Sir Alf failed to take Monty to Mexico and various idiots refused to pick Kevin Phillips on a regular basis, I have absolutely zero interest in the Ingerland project.