Off goes Big Sam and the Wearside air seems to have been chilly

Sam Allardyce - a Sunderland love story gone wrong
Sam Allardyce – a Sunderland love story gone wrong

As statements from football clubs about departing managers who have done a good job go, this is probably close to as churlish as it gets:

Sunderland AFC confirms the departure of Sam Allardyce, who takes up the position of England manager with immediate effect.

The focus of everyone at Sunderland AFC now is on moving forward quickly and decisively, with the appointment of the club’s new manager to be confirmed at the earliest opportunity.

Read moreOff goes Big Sam and the Wearside air seems to have been chilly

From Hartlepool to England. Bye bye Sam, hello David?

Sixer at Hartlepool
Sixer at Hartlepool

It threatens to be a sad day. The FA is expected to be appoint Big Sam to the England job and will not be apologising to Sunderland for the disruption its wretched foot-slogging has caused to our pre-season plans. Then the stage is set, or so we have been led to believe for David Moyes’s arrival as our new boss. Let Pete Sixsmith take up the story from what is likely to have been Allardyce’s last match in charge of SAFC, last night’s friendly at Hartlepool …

Fifty one weeks ago, the Sunderland first team were losing at Doncaster Rovers, having turned in a performance which left many in the crowd worried for the coming season.

That night, they looked unfit, lacking cohesion and an absolute shambles from front to back as they lost to a side that ended up being relegated to the bottom tier.

Read moreFrom Hartlepool to England. Bye bye Sam, hello David?

Big Sam Poll: amid FA dithering, are Sunderland entitled to closure?

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Apologies for typos that appeared in an earlier version: an unedited draft somehow managed to replace the finished article and this remained in place, with spelling mistakes, until spotted …

No one knows, or no one is saying, when the FA’s three wise men will put us out of our misery, and end the damaging disruption to Sunderland’s pre-season preparations, and announce their decision on England’s new manager.

Perhaps we have no real right to place our own concerns above those of England, much as some of have felt detached from the national team for years.

Read moreBig Sam Poll: amid FA dithering, are Sunderland entitled to closure?

Big Sam and England: oh, won’t you stay?

Jake's take on Big Sam: 'another prep-season threatening to go tits up'
Jake’s take on Big Sam: ‘another prep-season threatening to go belly up’

So within a day of an unnamed Sunderland AFC source assuring The Northern Echo and presumably others that Sam Allardyce’s abrupt departure from the Austrian trainingcamp had nothing to do with the England job, he pops up at the Cheshire home of David Gill, FA vice-chairman and one of the three wise men deciding who should follow Roy Hodgson.

Also present, along with what the Daily Mail calls Sam’s “£1,000 Louis Vuitton man-bag” containing his presentation, were the other two members of the selection panel. In other words, it was a job interview

Read moreBig Sam and England: oh, won’t you stay?

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.

What’s happening at Sunderland AFC? Not much on the face of it

With no interest in the final of the European Championships later this evening, Deputy Editor Malcolm Dawson‘s thoughts have centered around the apparent lack of activity at the Stadium of Light. Is this a cause for concern or reassuring that the club is avoiding the pitfalls and mistakes of the past few close seasons?

A younger, slimmer Malcolm Dawson with SuperKev.
A younger, slimmer Malcolm Dawson with SuperKev.

Reading Between the Lines

It is now 10 days since the transfer window opened. It is also 10 days since Martin Bain officially assumed his duties as chief executive. During this opening spell of non activity, we have sat back and seen our local rivals on Tyneside and Teesside actively recruiting and releasing players while all remains quiet at the Stadium of Light.

As we all wait for things to happen on Wearside speculation is rife, but precious little in the way of hard facts is coming our way. Several players have been linked with the club but so far with no new faces arriving, or familiar faces returning and there has been an unsettling amount of conjecture regarding the position of our manager.

Though I must confess I have found it difficult to get excited about the national team since the night I sat in a ground floor flat in Gunnersbury, West London in 1973, listening to Brian Clough describe the Polish goalkeeper as a clown, I would have been so much happier had England got through to the final of the Euros this time. Not only might it have reignited my interest in the game at this level but it would have meant that Roy Hodgson would still have been in a job and Big Sam would not be being touted as his replacement.

For me, this is the biggest worry just now. I’m sure he is being totally professional with the squad out in Austria but unless he’s been told something that hasn’t been made public his mind can’t be 100% focused on his club while there’s still a chance his country will come calling.

Sam Allardyce - a Sunderland love story
Sam Allardyce – a Sunderland love story

I’d love to think that he decided at the end of last season (if not before) that he has found a spiritual home and wants to mastermind the revival of our club and is here for the long term. I’d love also to think that he can see that being the boss of the national side is a poisoned chalice but he has made no secret of the fact that he once wanted the job and I fear he would find it hard to turn down if the F.A. approached him with a lucrative deal. Despite my reservations on his appointment I have been convinced by his achievements to date and have enjoyed the way the team have been playing. More than anything the squad have been playing with passion and commitment but I am also impressed with the way he is integrating younger players into the squad. It may be that he had to use the players he had at his disposal in a way that was effective and that he has plans to change the set up and style of play but more than anything we need a period of stability.

What else can we read into the non events of the past ten days? I have no mole inside the boardroom and I may be making two and two equal six in what follows but what follows is me trying to make sense of the various snippets that have emerged in the media.

Just when we thought the club was about to make the first signing of the summer it came out with the following statement. Sunderland AFC will not be pursuing its interest in Inter Milan player Davide Santon, after negotiations between the two clubs failed to reach a positive conclusion.”  What can we surmise from that? Is this the first outward sign of Bain’s approach to his job. The club are not in the habit of commenting on transfers until deals are completed so why the change?

Two things immediately sprang to mind. Firstly the possibility that negotiations with Spurs regarding Yedlin had progressed to the stage where his return might be imminent. Secondly, that the terms of the deal were unacceptable to one or other of the clubs with Inter demanding the entire payment up front and Sunderland wishing to pay in instalments or inserting a proviso that the player made a minimum number of appearances before some of the agreed fee became payable. With his recent injury record that would be understandable but with SAFC and Inter still in dispute over the Ricky Alvarez affair it’s not hard to see why negotiations between these two clubs might not all be sweetness and light. Of course I may be wide of the mark, but Bain has to deal with a mess not of his making.

Yann M’Vila is reportedly not training with his club’s first team squad. It’s no secret we want him back. Fans and management. It’s also no secret that he is on astronomical wages that Sunderland are unlikely to match. Are other clubs interested? Is Sunderland playing a game of brinkmanship? I’d like to feel that all parties involved are talking, looking to compromise and I remain hopeful that the Frenchman will become part of the long term plan. But I expect alternatives are on the radar.

Diafro Sakho – is he isn’t he? Mixed reports suggesting here is a player Sam knows well and got on well with at West Ham on the one hand whereas others suggest he was signed by David Sullivan when Allardyce wasn’t keen. We need another striker, no doubt. Is he the one and would it suggest that the Boss is contemplating a more direct and robust style of play? I don’t know but I think I’d rather him than Gomis.

Still part of Sam's plans?
Still part of Sam’s plans?

And speaking of Swansea what’s happening with Ayew? More of a wide man but with Jeremain Lens and Charles N’Zogbia it would seem that the manager may be considering his options in that department. It’s no secret that a centre half, a full back and a striker are top priorities. Hanging on to Lens and taking a look at N’Zogbia might just free up the resources to consider better quality signings in those other departments.

The domino effect could well see a flurry of activity both in and out of the club in the not too distant future. So far Vergini is the only one who has gone who wasn’t out of contract. If Giaccherini signs for one of the Serie A sides supposedly interested, then maybe the Ayew deal will go ahead or maybe if Inter is one of those interested, the Santon deal might well be back on. Remember Kone?

If West Ham sign a striker then perhaps Sakho will put pen to paper. M’Vila’s return could well see the end of Seb Larsson as a Sunderland player and surely Adam Matthews will be off if and when another full back comes in.

Bridcutt, Buckley, Gomez and Mavrias are no doubt on the radar of other clubs but knowing they are not part of Allardyce’s plans those clubs will be looking to sign them at bargain rates all of which will impinge on Bain’s ability to offer deals to new players and stay within the Financial Fair Play rules.

All ifs and buts at this stage but with the new season just five weeks away the clock is ticking. Let’s hope that come the opening day we are set to go, knowing the manager is not about to walk away, that all transfer deals are done and dusted and that Fabio Borini’s hair is back to it’s usual colour. I won’t hold my breath.

Big Sam for Sunderland. Klinsmann, Howe or whoever you want for England

Sixer looks forward to days in the sun
Sixer: ‘do I get double time if it’s hot on my paper round?’

Pete Sixsmith casts some light, and also some wisdom, on talk of Big Sam for the England job, finding relief in reports – albeit from an occasionally dodgy source – that the FA don’t want him anyway …

Read moreBig Sam for Sunderland. Klinsmann, Howe or whoever you want for England

Bravo Wales: like watching 1992 Liverpool cup final. And Davey Dowell RIP

Bear with the clip. It’s a Breton musician , Alan Stivell, singing Brittany’s version of Land of My Fathers, also its anthem as it is Cornwall’s, on to which he has superimposed a spine-tingling rendition by the crowd at Cardiff Arms Park … leads nicely into Pete Sixsmith‘s tribute to all Wales did at Euro 2016. Monsieur Salut’s non football-playing daughter loves internationals – ‘no interest in local teams’ – and quite fancies Gareth Bale, while finding Ronaldo an amazing player but ‘gross’.

Pete also has words on Big Sam and England, and a touching tribute to a great SAFC and Durham County Cricket Club supporter, Davey Dowell, who is feared lost …

It was sad to see Wales bow out of the tournament last night, especially to Portugal who, up until this game, had resembled a Tony Pulis team on a wet afternoon in the Potteries/West Midlands.

I had sat through their game with Poland on Saturday night until I lost the will to live and departed for an early night, aware that the extra half hour would probably turn me into a football hater for the rest of my life.

I was more than a tad disappointed when I woke up the next morning to hear that they had won the penalty shoot-out. Drat and double drat as Dick Dastardly would say.

Wales’s victory over Belgium was the exact opposite as they ran the fancied Flemings into the ground and showed what a well drilled, well coached and highly motivated team can do. A semi-final win over Portugal did not look beyond them and I, like many, relished Gareth Bale and Co forcing tears from Cristiano Ronaldo, the man child who drives the Portuguese team.

Except it didn’t work out like that. Shorn of the outstanding Aaron Ramsey and the highly competent Ben Davies, Wales found this a step too far.

Add to that a Portugal side that, while not playing a great deal of football, are playing the tournament, and it was a night of disappointment in the coal miners, steel workers and sheep farmers of the Principality.

It reminded me of the 1992 FA Cup Final in that an outsider had made progress through the competition by playing attractive football and upsetting several apple carts on the way there.

Team spirit was as strong among Malcolm Crosby’s boys as it was with Chris Coleman’s and Malcolm’s Gallant Lads hoovered up the support of neutrals as they put out Port Vale, Oxford United, West Ham United, Chelsea and Norwich City before facing Liverpool in the final.

Unfortunately, it went wrong at Wembley as, despite creating two good chances in the first half, we were beaten by goals from Michael Thomas and Ian Rush. Liverpool won without playing particularly well – “just another day at the office” as one fan described it.

Wales didn’t create the chances that John Byrne missed in 92 but they were the better side in a quiet first half, although they never rattled the Portuguese defence in which Southampton’s Jose Fonte looked very comfortable facing players he has marked in the Premier League.

In the second half, we saw exactly why Cristiano Ronaldo is so good. The header for the first goal was as good a header as any I have seen. Charlie Hurley would have been proud of it and even the greatest Welsh footballer pre Bale, John Charles, would have struggled to leap that high and put as much power into it.

As the ball hit the net with poor Hennessey nowhere, I thought that Wales would not come back from this. For once in my life I was right as they lost their concentration and allowed Nani to turn in a wayward shot from Ronaldo.

Coleman did the right thing in pushing on attackers. However, as willing as Vokes, Church and Williams are, they were not going to bother Portugal, who turned in a last half hour straight from the Jose Mourinho text book and closed the game down.

It has been a great three weeks for the Welsh team and supporters.

Unlike England on the field, they showed a willingness to listen to their coach and carry out his instructions. Off the field in Lyon, Lens and Lille, their fans have avoided the worst excesses of the small minority of English fans and, instead of singing about German bombers and the RAF have thrilled us with their renditions of their moving and powerful anthem with its references to poets, singers and warriors.

Compare Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau with the dirge that England’s players are forced to sing, where they swear allegiance to an unelected head of State and which contains no reference to the national characteristics of the British. We should have a National Anthem that extols the virtues or orderly queuing, tea shops and a distrust of all things foreign.

It’s Germany v France tonight which should be interesting. Hopefully, whichever one goes through will cause Ronaldo, Nani and Pepe to win the award for Biggest Cry Babies at the Championships.

The search for the next patsy to take over the England team appears to be moving closer and closer to the Stadium of Light. One national tabloid has Allardyce as a clear favourite as do many bookmakers and, in the absence of any other suitable candidates (Southgate – do me a favour) we may well lose the best manager we have had since the last good one.

For Sunderland supporters who care not a jot about England, this would be a major blow, but for a man like Sam, it would be the pinnacle of his career.

Hopefully, the FA will regard him as too old-fashioned and will appoint some young tyro to transform the fortunes of a team that fewer and fewer people care about.

RIP Davey Dowell
RIP Davey Dowell

Finally, some sad news. David Dowell, a Sunderland supporter of great renown, went missing from home two weeks ago and has not been seen since. Known to many as “Dabber” David was a permanent presence at Sunderland games and also at Durham CC. I last spoke to him after the 4-2 win at Swansea, where he was attempting to drink the Wetherspoons where we ended up, out of lager. He was a lovely lad and will be sadly missed.

* Martin Emmerson, great friend of this site and BBC Radio Newcastle commentator on Durham CCC, posted the photo you see above at Facebook on June 28, saying: ‘This is really sad to see. On The Wear Bridge today. Davey Dowell was a lovely bloke. Always good for a chat about footy or cricket. He loved Durham and Sunderland. Last week he disappeared. Friends feared the worst and now this. The last time I had a chat with him I was telling him about the Durham commentaries. I used to see him at a few games. He never listened. He didn’t have a computer or a mobile. He just did his own thing.’

This image has appeared with the family's consent at Facebook. RIP Davey
This image has appeared with the family’s consent at Facebook. RIP Davey

Our best defenders: part 2, in praise of John O’Shea

Lies_player
Jake’s take

We started our season at Leicester with a line up that included Seb Coates and Costel Pantsilimon. Substitutes included Adam Matthews, who came on for Billy Jones.

By the time we got to the final game Seb Coates, Costel Pantsilimon and Adam Matthews were no longer at the club. Billy Jones, subbed 12 games previously and subsequently dropped, came on for the final fifteen minutes, replacing DeAndré Yedlin, who hadn’t featured at Leicester.

They weren’t the only changes. Our manager had long gone, as had Danny Graham, Stephen Fletcher, Emanuelle Giaccherini, and Liam Bridcutt, all subs for that first game.  Our new manager had made room for players who could bolster a leaky defence and strengthen a porous midfield.

They were Lamine Kone, Whabi Khazri and Jan Kirchoff.

And the rest is history

Read moreOur best defenders: part 2, in praise of John O’Shea

Idle speculation to get me through the quiet days

Malcolm Dawson back in the day with SuperKev.
Malcolm Dawson back in the day with SuperKev.

Malcolm Dawson, deputy editor, writes: this hiatus which falls between the end of season and the opening of the transfer window sees me scouring the media for scraps of gossip that may or may not indicate which way the club is going. Most of it will turn out to be idle speculation and bear little resemblance to what actually transpires between the 1st of July and the end of August.

Read moreIdle speculation to get me through the quiet days