SAFC v Stoke can wait; first a tribute to Winger

Mark Eltringham and Salut! Sunderland fell out a little last season in the testy aftermath of the game at the Britannia when opinions on the way Stoke played differed, shall we say, according to who you supported. All very petty in retrospect, a retrospect sharpened by the untimely death of another Stoke fan Stephen Foster (pictured). This was Mark’s moving tribute at the City fan site, Oatcake, and – for reasons past mention of Stephen here, yesterday included, would make clear – I feel it right to reproduce it now that be has brought it to my attention …

There’s only one way to learn about grief and that’s the hard way. You can read and hear about its phases and effects but you don’t really know a damn thing about it until you’ve experienced it personally.

And when you’ve experienced it a few times what you also learn is that, like snowflakes, grief is never the same twice. It chooses its own way and does things in its own time.

I’ve lost a number of people in my life but none of those losses affected me in the same way as the death of Stephen Foster, who died in Norwich in June. He was only 48. For a start throughout the whole process of mourning him I could never get used to people referring to him as Steve. I’ve only ever seen him as Winger just like he only ever referred to me as Grey Man, our epithets from the Oatcake messageboard, bringing webtards together since 1995.

Read moreSAFC v Stoke can wait; first a tribute to Winger

A Sunderland farewell to Stoke City’s Man of Letters

From Stephen Foster's Guardian profile

No, we are not playing Stoke City this weekend. So Salut! Sunderland‘s questions and Stephen Foster‘s replies might seem out of time. They appear, however, as a tribute to a Stephen, a successful author who loved City with a passion that remained undiminished after life took him to London and then East Anglia. He died last week – read more here – robbing friends and family of a much-loved figure in their own lives, and Salut! Sunderland of a willing volunteer in future Who Are You? features; he had promised to participate each year – as long as we both stayed up. RIP Stephen …

Back in November last year, just after that mauling at St James’ Park, Sunderland had a must-win game coming up: lose to Stoke City after the 5-1 trouncing at Newcastle and alarm bells would not merely be sounding but exploding into a million fragments. And we were proud to have found Stephen Foster to handle the Who Are You? questionnaire ahead of the game at the Stadium of Light that we won 2-0 thanks to a pair of Gyan goals and some illegal but unspotted goal-line derring-do from Lee Cattermole. I’d told Stephen Stoke City was, for reasons I could not pinpoint, the toughest club from which to find willing candidates for the series. “I can’t understand your previous difficulties,” he told me, “most Stokies are proper gobs****s.”

See how his death has prompted a wonderful stream of condolences and tributes by visiting the Stoke fansite Oatcake, to which he occasionally contributed as “Winger”. This is how the Q&A with Salut! Sunderland ran, starting with the original introduction …

Read moreA Sunderland farewell to Stoke City’s Man of Letters

Stephen Foster RIP: supporter of Stoke, friend of Salut! Sunderland

Salut! Sunderland last heard from Stephen Foster, a richly talented man whose books on supporting Stoke City probably made him little or no money but stand as Hornby-standard classics of football writing, in January.

Two months earlier, Stephen had contributed an excellent set of answers to the Who are You? questionnaire for the Sunderland v Stoke City game. When I thanked him, he replied: “Make it an annual event, unless one of us goes down.”

Tragically, there won’t be an annual event. Stephen was found dead at the early age of 48, probably having drowned, at Trowse Meadow, Whitlingham Broad, not far from his Norwich home last Thursday. He had earlier been reported missing.

Read moreStephen Foster RIP: supporter of Stoke, friend of Salut! Sunderland

Stoke City’s man of letters: ‘Kenwyne was always one of ours’

Time, as we said, to move on. There’s another important game looming: SAFC v Stoke City on Saturday. Stephen Foster*, the author of two classics among “my club” football books (buy them at the best prices by clicking here), is another great capture for the Who Are You? series. Stoke through and through, he writes with the passion and wit that appeals to fans of other teams: look at the acclaim he won for She Stood There Laughing and the follow-up, on City’s first year back in the top flight, … And She Laughed No More. Welcome to Salut! Sunderland, Stephen (or Steve as he was for the first of those books thanks to a publisher’s error) …

Salut! Sunderland: you wrote our first question for us, Stephen: “What’s it like having half a side made out of Sunderland cast-offs representing Stoke City?” Apart from – or even including – Tommy and Kenwyne, is that how you see them?

No, not really, once you’ve got players they become yours, don’t they (unless you actively loathe them). But sometimes getting on for half our starting eleven have migrated from one set of red and white stripes to another which is a bit much: Tommy, Collins/Higginbotham, Deano, Rory, Kenwyne. The greatest contribution has come from Delap, no question, he was the key unit of the Pulis Method in the first Premier League season, at the outset of which, to be fair, everyone was predicting we’d ‘do a Derby’. The full backs are fine, the ‘keeper is solid, Whitehead is one of those players I just can’t see the point of. I think of Kenwyne a bit more as “one of ours” anyway since we had him on loan (from Southampton) for a couple of months in the Championship. He was the archetypal Bambi on Ice then; living up on Wearside certainly put some beef on him. He’s started off brilliantly, scoring in four consecutive games with his head, though he did have a muted and subdued match against Man United. We’ve been warned about that tendency from both your fans and your manager and I have to say he didn’t look up for it when he was confronted by the best centre back pairing he’s encountered so far in Ferdinand and Vidic. Vidic knocked him about which he didn’t seem to like. I wonder if he’ll do the curse of the ex against you…

Read moreStoke City’s man of letters: ‘Kenwyne was always one of ours’