France, Tunisia and a word in Fifa’s ear

paraguay1There will be a lot of random jottings here during the World Cup, given our declared support for Paraguay – not to the exclusion of a probably Bentless England, but in honour of Cristian Riveros, Paulo da Silva and those red and white stripes – and the haphazard nature of the Salut! Sunderland team of scribblers.

First thing first. In the long queue for the Uffizi museum in Florence, the faces of two Mexican students lit up when talk turned to football, and specifically to Sunderland.

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Who are you? We’re Aston Villa (3), lurking in Sunderland


Long ago – long even before this photo* was taken in 1995 – I had a colleague who suddenly ended his lifelong support for Villa. They’d given him quite enough grief, ruined far too many Saturdays. No more. He’d even stopped looking too hard for the scores, and felt tons happier. Somehow can’t see that happening to Gary
**, the last in our procession of Villa fans. He lives minutes from the Stadium of Light and was until recently chairman of the Villa supporters’ club branch in the North East. Read on to see why we should hope he gets to Villa Park tomorrow night …

You’re having the sort of season we’d love: one final already, another maybe to come and still pressing for top four. I bet you’ll tell me you’re not satisfied!

I’m very very satisfied. It’s difficult to argue that a cup final, the possibility of another cup final and being in the mix for the 4th place Holy Grail is not a very successful season so far. If I have to make a prediction, I think we’ll lose to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi final and finish 6th in the league behind Spurs and Liverpool. The immediate aftermath to that will be a huge feeling of anti-climax amongst the majority of the Villa faithful. “Faithful” is probably a poor term though. I’ve noticed grumblings in recent weeks that intimate to me a feeling of entitlement amongst some Villa fans. I’m more pragmatic, although living 200 miles from Villa Park probably allows me to see a bit more of the “woods for the trees”.

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A Christmas football wishlist. 1 (A-I): Thierry Henry in Gaelic, Darlo in the playoffs


Is Santa listening? Probably not, but Salut! Sunderland thought it would produce its own list of the presents it wants, the things it wants to happen not just for Christmas but for the coming year. Let’s see how many are granted. This is the first of three instalments. Come up with a better suggestion or two and you might win a prize …

A is for Arsène. The elegantly whingeing Alsacian – (“is that why they’re called Arsenal?” asked the daughter who knows nothing about football) – announces a new deal with Optical Express, suddenly sees things more clearly, apologises for his players’ occasional diving and heaps praise on teams that beat or draw against Arsenal as well as those that lose.

B is for Bruce: Steve wins three manager-of-the-month awards in succession and we’re not only safe but sixth.

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Who are you? We’re Aston Villa (3)


If Salut! Sunderland‘s generosity with its space is matched by Villa’s generosity to the opposition, our fears after a rotten run since the Arsenal win may be unfounded. I certainly didn’t expect so many Villa fans to come forward with previews ahead of tonight’s game but am happy to publish a third contribution – from Gary Gleeson* – because, like our Pompey previewer last week, he lives within Gary McAllister diving distance of the Stadium of Light. Gary, chairman of the Villa supporters’ North East Lions’ Club, reached us via the VillaTalk site …

Salut! Sunderland How come you’re a Villa fan in the North East? Even if you’re from Brum, SAFC should have rubbed off on you by now!

I’ve been in the North East for about six years now. Originally from Dublin, I’m a Villa fan because of the Irish contingent of Paul McGrath, Steve Staunton and Ray Houghton.

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Arsène, Thierry and Jean-Louis: a triumvirate of French arrogance?


Colin Randall treads difficult domestic territory, braves the disapproval of a French wife and two half-French daughters and, setting himself up as judge, jury and La Cour de Cassation, finds two of the above guilty as charged …

Not every Englishman is a BNP thug who steams through French railway carriages singing: “If it wasn’t for the English, you’d be Krauts.”

We don’t all subscribe to the “lovely country, shame about the people” jibe – though I actually heard it recently on the lips of my French barber (a necessarily short encounter). Some of us even marry ’em, Frenchwomen that is not the barbers.

But what are we to make of the behaviour of three Frenchmen, clues to whose identities appear in the headline? Two are easy to guess; the third is largely unknown in England unless you support Sunderland and therefore feel that Jean-Louis Triaud, president of the Girondins de Bordeaux football club, is a cross between arrogant oaf and prize clown.

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Soapbox: another week, another drama. But let’s hand it to Thierry Henry


As Sunderland prepare to face Arsenal, the debate rages on. Should France v Republic of Ireland be replayed? If so, what about Reading 1 Sunderland 0 (goal given, not over line), Sunderland 1 Aston Villa 1 (legitimate, last second SAFC winner inexplicably denied by Steve Bentley), Sunderland 1 Liverpool 0 (beachball clinches the points).
One view of Thierry Henry’s public contrition is that it reaffirms his greatness; another is that it was a little belated and therefore that public reaction forced his hand (sorry).
No serious football controversy would be complete without Pete Sixsmith weighing in. And he says the Irish just have to get on with life …

Like the poor
Swedish referee, I didn’t see the Henry Handball incident on Wednesday. I was driving home from Billingham, having got my midweek football fix by watching an entertaining game between Synthonia and West Allotment Celtic (2-1 to the visitors if you really want to know), but I did have the commentary on Radio 5 Live.

In between the whoops and soars and the intervention of Radio Moscow, I heard John Murray say absolutely clearly that Henry had handled it and the goal should not have stood. Mark Lawrenson came on at the end of the 90 minutes and said the same, only more forcefully. Both spoke about the need for technology to help the officials with their decisions.

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Who are you? We’re Arsenal (1)

Once upon a time, Fatima al Shamsi*, pictured (left) with her sister Alyazyah outside the Emirates Stadium, accepted an internship at an English-language newspaper in Abu Dhabi, capital of her native UAE, and found herself under the professional guidance of a Sunderland supporter. It would be a gross misrepresentation of events to suggest she returned to college in New York knowing more about SAFC than journalism. The experience left her with some affection for Sunderland, but nowhere near enough to supplant her passion for the Gunners. A day earlier than planned, thanks to some technical hitch, here’s what she has to say…


Salut! Sunderland: Barca, Brazil, Inter Milan and Arsenal. Sounds like the ultimate wish list of the Queen of Gloryseekers. How come you collect great football teams?

AC Milan not Inter! I started watching football when I moved to Brazil at the age of three. although I barely remember any of it. I just remember playing it at school and watching incomprehensibly with my dad and simply loving it. This is why the Brazilian national team has always held a special place in my heart. It been great to see them play beautifully again (especially during the confederation cup over the summer) after recent years of frustrating subpar football which was an absolute horror to watch. With that said I also enjoy watching the Spanish national team and at times Argentina, but when it comes down to it, its definitely club vs. country and I’d take an Arsenal game any day.

I am definitely not a glory seeker! When I was younger me and my dad bonded a lot during the weekends by watching matches together. his main indulgence during the weekends were football games so we had time to watch the Spanish, Italian and English leagues. I had a lot more time to follow those different leagues so I had a favourite team in each one. Although you may call me a glory seeker for these teams, I picked them as a child based on favourite players and rivalries within my household between me my parents and my siblings so they just happened to be good teams and not a conscious ‘glory seeking’ decision. These days I don’t really keep up with the Italian league much but I do follow Barça games as much as I keep track of Arsenal (although if it has to come down to it, like it did champions league finals 2006, it’s always Arsenal first).

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