John McCormick’s contributions to Salut! Sunderland have been immense, as writer and editor. Despite the serious health issues that have confronted him, he has continued in his tireless way to post articles and research and write his own exemplary work, often analytical and backed by meticulous statistical date, all presented with far more technological nous than I can muster. He has been a great mainstay of this site and deserves the rest he has now prescribed for himself.
John McCormick introduces his own farewell: regular readers will know I was told I had a malignant tumour in December last year and was given a scan to see if I had secondaries just before Christmas 2018. That scan revealed a lesion on my liver but couldn’t determine whether it was malign or not. It was only a couple of weeks ago that I received final confirmation that it wasn’t, which closed a sequence of tests – all clear – and ensured that this Christmas would be merrier, and this New Year happier, than the last.
It was, in fact, my first trip to the SOL since the start of the previous season, and my first Sunderland game since December, and it had to be organised with great care. Trains instead of the car, and clothes that were guaranteed to keep me warm. And I can now add that by the time I got home I was knackered, far more than usual.
The reason lies in events that began nigh on a year ago but please forgive my artistic licence; I’m starting a lot further back than that.
Charlton finished the League One season in style and ended up two places ahead of us, writes Monsieur Salut. Until that poor return of four points from three successive home games, I was confident we would go up in an automatic top two place.
It wasn’t to be. We did not end the season in style and and now we start the playoff final at Wembley, after gritty semi-final displays against Portsmouth saw us through, technically as underdogs.
Before I invite readers to predict the outcome of Sunday’s Wembley encounter, I shall reflect on the 1998 version of this momentous tie in May 1998. That was for the greater prize of Premier League and we had, of course, finished above Charlton only to fail to overcome them in the playoff final.
It grew and grew.Salut! Sunderland invited readers old and new to contribute their photos from a great if ultimately disappointing weekend in London for the Checkatrade Trophy final against Pompey at Wembley, writes Monsieur Salut.
Slowly, pictures started to arrive. And then our associate editor John McCormick chipped in with his more advanced techie skills to turn a spur-of-the-moment idea into a project, creating the slideshow you can see by following the link in my tweet above to the Salut! Sunderland Facebook group.
(John Mac adds – I’ve now managed to embed the video at the bottom of the page too, but our facebook page is always worth a visit)
Malcolm Dawson writes…….this was a competition that hardly anyone cared about six months ago and on Sunday no more than 9,655 of the 85,021 in attendance could have witnessed Sunderland and Portsmouth’s first foray into the 2018/19 Checkatrade Trophy. That figure includes the 69 Gillingham fans who made the trip along the south coast last September and the handful of those who came to Wearside to watch Stoke City U21s in action. I doubt many of those were there.
I said back then, that should we find ourselves at Wembley, the demand for tickets would be huge, that there would be thousands who didn’t think it worth the entrance fee equivalent to that of a Northern League fixture in the earlier rounds, who would be more than happy to spend hundreds on a jolly to the capital and that for one day at least, this piece of silverware would become the most significant trophy in the history of Sunderland AFC since 1973.
And why not? For a club and its fan base which have been through the bad times in recent years the opportunity to take home a cup (no matter how humble) is cause for celebration and the killing of the fatted calf or smoked tofu equivalent for the vegetarians and vegans in our ranks.
But Portsmouth too are a club that have been through the proverbial wringer in recent times having gone into administration three times, suffered points deductions, fallen from the top to bottom flights of English football with two former owners who are now spending time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. This was as much their day as ours and it was fitting that the two best supported clubs in the EFL made this a day to remember.
And despite the fact that even on the train and Tube in the build up to the match, the majority of those in red and white or blue were saying they weren’t that bothered about the result, the post match reactions of both sets of supporters said otherwise. It was a good day out and I don’t care what anyone says, we didn’t lose but that doesn’t make the final result any less disappointing.
It was a good game, as Pete recorded from his soapbox. There has been plenty of discussion too about the manager’s tactics, but it is easy to forget that our opponents are just as desperate to win. Sometimes we need to give the opposition some credit for how they approached the game. To see things turn things around so dramatically in the second half inevitably brings the manager’s tactics and ability to respond to developing situations into question.
But we didn’t lose. Catt’s penalty was decent enough so credit the Pompey keeper for keeping it out. Meanwhile Jon McLaughlin had got a hand to their first but it was just not quite enough of one to prevent the ball crossing the line. On such fine margins are penalty shoot outs sometimes decided and this time all 10 were on target.
I chose to spend the weekend with some friends who live just outside Nottingham and took the train into London on Sunday morning via Grantham where there were plenty of supporters of both teams on the platform. I chatted to a few Pompey fans whilst waiting for my connection and they were of the opinion that promotion was the main objective. I’m not sure I believed them when they said they weren’t too bothered about winning at Wembley but we all agreed the main thing was to have a good day. It was the same on the Tube from Euston. I had a long conversation with three generations of a family from Luton, though originally from Portsmouth and unusually in my experience, a young girl and her boyfriend, both Londoners and on their way to her mum’s with some flowers for Mothering Sunday, also joined in. Turns out her mother is a Scouser and a Liverpool fan so she had been brought up not thinking there is anything wrong with striking up a conversation with complete strangers.
I had met up with some of the Heart of England Branch in a bar near Euston Square where the beer was almost as expensive as it had been on my recent visit to Tromso. I was also to meet up with them after the game but thereby hangs a tale.
My seat fortunately was in the front row of the second tier so I had a great view and didn’t have to worry about the fact that the majority of Sunderland supporters seem to want to stand at away games. Much as I am prepared to defend their view that supporters should be able to stand if they want, I do wish others would appreciate that there are plenty of us who find standing for an entire game painful and ultimately impossible. It’s not like standing up helps you see any better and if you’re not particularly tall can mean you get to see very little. All seater stadiums! One more thing for me to blame on Maggie Thatcher and the hard core of professional politicians who have little understanding of what the ordinary man and woman experience day to day. Don’t get me started!
Wembley Way was packed but despite the abundance of food outlets I didn’t see a single tray of cheesy chips. I paused to admire the Rugby League legends statue as I wandered around to my entrance, eventually finding my seat. No surprise that HoE stalwart Terry was in the row behind. Accrington, Walsall and other games where we often get tickets through the branch I understand but Wembley when I used the choose-a-seat-for-me option! I also bumped into the lad who sits three seats away from me at the SoL wandering around the concourse in search of chilli nachos at half time!
I was in my seat in plenty of time to see the lasses of Sunderland come from behind to beat those of Mangotsfield representing Bristol Rovers and comment on the fact that the pink seats of Wembley were unlikely to be replaced by an army of Spurs supporters.
In the post match drift back to the Tube station there seemed to be a good mix of us and them and it was all good natured where I was at least. Considering the numbers involved the organisation was good and whilst we were kept waiting at various points on the walk while the station cleared it didn’t really take that long to get back to Kings Cross.
Before the semi final at Bristol Rovers, Sobsy had told me of a pub, about six minutes walk from the Euston Road exit of Kings Cross and so the HoE had arranged to meet there. I had looked it up on the map and reckoned I could find my own way there nee bother and set off. Crossing the road I prepared to continue along Judd Street when the voice from the ether, which was Google Maps said “continue for 100 yards on Euston Road, then turn left”. Technology eh! Instead of ignoring it I decided it knew best so that’s what I did. This dismembered voice then continued to direct me right, left, straight on for 400 yards etc. until it took me to a point when I knew I wouldn’t be able to find the pub unaided. Another couple of miles and 50 minutes later I twigged that for some reason it had defaulted to car driving mode and the directions it was giving me were taking road works and one way systems into account. Having arrived at Kings Cross at 6.30 my eight minute walk had taken best part of an hour, half my mates had left to get a train and I was pushing it to get a pint in before mine left. I managed though. There were plenty of Sun’lan fans in there too!
I followed my nose on the walk back to the station. It took me 8 minutes. The trains were on time and I even managed a pint in Bingham though I was too late for the quiz. Whilst there was clearly a huge disappointment that we had nothing to show in terms of a trophy, I was left to reflect on the day and the fact that not only had I been able to walk and stand for so long on Wembley Way but I had taken a two mile detour trying to find a pub with a framed vintage Sunderland shirt and spent time waiting for trains, all without the aid of a walking stick and not too much pain. Considering that only two years ago I struggled to get up and down the stairs in my house, the Post Office around the corner was off limits and I needed a half hour sit down after I’d put my bins out, I’d call that a victory!
Monsieur Salut writes: Pete Sixsmith and I did it in style, lunch (nothing to write home about) and drinks in the Bobby Moore suite, seats on the halfway line. It was a great occasion and at half time, we imagined a bit of silverware was ours. Wasn’t to be. Poor Catts had an excellent game even if, as he stepped up for his penalty, I turned to the charming young Irishwoman next to me – the girlfriend of a member of our coaching staff – and said ‘that’s not a great idea’. It wasn’t.
Sixer also enjoyed his day out. We both recognised that Pompey’s second-half transformation made victory for them a deserved one. But congrats to St Joseph’s Catholic Academy from Hebburn on winning the EFL Girls’ Cup final, played before the Checkatrade game – they beat a team from Mangotsfield, Bristol 3–1 – and now on to greater things …
The trail of tears led all the way up the M1 and A1, up the East Coast Main Line and to all points South, East and West from that benighted stadium in a North London industrial estate.
Except there were no tears. There was pride in the way that the team had played in the first half, pride in the resilience they showed in coming back in the last minute of extra time and pride in the fact that a friendly invasion of London had gone off well.
I was sweating in the last few minutes of extra time, thinking “the next goal will win it”. And then Portsmouth scored, after we had lost all of the shape and brio that marked our first half performance. But somehow we scored a second time to send the game to penalties. Which we lost.
Pete Sixsmith or one of the Salut contingent will file a report in due course. For now here’s his substitute’s (aka M Salut) post penalty seven word text:
John McCormick writes: should I be surprised or not that Lee Cattermole is the only survivor of our last trip to Wembley? After all, it was five years – or six managers, not including two caretakers – ago? We fans are much more constant aren’t we, which brings me to Pete Sixsmith, who before he departed County Durham on yet another foray south, left the final chapter from an excellent series that we trust you’ve all enjoyed:
You might be forgiven for having expected Pete Sixsmith to write solely about Sunderland’s trips to Wembley in this series. Then after reading his first post in the series and remembering where he’s from you might have anticipated another mention of Leeds at some point. But Pete is more than this, a true man of many parts. Not only Sunderland home and away, with a sprinkling of Rugby League when he can. Bishop Auckland, Shildon and a host of lower league clubs have been graced by his presence. Which is how he came to be tripping down Wembley Way once more:
This is a special edition of Salut! Sunderland‘s ‘Who are You?’ series because Sunday will be a special day for two sets of fans supporting grand old clubs that have known better times but are both recovering from the horrors of recent seasons.
Our Pompey interviewee Steve Bone, from the Portsmouth Fans Network, freely admits he is going to Wembley because it’s the final and wouldn’t bother with any game earlier in the Checkatrade Trophy competition. That hardly makes him less passionate than the 80,000-odd others who will be there on Sunday. It’s a cup that matters when you reach the final and the EFL and Checkatrade are naturally chuffed at the idea of for once filling the national stadium …