Hilary Fawcett has proclaimed her admiration of Sir Alex Ferguson, whose many achievements include making everyone at Salut! Sunderland feel impossibly young. That doesn’t stop her taking a bit of pleasure, even before we saw off Mancini City, in the ruination of his 70th birthday party …
It started off so well. It was New Year’s Eve and massed choirs sang birthday greetings. Ferguson was “suited and booted”, ready for post-match birthday and Hogmanay celebrations. Steve Kean was his usual tense self, perspiring on the touchline and anticipating, no doubt, that 2011 would end as it had begun for Blackburn Rovers.
Yet within a short period of time, things were turned upside down.
Kean’s largely young and untried team showed a fire and commitment absent from the Manchester United side.
Rooney’s absence (reportedly fined and banished to the stands for an incautious night out, albeit on Boxing Day – ed), had weakened a squad that looked uncharacteristically tactically unprepared. They capitulated without much fight to the hungrier and bolder competition
Hopefully this extraordinary result will auger well for more surprises and turnabouts across the Premiership in the New Year. Brand Manchester United, flag bearer for corporate football, humiliated on this auspicious date by a Blackburn team derided by pundits, and even by its own supporters.
New Year’s Eve itself has become corporate now. It is celebrated in bars and clubs and in expensive fire work displays which light up Tony Blair’s world of generic quayside developments.
There were no such massive municipal events in the 1960s when I was growing up in Sunderland. New Year brought local communities and families together. Everyone’s front door was open. Andy Stewart and Moira Anderson were on the TV, and tall, dark men were corralled into first footing. People rigidly adhered to ancient rituals. You could hear neighbours shouting “Happy New Year” in the street and music drifting in the air, way into the early hours. We sang Auld Lang Syne with family and friends, and looked forward with hope and anticipation. Out with the old, in with the new: I used to love New Year’s Eve, even more than Christmas. It was exciting and unpredictable.
However, not everything can be bought and one of the great joys of football is that you can’t always predict the outcome of a match and a bit of passion and soul can bring low the most corporate and successful of teams.
Sunderland AFC still has community at its heart, and Martin O’Neill has just the kind of dark, Celtic looks that befit an ideal first-footer.
Let’s hope he can bring in the New Year patient and long suffering supporters of SAFC deserve. No instant fixes, no miraculous turnarounds, but a steady, well planned progress throughout 2012- oh and a one nil win against Manchester City would get things off nicely.