Malcolm Dawson writes…..whilst we are waiting for those who could get to The Cottage last night to send us their stuff, we’ve time to fit in a piece from Lars Knutsen who despite the Scandanavian name is as Mackem as they come and now lives part of the time in Cambridge UK and the rest of the time in Pennsylvania USA. Native North Easterners know that we inhabit a different world to those in the Home Counties and the trendy parts of the capital and those of us who have lived away from the region are aware that there is something unique about the area stretching from just south of the Tees to just north of the Tyne. Those who live in The Black Country, The Potteries, The West Riding etc. will also claim a shared culture of their own that distinguishes themselves from other parts of the UK but what we maybe have in common with them, is a feeling that when it comes to the national media we are somehow viewed as less important than the area within sniffing distance of the M25. Lars certainly thinks so as he shares his thoughts on southern bias.
All through my 40+ year Sunderland-supporting career, I have been aware of the London/Lancashire bias in England’s top division. It is not an illusion, it is real.
All thinking Sunderland fans know the feeling when for example, we win at Chelsea and the headlines are all about goings on at Spurs or Manchester United. Or when the otherwise excellent 5Live Monday Night Club does not really go in depth on any win for the Black Cats, but the pundits prefer to talk about Liverpool’s substitute list or even Mike Ashley’s latest loan, and the prospects for a subsequent takeover attempt at Rangers FC..
I do not usually buy the Daily Mail, but when handed one on January 30th on boarding a BA flight, I did actually spend time reading it. An article on page 95 stated that Sunderland AFC is the Premiership club whose fans have to fight sleep the most, as this season they have the longest to wait to see their team on Match of the Day. “Gus Poyet’s team have held the bottom slot on a Saturday night – which usually airs close to or after midnight – seven times this season, once more than goal-shy Aston Villa, and twice more than Crystal Palace or Swansea”. Clearly the BBC producers assume that our solidly northern city is in a different time zone.
Nobody around London seems really to know where Sunderland is, never mind who the players are. Why should any self-respecting sports journalist waste column inches on a club that Villa fans taunt in the terrace chant: “Small team in Scotland, you’re just a small team in Scotland, small team in Scotland”?
The feeling I am sure is mutual, in Tyne & Wear – (and who ever thought of putting those two areas together? Bring back County Durham, I say) – London often feels like it is on another planet. I grew up with the Roker Park, Fulwell End chants of “we hate the Cockneys”, which would be directed at the supporters of teams even to the north of Watford Gap – Luton Town for example. I know the feeling from when as a young lad in East Boldon – I could cycle to the match, leave my bike in my aunt’s back garden on Park Avenue, Roker, and walk to the Fulwell End. But to get to London I had to cross Hadrian’s Wall by train and stray into Newc**tle. It was almost worth taking the train to Durham from Mackem territory to avoid that particular horror…
OK, I exaggerate slightly to make a point, but when I viewed the recently-screened 50 Best FA Cup moments on TV, timed with the third round, that wonderful May 5 1973 victory over Leeds United was inevitably featured. The deeply revered social commentator speaking about that game said “none of even us knew who any of the Sunderland players were”. I might understand that about David Young or Ron Guthrie, but Jimmy Montgomery, Bobby Kerr and Dave Watson must have been well known by then even to the southern-based media.
Did they not watch The Lads win 2-1 over Arsenal in the semi-final? We can still see it now at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3vm8sh48tg, but obviously since the game was in Sheffield, nobody from London registered its existence. Or did they simply prefer to forget that trauma for the Gunners? The quarter-final, second leg 3-1 win over Manchester City: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hg3vvCEqh-U was also an amazing victory but since that match took place in the frozen North, it clearly did not count. The YouTube images of the latter game are in black and white – it obviously being too much trouble to send a colour camera to Roker Park. Even “The Blair Witch Project” in a handheld, “found footage” format looks professional compared to those grainy 1973 shots.
Living in The South in landlocked Hertford from 1978 until 1986, meant that my local First Division team was Spurs and The Lads briefly had a pretty solid record at White Hart Lane. In 1980-81, SAFC drew 0-0, in 81-82 (2-2) 82-83 (1-1) and we won powerfully 2-1 there in the League Cup Final campaign of 84-85. But my local friends and workmates were more likely to be able to actually name a Belgian than to recognise a Sunderland player. That was in the days when “Name a Belgian” was a pretty tough dinner party game, well before the emergence of Simon Mignolet or Jean-Claude Van Damme…and may I just underline how good it is to see those names in the same sentence.
My time in Hertfordshire coincidentally featured the last time Sunderland was top of the league in August 1980, but my inner voice tells me with some conviction that the London press considered that to be a misprint.
This “northern upstarts” image can all be used to our advantage, though. We can be perceived as the Wimbledon-like underdogs, but without the violent, nutty aura of the Crazy Gang. I mentioned the overlooked wins at Chelsea, but I felt like this when seeing the team win on my only two visits to see Sunderland at Highbury. In 1983, after a 2-1 win, in the era of the Chris Turner, Barry Venison, Gordon Chisholm, Ian Atkins and Barry Venison back five, we outscored and out-defended the miserly Arsenal. The best the press could say about us was in the use of the adjective “compact” to describe the team, even though the above list contains two England U-21 Internationals.
Something does resonate in me when people think Newcastle is in a foreign country, given their local language. Some 2012 press reports did confirm something that Sunderland fans have suspected for some time: Newcastle is in Scotland.
The Northern Echo reported “A CONF– — USED holiday company in the South of England is insisting that Newcastle is in Scotland. Bemused Jamie O’Neill e-mailed lowcostholidays.com – based at Gatwick Airport in West Sussex – to point out their geographical error. The 24-year-old, of Cumbernauld, near Glasgow, had been searching for holiday deals on the company’s website for airports north of the border – but the results kept including Newcastle. “I only e-mailed with the subject heading ‘Newcastle isn’t in Scotland’, didn’t expect a reply.”
But he was left astounded when Rajesh Bangera from the firm’s customer services department did reply and insisted: “Newcastle is indeed located in Scotland. It is a city, not a capital. Please feel free to call us for further assistance.” See: http://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/9662598.Expert_holiday_firm_insists_Newcastle_is_in_Scotland/ – that piece is priceless!
A final observation, before I rest my case: my passport says that I was born in Sunderland which is in England. I do wish London based journalists would treat us that way.