Let’s get this right. You go to games at Roker Park with your mates. You scream yourself hoarse at Wembley to do your bit towards 1-0 against Leeds in 1973. You “always want Sunderland to win”. So, of course, the club you support is beyond doubt. OK, the last one was cheating, because John Irvine* did add “unless they’re playing us”. And Us is Boro. In a short but very sweet Who Are They? offering, the first of two ahead of Saturday’s game at the Riverside, John explains his schizophrenia…
Boro through and through…I am John. Retired, 61 years old.
I can’t say why, and I have considered giving up going on a number of occasions, but somehow the love affair continues.
What makes it difficult sometimes is that I usually go on my own, as most of my friends support other teams.
For a while in the 70s I actually started going to Sunderland with a lot of my friends.
I even managed to go to the 73 Final and shouted till I dropped for Sunderland to win. It was one of the most memorable occasions in my life.
However, Jack Charlton’s Boro team dragged me back to my proper roots, and I have stayed loyal ever since.
I have been a season ticket holder in the West Stand Upper since we moved to the Riverside in 1995. I always want Sunderland to win, as long as they are not playing us or sending us to the relegation places. However, I always want Newcastle to lose even if they are in a different division.
And now I believe you have some questions…….
What did you make of each team’s prospects at the start of the season?
I thought Sunderland would struggle, as I could see them going through the same transition as ourselves in signing expensive players who were designed only to keep them in the Premier League. Roy Keane has always impressed me as a manager, but I think he has struggled to impose his will on established Premier players, and that proved his undoing.
I knew Boro would find this a difficult year, as Gareth Southgate changed the ethos of the Club. We now have a much younger squad, but that leads to variable performances. Financial constraints don’t help, but I do see ‘hungrier’ players and I have high hopes for the future if we can survive this season.
When did you last see Boro v Sunderland?
Obviously I have seen every home game between the two for many years, but the last time I saw Boro at Sunderland was when Noel Whelan scored the winner. The best game I remember between the two was when Brian Orritt scored twice against the mighty Charlie Hurley in a 2-0 win at Ayresome.
Animosity between clubs?
There is not the same passion between Sunderland and Boro as there is between Newcastle and both clubs. Most Boro fans cannot stand Newcastle, as they always think they have a god given right to be top dog.
And the signings they’ve both made?
Sunderland have signed so many players it is hard to recall who is still there and not out on loan. I have always liked Cisse and Kenwyn Jones, but I think Malbranque is a player who can drift out of games, particularly in the second half. Boro signings are generally for the future-Digard is improving, Emnes is unknown as yet, Alves has possibilities but must start delivering now or the crowd will give up on him, Hoyte looks OK but will need to displace the now-fit McMahon. The Chairman is right to hold out from selling Downing on the cheap. From what I have been told, Downing is no problem around the club, being a good trainer and team member, but his form this season is not what it was last, despite the good performance for England. If 15 million was offered, I would take it and use the money to strengthen the squad. Mido could go tomorrow for me. He appears to be a law unto himself wherever he goes, and I don’t see many managers wanting to take him on, certainly not those that have worked with him before.
What about the various links between Boro and SAFC?
Clough stands out as the greatest player to change clubs, but Stan Anderson must rate a close second. Dickie Rooks was a favourite of mine, and so is Arca, though he has struggled since his bad injury last season, I think against Sunderland.
Riverside or SoL? Ayresome or Roker?
Obviously my favourite is the Riverside. I liked Ayresome Park for its simplicity, but for atmosphere Roker Park had it every time. I was in the crowd when Sunderland played Man Utd in the 60s and the gates were broken down. That was some experience in the Roker End, I can tell you. We moved down about 20 steps when the play came to our end. SoL leaves me a bit flat when I visit there-though the noise is generally much greater that the Riverside.
Who, for you, are the Boro greats?
Juninho is the best player I have ever seen in a Boro shirt. My personal favourites have been John Hickton, Stuart Boam, Bernie Slaven, John Hendrie, Colin Cooper and many others who always gave a consistent performance week in and week out.
Will either of us ever be a force in the Premier league? I doubt it very much, unless the whole money thing collapses and we go back to “local” owners like Steve Gibson.
It sometimes seems Boro have more success than Sunderland in attracting well known players to the same pafrt of the country. Why?
Simple. Pay over the odds wages on long contracts to over the hill players and you will get them. How many players have we been able to sell at a profit in recent years. Very few. Times are changing when other big clubs want our best players, such as Tuncay and Downing. Even Adam Johnson was attracting interest from Real Madrid, we are told. Gareth Southgate has done exceptionally well for me. He took over an old McClaren side which was starting to break up, but with players on good contracts, and he has gradually arrived at a younger, fitter squad. Look how long we waited for Mendietta to come off the books! However, the Premier League does not allow for weakness, and young players have to develop quickly or we are in danger of going down.
Club v Country?
Club every time, though England games are important, and you want your best players involved. Too many friendly international games, however, when only the lesser clubs seem to provide players.
Prediction for Saturday?
I would like to think Boro are due a home win, but my head tells me a draw is more likely. Another home defeat would be a disaster! I go 1-1, and hope its 2 0r 3 -0
* John Irvine on John Irvine:
I was a PE teacher in a comprehensive school for 35 years, but am now retired. I am a qualified referee and FA coach and played for several local sides including Hartlepool in my younger days. My most enjoyable football was playing in the North East Over 40s league for Sedgefield and Trimdon, and I did play for a certain Shildon Sunderland Supporters Sunday team run by Peter Sixsmith, though I continued to go to the Boro all the time I was playing there. I still play local cricket at Mainsforth Cricket Club, where I have played for 36 years.