Back by popular request – or so we’d like to think – the series we launched midway through last season: tales from the enemy camp. For each game, we will invite a fan of the opposing side, preferably one who is witty, winsome or wise, to preview the game and answer a few questions. Liverpool at home, Saturday evening. Not a bad way to start the new season, one we should be able to enter with real hope of making the next step up – ie away from the little relegation mini-league. A couple of big new signings would certainly give us a boost ahead of a tough opening fixture from which a draw would be satisfactory, a win sublime.
Let us kick off the new series with Robert Ditcham**, a bright lad from the footballing hotbed of Alton, N Hants who now lives and works in the all-round hotbed of the UAE. Why Liverpool? A mixture, he says, of “pity and injustice”, along the way recalling the 1992 FA Cup Final, cheekily delivering a history lesson on Roker Park and predicting, for us, that satisfactory outcome and a goal and red card for the same Sunderland player…..
Sunderland Association Football Club: one of only three English clubs to win the FA Cup as a lower league side.
They did it in 1973, beating the then great Leeds United 1-0, and almost repeated the feat in 1992, but not quite.
To reach the Cup Final was remarkable in itself and the Black Cats dominated opened the scoring for Liverpool and much of the first half. But a moment of brilliance down the right wing from the spindly Steve McManaman and a famous finish from Michael Thomas, villain of 1989, put the Reds firmly in command.
We consolidated the lead when Ian Rush tucked away a loose ball following a surging run from Dean Saunders.
It was a match I remember most because of poor old Graeme Souness on the Liverpool bench. He had recently undergone triple heart bypass surgery and was under strict orders to remain calm.
The irony was that Souey was therefore restricted in his celebration of his only major success as the Liverpool manager. While Ronnie Moran was dancing a celebratory jig following the Thomas goal, Souness showed barely a flicker of emotion.
Mark Wright lifted the trophy in what was the club’s centenary year, but the Sunderland players picked up the winners’ medals, an error that was later rectified on the pitch. Wright used some particularly blue language as he lifted the FA Cup, obviously not bearing in mind who had just handed him the trophy.
But it is not the matches or the players that link the clubs as much as your old stadium Roker Park. The first match at the stadium was in 1898, a friendly against Liverpool that Sunderland won 1-0. The very last match was in May 1997 when Sunderland again played Liverpool. The home side triumphed by the same score, a goal to nil, in a fitting end to the famous stadium’s 99-year history.
Liverpool also have links to the Stadium of Light. The stadium’s highest ever attendance was when Liverpool visited in 2002. A crowd of 48,353 watched the home side win 2-1. Sunderland fans would probably sacrifice entire limbs for the same score on Saturday.
And now for Salut! Sunderland‘s questions:
Liverpool will further close the gap between themselves and the eventual champions. I think it will be mathematically possible for them to win the league with three or four games remaining, but they will eventually fall short. Hard to say about Sunderland with so many new players in the squad and losing Jones to injury. They survived last season and have a better squad this season so should finish around 13th or 14th.
Have you ever seen a SAFC v Liverpool game home or away, and what happened?
I’ve never attended a match between the two.
Have you been to the Stadium of Light (obviously the last question
may answer that). If so what did you make of it? Of Sunderland itself? Or
if not, had you ever been to Roker Park? Same follow up questions.
I’ve never been to Sunderland, but would love to go
What about the signings each club has made?
Liverpool: Very happy with Keane. Iffy about the rest. Would be happy with Barry if the transfer ever gets sorted out.
Sunderland: To be honest, I’ve been shocked at some of the cash Keane has shelled out on some mediocre Spurs players and one or two untested youngsters. And any figure over zero is too much for Diouf. But despite the financial outlay, the squad is stronger and should help the club to consolidate its league status.
Do you hate Everton in the same way Sunderland hate Newcastle? Or are you more grown-up about such things?
In the mid 1980s, one of my sporting heroes was Gary Lineker, along with Nigel Mansell and, bizarrely, Nick Faldo. I remember Lineker playing with a cast on his wrist during the 1986 World Cup and thought that was incredibly brave. He was an Everton player then and wore the shirt with that funny white bib. In the 1980s I was proud that the City of Liverpool’s two biggest teams were sharing the spoils and will always be content for the Toffees to finish one place below Liverpool (although seeing them narrowly avoid relegation made me chuckle). About four or five of my best mates are Toffees and I enjoy the banter with them, apart from the stuff about Everton not getting into the European Cup because of the Heysel ban. My feelings towards the red half of Manchester are obviously less cordial.
Any memories of players and/or management linked to both clubs? Jason McAteer springs to mind, Stephen Wright inexplicably came to me in my dreams, but you may think of others.
I may be wrong, but I don’t think there aren’t many links between the clubs. Our European Cup hero Alan Kennedy comes from the North East and a couple of Liverpool players have moved north. In addition to McAteer, I can think of Phil Babb, Don Hutchison and now Diouf, but I try to forget he ever played for Liverpool. Ex-Red Stephen Wright has just left Sunderland for Coventry. The only notable player I can think of who moved in the opposite direction was Barry Venison.
In what way is Hillsborough lodged in your consciousness?
I was living in Singapore when it happened but saw the news headlines and the terrible scenes. Although I will never share the grief felt by fans from the city and those who lost loved ones, I still crave answers and, ultimately, justice.
Club vs country. Who wins for you?
Club. Liverpool don’t disappoint me as regularly as England do. Plus, my all time favourite Liverpool players, Fowler, Carragher and McManaman, were never given the opportunity they deserved in the England side.
How religiously do you follow the club as someone who lives overseas? Will you find a way of watching the game
For most of my life I’ve lived overseas so I’ve got used to being an expat fan. There’s more football on the box here than back home and it gets pretty heated in the pubs on Saturday afternoons. But I used to live in Liverpool and obviously miss going to Anfield.
Who will win on Saturday? Score?
One one draw. Opening goal from Diouf, who will then get sent off for his wild celebrations. Torres will be controversially left on the bench, but will come on with ten minutes remaining and snatch a late equaliser.
* El-Hadji Diouf, pictured in familiar mode, from the superb photo gallery of “Ndiandame”, to be found at Flickr
** Robert Ditcham (above, camping in Oman) on Robert Ditcham:
I’ve often been accused of being a glory hunter for supporting Liverpool and not coming from the city, but I actually fell for the club over a mixture of pity and injustice.
When I was about six or seven years old, the age when most kids pick their club, I lived in a small town called Alton in north Hampshire.
In terms of nearby football clubs, my options were limited. There was Alton Town, which I played for, and neighbouring Basingstoke, Guildford and Aldershot (where Malcolm Crosby started his career). Not exactly giants of the game.
My father, an Ipswich Town fan, didn’t provide much guidance so my loyalties were left to chance. That happened one night in 1987 when Liverpool were on the box playing Luton Town. It was the second replay (the third match) in their FA Cup third round clash and was being played on a bitterly cold mid winter’s night. The match was supposed to be held at a neutral venue, but Luton refused, forcing Liverpool to travel south just two days after the first replay to play on Luton’s dreadful plastic pitch. The Liverpool players were clearly exhausted and were unaccustomed to the way the ball skidded around on the shocking artificial surfaces of the 1980s (the FA soon banned league sides from using artificial grass). I was outraged at the injustice of it all and threw my support behind The Reds.
Just months after the match, my family moved to Singapore for three years meaning I only saw brief highlights of Liverpool’s cup and league successes in 1988, 89 and 90 on Singaporean television. It wasn’t until May 1992 after I had moved with the family to France (and got connected to Sky Sports) that I first tasted real success as a Liverpool supporter. I watched a Liverpool Legends team play in a five-aside tournament in Dubai last year and got my 1992 home shirt signed by Michael Thomas.