Some went in fancy dress to see out the season in carefree style. Many –
Colin Randallamong them – wished they’d chosen a disguise of gold tops with “sportingbet” emblazoned across the chest. At least the match result wasn’t as bad as the first headline (2-0) – clunky fingers meet dodgy rail wifi to delay the correction – suggested …
Last game of the season. Two clubs already safe (though our second-half display was to resemble that of a team doomed since February). No obvious history of animosity. A changeable day but with bursts of warm sunshine. A drink and maybe some food before the match?
Maybe. But, if you were a Sunderland supporter in Wolverhampton city centre today, only if you were very lucky.
Pub after pub had bouncers posted on the door to enforce home fan only rules. Even the pubs listed in the Sunderland Echo guide to matchday as more welcoming those visiting their city and wishing to boost its economy a little.
Do not enter
Three men, age aggregate in the region of 180, wandered disconsolately from one hostelry to another. At most, specks of red were just about visible on the collar lines of my jumper and another supporter’s jerkin. Did we have Mackem stamped on our foreheads?
At one pub, the No on the door sat oddly with the sight of a Sunderland banner draped over the back of a chair by the window. “Yeah, they got here before we did,” moaned one of the bouncers. Well-meaning directions to friendly pubs led to more disappointment. Small groups of perfectly well behaved Sunderland fans were everywhere, but almost always on the outside.
A Yates pub, with its grim selection of yellow fizz and keg, proved our salvation. I had by then removed my SAFC home top from beneath the jumper – not a pretty Sunday afternoon spectacle for innocent passers-by – and two of us marched inside without challenge. That speck of red almost did for our friend, a quiet, peaceable businessman who was stopped, told he couldn’t enter and finally shepherded inside after he persuaded the door staff that he was a man of 61 seeking only food and a beer.
Anyone who made straight for the ground was greeted by signs saying no alcohol would be on sale. “Crazy,” said a policeman. “They were quite happy to sell it to Chelsea fans when they came. As for banning you from pubs, we’d rather you were there: then we know where you are and if there is trouble, we can close the place down.”
An amiable Wolves fan we met in the street agreed. “Last game, nothing at stake, people just want some harmless fun.”
Tell that, sir, to the petty-minded folk who impose such draconian rules that make their cities look like places under siege.
What risk exactly did the overwhelmingly good-natured Sunderland fans, many in family groups, pose to public order? I have no idea whether the Wolverhampton licensed trade, the city council or West Midlands police were to blame for the one sour footnote to what should have been a pleasant day out for all (even the Pc and bouncers to whom I spoke seemed not to know). Whoever it was should hang their heads in shame. Wolverhampton Wanderers is historically a mighty club, as the names of the Molineux stands – Billy Wright, Stan Cullis – remind us; the city, sadly, shelters pockets of thinking that haven’t moved on, as football has, from the dark age of hooliganism.
The game? Started brightly, end to end, with us going ahead through Kenwyne Jones and looking dangerous with every forward move but slow and unassured at the back. A quick penalty equaliser, after Hutton’s needless foul on Jarvis, an acrobatic volley from Malbranque that hit a post and and the rest of the half was scrappy.
Then our players decided to end their season early. I’ve seen my daughter’s team play better than Sunderland managed in the second half.
Zenden replaced the out-of-sorts Henderson but proceeded to be more dangerous to us, outside our penalty area, than an inspiration pressing forward. Our passing was atrocious, the team shapeless and the overall levels of quality and commitment back to the bleakest relegation-haunted days of that long winless run. For half an hour we did little more than hoof the ball long out of defence towards Darren Bent.
A spectacularly bad crossfield pass was smartly intercepted by Zubar who tore forward to deliver a great cross, bringing a superb finish from Guedioura, a rare move of class from either side.
There was still time for both Michael Turner and Jack Colback to get themselves sent off for second yellows. Of the four cards, two were perhaps harsh, but they may also have been technically correct. I therefore blame our players rather than the referee, Lee Mason, except to point out that a challenge worse than any of them – a Wolves supporter on my train thought that was also Guedioura – had been punished only by a free kick in the first half.
But Wolves were livelier for most of the 90+ minutes, and also faster thinking. Jody Craddock had an excellent game despite helping Kenwyne Jones’s opener into the net off a post. They deserved their win and Steve Bruce was left to face summer knowing he has mountains still to climb.
* NB: a recent deluge of spam means comments from people who have not been this way and posted before will have to await moderation. Sorry.