als home






visit those nice people at ready to go

John Kay Scores!

I’m a member of an elite club. It has nothing to do with after hours sexual favours in establishments visited by policemen, doctors and judges. Oh no, it’s something far more wholesome. I’ve seen John Kay score. Before you all start screaming “He never scored in 199 games for us,” read on.

In November 1996, several months after accepting a job in Leeds, I was persuaded by a workmate, a Scarborough fan, to sample the delights of his team. I didn’t take much persuading – with Gary Bennett and Kayzie-Fantayzee in their team I was happy to – and it was one of my better decisions. I was always a massive fan of Benno, and the lure of him and the legendary Kayzie on the same side again, got me all nostalgic. On the way to Scarborough, I enlightened my mate Mark on the exploits, which earned Kayzie cult status on Wearside. He was particularly impressed by the 100m sprint along the line of cars in Exeter.

I then started fantasising. What if tonight was the night? What if he scored? By the time we entered the ground I was feverish. Mark looked worried and, I suspect, secretly regretted asking me to join him on this particular night. I glanced around at the assortment of pre-pubescents and whinging old grunters sharing the “popular” terrace with us. They viewed me with suspicion.

The game kicked off and it was just like old times. Kayzie threw himself at every 50-50 (well, 10-90 then) ball with his customary vigour and traded some banter with the handful of 2,005 souls in the ground who admired his dedication to the cause. Then it happened. Kayzie came forward, played a tidy one-two with Andy Ritchie and, unmarked, teed up a shot.

Time stood still, I looked at Mark – he knew something special was around the corner – and grabbed him. As soon as Kayzie made contact, my lottery was won – left-footed; he curled the ball delightfully into the far corner of the Shrewsbury goal. I’d love to describe his celebration. I’m sure he’s not one for choreographed routines – but if he was, he’d have had enough time over the years to perfect the entire performance of Romeo & Juliet, if he’d wanted to. But I have no idea how he reacted, because I was too busy greeting this moment with pogoing and screaming even more deranged than my usual efforts, which until this moment had been solely reserved for the likes of Rowell, Gates, Gabbiadini & Co. Then I came to my senses – how could I celebrate another team scoring? Answer: this wasn’t a team scoring, it was God.

All over the North East, I sensed red and whites collapsing as news of this historic occurrence was broken to them on the teletext latest score pages. The rest of the game flashed by. Scarborough were knocked out in the next round by Chesterfield, whose amazing run almost included a win over the Boro, who I’d never cheer, ever. I returned home elated but felt guilty I’d seen something fellow Sunderland fans have craved for so long.

I saw Kayzie play a large number of those 199 games for us, and short of the occasional 35-yard dig which posed more of a threat to the permanently-knackered Roker End scoreboard – never saw him look like breaking his duck with us. But every god has his day, and this was Kayzie’s – how I bet he wishes he’d done it at Roker. Mark, suitably impressed by the goal and my ramblings, sponsored Kayzie the following season and, on meeting the great fella after one game, dutifully joined the fan club. Here’s to you Johnny, they should name one of the Stadium of Light stands after you, never mind a tea bar.

Francis Todd Malone

The Youth of Today

If you believe the hype, Sunderland’s youth system is currently one of the best in the country. With Ian Branfoot employed as ‘Official Bloke in Charge of Getting Good Young ‘Uns In’ and Ricky Sdr… Sbr… Sbragl… sod it, that guy from York in the heady position of ‘Official Bloke in Change of Making Good Young ‘Uns Into Even Better Young ‘Uns,’ we are safe in the knowledge that the current crop of youngsters are among the best to come through in recent history. The U17 Sunderland team is holding its own, and not playing football badly either, while the U19 team continues to do well, with plenty of players making the transition to reserve team football seem effortless. Some players have even managed to break through into the first team; stand up Paul Bracewell, sorry, Paul Thirlwell, Chris Lumsdon and Mark Maley who have all been involved in the first team. All this has to be applauded and big slaps on the back of everyone connected with the youths should be dished out. However, one has to ask, how good are these latest batch of youngsters?

Only time will tell. However, this isn’t the first time we’ve been told that we currently have several promising youngsters. This particular yarn has been spun on more occasions than I care to remember. When Denis Smith was at the helm we were constantly told that the club was in good hands, that the amount of young potential bubbling underneath the surface was never in question. And fair enough, the young players did come through and played in the first team. Keiron Brady, David Rush and Brian Atkinson, to name but three. The fans seemed impressed. The best thing was, we were told, that there was still more to come. Busby Babes? Pah! Give me Smith’s Siblings any day of the week. Anyway, the youths made their appearance in the first team and we waited with baited breath for them to graduate into first team regulars. And we waited, and waited… until we went blue in the face and fainted due to lack of oxygen. However, the expected transformation of boys into established first team members failed to materialise.

Instead, youth appearances began to follow a familiar pattern: a first team start, followed by a promising game, followed by a spell of around ten games plucking spelks out of their arses because they spent that much time on the bench. This frustrating pattern was never broken; no matter how impressive the player was in the game he started. If the result wasn’t good, one of the youngsters would inevitably take the blame and cop the drop, even if he’d played a blinder. Obviously, after a while, the players grew fed up of watching experienced professionals turn in inept performances, all the while keeping their places. They grew unsettled and the proof of Sunderland’s supposedly class youth system was discarded. Of the said three, Keiron Brady has just failed in a bid to sue the club; David Rush has ended a spell in pub football and headed for the bright lights of Hartlepool, whilst Brian Atkinson currently plays for Darlo. Depressingly, this is not the end of the false dawns that we have had to put up with.

If we fast-forward a few years, we come to the second batch of promising youngsters to come through the club. When Martin Smith and Craig Russell burst onto the scene, we all expected them to go and win international honours within a few years. Russ particularly was tipped to make a first team place his own after a few seasons learning his trade and serving his football apprenticeship. He became an immediate favourite with the Sunderland fans, partly due to the fact that he used to stand on the Fulwell before he was signed up. He was seen as one of us. Anyway, Russ and Smithy came into the first team picture and everyone expected great things of them. However, these great expectations were never fulfilled in the case of the Jarrow Arrow, whilst Smithy has been a different kettle of fish. He has hardly ever had a decent run in the side, but, whenever he has, he has definitely not let himself down. But after a while of coming in, doing well and getting dropped, he started to pick up little niggling injuries and, before he knew it, found himself out of the first team picture altogether. After his first few seasons of promise, Smithy has never been given the chance to shine. Russ was packed off to Man City and has recently been on loan to Tranmere, while Smithy continues to impress when given the opportunity (i.e. in the Worthless Cup). Anyone starting to see a rather disturbing pattern emerging?

The problem is obvious. The youth system does produce quality players and, more often than not, the players do end up playing for the first team. However, there seems to be some sort of glass ceiling that they hit, once they get to a certain level, they seem unable to improve any further. It has happened in all previous cases: Brady, Rush, Atkinson, Russell and Smith. Surely, it is the coaching staff’s job to nurture talent and transform it into consistent performances, yet as soon as a youngster sets foot in the first team, we seem perplexed as to what to do next. It is happening right now with Mickey Bridges. He exploded onto the first team in a blaze of goals, glory and erm, something else that starts with the letter g, only to find himself ousted from the scene, with little more than a sniff of a recall for the best part of two years.

We can gauge how successful our youth system has been throughout the last ten years by looking in the Premiership. Count how many of Sunderland’s youngsters are playing in the top flight. If you look really, really hard, you might see one. Oh, sorry, that was just me being slightly over optimistic. That’s right. None at all. A big, fat, Paul Butler sized zero. So, by my estimation, this means that in the past ten years, teams such as Cardiff, Carlisle and Chesterfield have had a more successful youth set-up than ourselves. A shoddy fact, considering our clubs ‘proud’ record of producing youngsters. But what can the staff do to rectify this problem? Well, short of getting on the blower to Alex Ferguson and asking him for his secret, I don’t rightly know. Just time and patience when training the youngsters will pay off. With all of the recent improvements in the youth set-up, lets hope we can start bringing through some of these players (usually Sunderland fans) who seem to slip through our net before popping up and scoring goals against us. Sunderland, a waste ground for promising young players? You’d better believe it. I’ve got a good sense of deja vu coming on. Best of luck Smithy and Mickey, I think you’re going to need it.

Chris Wray
back to the S&C archive menu


s&c issue 3

The S&C Archives























All material ©copyright ALS Publications and may not be reused without permission
ALS Publications exists to provide a platform for all Sunderland supporters to voice their opinion
As such, views expressed are those of individual contributors and do not represent those of the editors