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Sideways Promotion

Aren’t we a good team? Aren’t we playing well? Top of the league with a half-fit side and so obviously going to piss on it. The current crop of youngsters are probably the best Sunderland has had and it can only improve once the new Youth Academy appears. As the song says, “The good times they are here and the Premiership is near.” All of which starts you thinking about the team we had last time we were up there. Looking at the current squad, Mickey Gray, Kevin Ball, Andy Melville, Michael Bridges, Sam Aiston, Allan Johnston, John Mullin, Martin Smith, Paul Thirlwell, Craig Russell, Martin Smith, Paul Thirlwell, Craig Russell, Martin Scott, Darren Williams and Niall Quinn were all on the books last time we were in the Premiership. However, only a handful of these players were involved to any great degree. The question is then, how good were the other players from our last Premiership season? And how many of them have gone on to bigger things?

Tony Coton: Now coaching at Man Utd, Tony was at Sunderland in the capacity of Reserve Team Coach. He left in a cloud of controversy after trying to sue the club over his career-ending injury.

Lionel Perez: Currently keeping the bench warm, gathering moss at Skunk Park, Lionel seems destined not to make an impact at top level, or at least not for our nearest and dearest. Rumours abound of an imminent move north of the border.

Gareth Hall: Playing for the First Division giants Swindon Town. Enough said. Was voted worst ever Chelsea player a few seasons back, quite an achievement considering he played in the same team as Tony Cascarino and Dave Beasant. Scored his first goal since the invention of the wheel a few weeks ago.

Richard Ord: Left the lads for QPR earlier this season where he damaged his cruciate ligament in the first hour of his first training session, putting him out of the game for a least a year. A belting centre half, winning ALS player of the year award in our promotion season and big favourite of the fans, everybody was sorry to see him go and wishes him luck sometime soon.

Paul Stewart: After leaving Sunderland, he assisted Stoke to relegation, scoring against us in the process. Bizarrely, he left Stoke to play for obscure non-league team Workington Reds, where 100 fans got together to pay £10 per month to cover his wages (or something). Whether this came off or not, God only knows. Come to think of it, God only cares.

Craig Russell: Sunderland daft and was gutted to be transferred to Manchester City in a swap deal with Nicky Summerbee. Never got going last season and has been transfer listed this season by Joe Royle. Had an unsuccessful loan spell with Tranmere before kick-starting his career with two goals for City in the first round of the FA Cup.

Paul Bracewell: Class player in his time, but in my eyes one of the key reasons behind Sunderland’s relegation in 96/97 and shaky form at the start of the 97/98 season. It seems he was just too old, too negative and too miserable, but being assistant gaffer kept him in the side. Left for Fulham after 4-0 debacle at Reading after which we went on a long unbeaten run.

Steve Agnew: Left Sunderland and went to York City on a free. No hair, no teeth, but a top lad! Not much more you can say really.

Dariusz Kubicki: Ranks amongst Sunderland’s finest and most consistent right backs. Was about to equal George Mulhall’s record for consecutive appearances when he lost his place to… Gareth Hall. Currently sporting a Phil Gray haircut (long effort, circa Buxton era) at Darlo after spells at Wolves and Tranmere.

David Kelly: Sold to Tranmere after never really finding form at Sunderland although being played out of position week in week out didn’t help. Currently banging them in regularly for John Aldridge’s side.

Lee Howey: Sold to Burnley from the Lads, another Sunderland fan whose ability did not match his heart. Currently employed at Northampton under Ian Atkins.

Chris Waddle: Having departed company after just keeping Burnley up, Waddle headed south to Exeter. Recently, however, he has gone to join Paul Stewart at Workington Reds in the North West Trains League. A shame for the lad, I always liked him and didn’t think he deserved to get the flick when we went down.

Looking at this illustrious list, there are one or two excellent players. Kelly has scored goals wherever he’s played up front, Craig Russell always did well for us, as did Dicky Ord and although everybody slags Perez off now, there was a time when he nearly kept us in the Premiership. On top of this, Waddle, Kubicki, Bracewell, Coton and arguably Stewart were all top class at one time, but all were on the way down two years ago, when playing for us.

The point we are trying to make? They all have their stories, but most of the team that so nearly kept us up last time around wouldn’t get a game for the reserves now. Nobody’s gone on to better themselves on the field and, as things stand at the moment, we are going to be a completely different prospect when we go up this season. In short, the current Sunderland squad is infinitely superior to that of two years ago, and that’s even before Reidy gets the platinum visa card out.

The Paul Stones Four

Fans With Typewriters

One of the most common rumours that circulate amongst football fans in the pubs and clubs of the North East is that media coverage of any given club is presented by supporters of the rival team. Take Roger Tames, for instance (no really, take him). The Mags think he’s a Mackem, the Mackems think he’s a Mag and the Smogmonsters just hate him. In reality, Roger Tames has always been a supporter of Arsenal. Bearing this in mind, ALS sent their super scoop snooping, fly on the wall investigative reporters Ivor Notebook and Buster Scandal-Rytopen to find out exactly what the score is.

As Roger Tames works at Tyne Tees TV, we thought we’d start there. We all know that Roger likes it up the Arsenal, but what about his colleagues, Jeff Brown and Ian Payne? Mr Brown is well known for his fondness of all things red and white whilst Ian Payne, despite reports of a passion for Third Division Colchester United, is actually a fan of their colossal neighbours, Ipswich Town (2-0, ha ha). Incidentally, does anybody remember the incident last season when TTTV’s Andrew Friend made a less than complimentary remark towards Sunderland in one of his reports and was subsequently made to wear a Sunderland scarf for his bulletin the following day? Our extensive research can reveal that, as expected, he is indeed Sunderland through and through and his remark was presumably in good humour. It’s alright mate, we understand how frustrating it can be. Over the other side on BBC’s Look North, the key figures are Debbie Waldron and the ex-Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper’s namesake, Steve Sutton. Debbie Waldron was happy enough to say that she’s an Everton fan and usually gets to their games in the North East as well as “A couple at Goddison per season, normally at Easter and Bank Holidays, work commitments allowing.” She did express her disappointment at the toffeemen’s recent poor form (what about their inability to take penalties?). We were all led to believe that Steve Sutton is a Mag until our conversation with Ms. Waldron where we found out that “He would be very upset to hear that.” (Good lad). He is actually a Darlington fan and used to stand in the now extinct ‘Shed’ when he was younger. Commitments to the Beeb mean he no longer attends many matches.

Across the wavelength on Metro FM, the matchday commentary is done by the infamous trio of Guy Mowbray, Tony ‘Gilly’ McGill and Eric Gates. Any who listen to their madcap commentary can tell that Tony “We’re gonna win 100-0” McGill is as Sunderland as they come. Gatesy, as his playing career and screams of delight when Sunderland score suggest, definitely has Sunderland in his blood, with Ipswich coming a close, but not close enough, second. As for Guy Mowbray, well, Gilly tells us he’s a Minster spinster: a York City fan (too easy, mate).

By twisting your knob just a little further, you will hear the enigmatic voices of Sun FM’s Bill Mantle, Steve Mackey and Gary Rowell, not only during the game, but on the post match Red & White Phone In. On what is probably the region’s best talk show, Bill Mantle, though suffering the Ibrox Pox, claims to be a Sunderland fan. In fact, all at the Sun FM sports department, including Lord Rowell and Steve Mackey, are very much Sunderland ‘til they die.

Moving onto previously uncharted territory now as we explore BBC Radio Newcastle. Commentator Andrew Dolby is a paid up member of the Crazy Gang, though quite how someone brought up watching Wimbledon is supposed to appreciate our unique brand of fluid, elegant, patient football I’ll never know. Doug Morris, BBC Radio 5’s North East reporter definitely and unequivocally supports the Lads. No prizes for guessing where Nick Pickering’s loyalties lie.

Switching off these new fangled electric devices and looking at the local papers, you soon realise that this is where the conflict really begins. Let’s start off with our friends at Thomson House. The journos at the Sunday Sun are a funny lot. Jeremy Robinson may be gone, but nobody here has forgotten his true colours. He also likes getting up to Celtic when he can, as does Martin Hardy and for some strange reason Neil Farrington supports Charlton Athletic.

Moving onto the Chronicle, we find more disturbing news. A quick call to Tony Hodgson, and it’s 1-0 to the Sunderland. Tony admitted to being red and white all over (its probably chickenpox). However, after this, it all begins to go slightly pear shaped. Apart from former ALS contributor Tony, John Gibson is a Mag, as are Alan Oliver and Simon Rushworth. Imagine finding yourself, a solitary red and white, reporting for what is almost a Newcastle United fanzine. Nightmare.

I don’t think those happy chappies at the Journal know what to think. New kid on the block Jason Mellor is a terrier (yeah, mate, and you were lucky to get a point in the end) supporting Huddersfield. Ian Murtagh claims to be Celtic, Sunderland and Newcastle, when he comes down off the fence that is, and Tim Rich is a Southend-born Shrimper, although he has a soft spot for Sunderland, whilst Graeme Anderson from the Echo is a monkey-hanging Hartlepool fan.

So there you have it, now you know. Next time one of your mates goes into one, slagging off “That Geordie bastard Rich,” you can turn around and say, “Well actually, Timothy is a Southend fan.” It probably won’t make you any more attractive or any cooler, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of being able to stand up for someone who isn’t afraid to tie their colours to the mast.
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