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LET IT HAPPEN...
BY EVE SAYERS

“Don’t worry about a thing, because Sunderland AFC, we’re gonna be alright”. A chant we usually sing when things are going tits up and we know fine well things aren’t going to be alright, but for once, though our plans have went slightly tits up, it seems like things are actually going to be alright.

I think we can be forgiven for thinking the world is against us at Sunderland. We’ve experienced season after season of incompetence, relegation battles and managerial merry-go-rounds.

But after ending last season on such a high, there was a sense of optimism at the Stadium of Light. The last two home games against Chelsea and Everton were a glimpse into what Big Sam could do with the club, he could really take us forward and bring the stability that the club so craves. However, the FA had other ideas for Allardyce much to our disappointment. And of course whilst there may be no hard feelings between Allardyce and the club, after all it was his dream job and it is the pinnacle of a man’s career, he did a lot for us. His January transfer window brought three real quality players to Wearside in Kone, Kirchhoff and Khazri and then of course he secured survival at the expense of Newcastle so while there may be feelings of disappointment, there’s certainly no resentment.

Though you can’t blame Sunderland AFC for resenting the FA. Time and time again the national side have ignored Sunderland. Darren Bent scored 25-goals in one season and Fabio Capello attended just one game on Wearside (against Chelsea so you decide who he was there to see) and then decided Bent’s record didn’t warrant him a place in the England set-up for the 2010 World Cup. In fact, after ignoring Bent’s fantastic season he even suggested that Sunderland were to blame for his omission and implied he should switch clubs. And then again last season, Jermain Defore scored 18 goals in a struggling side with poor service, and even played out of position at times, and yet still, he wasn’t good enough. So whilst our players aren’t good enough, they were more than happy enough to poach the our manager.

However for once, things aren’t as actually bad as they initially seemed. Whilst of course we’ve lost a great manager in Sam Allardyce, in my opinion, we’ve gained an even better one in David Moyes. It’s no secret that Ellis Short has tried to tempt Moyes to Sunderland before, he admitted that on the last five occasions of appointing a new manager, Moyes has always been his number one choice.

I won’t have anyone be fooled by Moyes’ “failure” at Old Trafford. He was given an impossible job, to fill Sir Alex Ferguson’s shoes; he was never going to be good enough. Louis Van Gaal had twice the support, twice the time and twice the funds that Moyes did and still failed. I genuinely believe Moyes is a fantastic manager and will do an excellent job at us.

He steadied Everton and turned them into a real top quality Premier League side. Everton struggled to hit the ground running in the Premier League and their final positions were similar to ours, generally around 14-17th place. However, after Moyes was appointed, in his ten-year tenure, there were only two seasons when the Toffees finished outside of the top ten (11th and 17th). He took European football back to Goodison Park and on a very low budget too. It’s because of him, Everton are where they are today. And there’s no reason why can’t stabilise us in a similar, just one season of mid-table mediocracy would do wonders for the club and more than satisfy fans. We’re a top eight club in the making, but we’ve been ‘in the making’ for too long now, no progression after 10 years in the Premier is unforgivable. And with a billionaire owner, a fantastic man base, state of the art training facilities and a huge stadium, it’s a sorry sight to see the club’s recent failings.

And that’s the top and bottom of it, currently we are failing. Since our return to the Premier League Roy Keane has decided he couldn’t take us any further and Ricky S’Bragia was then tasked with keeping us in the Premier League. Following S’Bragia was Steve Bruce who fluked us to tenth place (he’d take great delight in reading that) for the first time in 50 years, and then almost relegated us the following season. To rescue us from Bruce came Martin O’Neill, and then there was Paolo Di Canio who was just given seven games to save our Premier League status, the Italian won two games, saved us and gave Newcastle a long awaited battering too.

Di Canio didn’t last much longer at the Stadium of Light and was swiftly replaced by Gus Poyet. Gus Poyet, for me, is our most successful manager since our return to the Premier League; he kept us up, took us to Wembley and extended that beautiful sweet sweet run over Newcastle. Though things didn’t take long to sour under Poyet and Advocaat was then the man to keep Sunderland up, of course the Dutchman did just that and made it five-in-a-row against Newcastle. Advocaat didn’t take long to decide his Sunderland U-turn was the wrong decision and we gave Allardyce the job of Premier League survival. It took him until the second last game to do just that and then the fairy-tale was brought to a premature end. But is this all a club of Sunderland’s size have to celebrate? Poyet’s Wembley trip aside, a derby win and Premier League survival just aren’t good enough and things need to change.

Moyes knows that he can’t have a relegation battle on his hands, he knows what’s needed of him and what’s more, I know he can do it. Moyes can steady the ship at the Stadium of Light, he’s a long-term man and that is magnified by the four year contract given to him. He has three weeks to bring some new faces in before the season starts and will undoubtedly start with turning loanees Yann M’Vila and DeAndre Yedlin into permanent deals. The 53-year-old will be keen to bounce back from his Real Sociedad ordeal and even keener to show the world he is still capable of doing a job in the Premier League.

Like the late great Bob Stokoe said: “I didn’t bring the magic, it was always here. I just came back to find it”. Moyes needs to find the magic, he needs to bring back the spark at the Stadium of Light and give Sunderland fans a reason to be in love with football again.

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IT’S MOYES’S BOYS, NOT MOYES’ BOYS
BY SOBS

First things first – it’s Moyes’s boys, not Moyes’ boys. After the FA (Fannying About) eventually ended the saga of Sam’s appointment, which had dragged on longer than an Eastenders whodunit, Sunderland moved swiftly to appoint David Moyes. Ellis Short revealed that Moyes had been a target before, and if you’re surprised at his arrival, you really need to get out more. Moyesy, to give him his full working title, beat off a surprise (shock, to be honest) arrival as favourite with the bookies by Steve Bruce. To be honest, if he had come back I’d recommend he be sectioned.

Anyway, we’ve got the man who was the most obvious choice to most folks, and he was the most obvious because he fits the bill – and his “in box” must surely be filled with tasks marked “carry on what Sam started.” Hopefully there will be transfers in the pipeline that he can push through, and a few favours he can call in around the domestic and European football world. He brings with him a decade of top flight experience with Everton, and while he didn’t win anything there, he had a few cup runs and trips over the Channel. I suspect a similar decade at on Wearside would be something we’d be reasonably happy with, but his remit should be to improve on his previous achievements. Those achievements include a year at Old Trafford, where he proved he has a skin thick enough to repel armour-piercing bullets, and where he was made the fall guy for what was an inevitable drop in form when Ferguson left. Spain? Who knows, but it didn’t do much harm to his win %, which is somewhere around 50% - I’d take that for starters.

I think the fact that he’s a steady sort of character makes him a good choice – we simply can’t afford to take another risk on a bit of a wild card like Di Canio or Poyet, and certainly not a short-term option like Advocaat. I see him taking the platform which Sam has built, leaving us with 75% of a decent team, and getting it up to 100% without having to lay new foundations. What this means for the back-room staff I don’t know. Presumably Sam will take some to England, so nobody can be regarded as a permanent fixture behind the scenes apart from kit-man Cookie. God forbid I ever need to build a nuclear shelter, but if I do I’ll build it out of John Cooke, ‘cos he survives everything. Perhaps Moyes will be the man who can make Rodwell tick again, as he’s obviously known the lad since he started playing – that’d be a bonus. I can’t see him radically changing the shape or style that Sam had eventually developed, so the transition from the last regime to the new one shouldn’t be that bumpy a ride.

I’ve seen that many management changes that it gets harder and harder to switch enthusiasm to each new one, especially when the last one actually left for a good reason rather than being sacked or resigning. We get used to it, though, and we should back the fella. He’s been around long enough to know how to play his footballing hand, so to speak, and I look forward to seeing what he brings to SAFC.

Oh, and he’s got a stare that I wouldn’t fancy being on the wrong end of. Good luck, Mr Moyes.

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MOYES CONFIRMED
TIME TO MOVE ON...

Sunderland AFC have confirmed the appointment of David Moyes, who has signed a four-year deal at the Stadium of Light. Chairman Ellis Short said: “We are absolutely delighted to welcome David Moyes to Sunderland, who was by far and away our first choice. He is a man whose football pedigree speaks for itself and is someone I have long admired. I have spoken with him on many occasions and I have always been hugely impressed. He was my number one managerial target for the last five appointments, but his desire to honour existing contracts meant we were not able to bring him to Sunderland previously. To be able to finally welcome him as our manager is fantastic news for the club. The fact that David has committed to a four-year deal is a clear demonstration of his belief in what he can achieve here. It is our aim to become a better, stronger and more stable football club and with a manager of David’s calibre and experience at the helm, we have a fantastic opportunity to begin looking upwards, rather than downwards every season”.   

David Moyes said: “I am delighted to have joined Sunderland. I am relishing the challenge and excited by the opportunity. I have taken over a big British club, with a great support and I’m looking forward to working in the Premier League again.  I look forward to continuing the good work done by Sam”.

In other news, Sam Allardyce has been chatting about his new job! “I am extremely honoured to be appointed England manager especially as it is no secret that this is the role I have always wanted,” he said. “For me, it is absolutely the best job in English football. I will do everything I can to help England do well and give our nation the success our fans deserve. Above all, we have to make the people and the whole country proud. While my main focus will be on the senior team and getting positive results, I want to add my influence to the great work being done across the development teams at St George’s Park – a facility I have used with my previous clubs. I know we have talented, committed players and it is time for us to deliver.”

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SEE YA SAM...
BY FRANCIS TODD MALONE

Cheers Sam. I'm typing this soon after his departure was confirmed and the club have yet to thank him for his considerable efforts with us. Hopefully that changes as we usually do these things well and aren't usually found lacking in class at such times. I'd personally be hugely disappointed if we didn't acknowledge his considerable efforts keeping us where we deserve to be.

So, who will his replacement be? Hopefully not Steve Bruce (Ellis, if you need a reminder of why not, just think back to that Wigan game). But that's a rant for another day. For now, in a desperate attempt to delay starting on the piss for a bit and subsequently wrecking the later stages of Mrs Todd Malone's Friday night (her Saturday night is already in tatters, thanks to the Rotherham game) here's what faces our next gaffer - whoever he is.

GET ALL THE PLAYERS ONSIDE.
Allardyce got the first team squad believing we could survive and training well straight away. Dick Advocaat didn't think there was enough quality in our squad to survive - and his successor used those simple words to provide the players with the motivation they needed. Our new man will know money is not always what gets players going and will need to lift their mood less than three weeks before the proper stuff starts.

GET THE FANS ONSIDE
The choice won't be universally popular - but whoever the new man is, he'll know that getting the majority of us on board is almost as important as getting his players behind him. Like Sam, David Moyes comes with the personal recommendation of Sir Alex Ferguson, that's a start. Someone with a recommendation like that, who is respected in the game and doesn't have a chip on the shoulder concerning moving to this part of the country - yeah, that would be good. Plumping for someone whose first transfer would be his son and who talks regularly about "getting wor backsides kicked" - that really wouldn't.  

NAIL DOWN THE TRANSFER BUDGET
The new man should hopefully have a few quid to spend - and know where he needs to spend it. Let's face it, one loss in our last 11 games proves we don't need major surgery, but the old adage about going backwards in the Premier League if you stand still is not far off the mark. There are areas where we are weak...

WE'RE NOT ALL RIGHT
Like fellow right-back Patrice Carteron, Billy Jones may always have a place in our hearts for popping one in against the Mags - but he's limited. We had high hopes for Adam Matthews but he's nowhere near. I keep crapping on about Lille's Sebastien Corchia and he wouldn't break the bank - but I don't expect the new man to listen to me. He'll know there are other options available. Getting one of them in, sharpish, has to be a priority. 

BRING YANN M'VILA BACK.
The Frenchman was one of our best performers last season, certainly the most consistent. In an ideal world it wouldn't take much to get him back - but no doubt his camp will be making sure clubs all over Europe are aware just how well he did with us last season. Returning to Rubin Kazan isn't likely to be the midfielder's preferred option and if our new manager isn't doing all he can to convince M'Vila his future is with us, one or two of the senior players should be giving him a nudge.

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SAM DEPATURE IS MADE OFFICIAL...
thanks for keeping us up.

Sam Allardyce has officially left Sunderland to take the England job.

SAFC confirmed Sam's departure with the following statement:

Sunderland AFC confirms the departure of Sam Allardyce, who takes up the position of England manager with immediate effect. The focus of everyone at Sunderland AFC now is on moving forward quickly and decisively, with the appointment of the club’s new manager to be confirmed at the earliest opportunity.

No mention of well wishes or good luck from Sunderland, suggesting that there is some bitterness there. Oh well. Best start looking for a replacement, eh?

Meanwhile, Jermain Defoe is trying to stay focused on this weekend's trip to Rotherham United despite all the unrest. “Hartlepool was a good work out for the boys,” said Defoe. “The first game is always about blowing away the cobwebs and trying to get some match fitness, but the lads already looked fit and we’ve worked really hard, especially in Austria, and I thought that was evident. Our energy, compared to how we looked in our first pre-season game last year, was on another level, and when we got the opportunities to show our quality in and around the box we did that. There is no better feeling than seeing the ball hit the back of the net – it doesn’t matter whether it is in the Premier League or a pre-season friendly – so it was nice to score a couple of goals. I want to score in every game I play because that is the kind of form I want to take into the season. Confidence is a big part of football and if you can have a good pre-season it helps, and the same can be said about winning games so we have to do that again when we face Rotherham on Saturday. A winning mentality and winning momentum is key heading into the first game of the season.”

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Big Sam, David Moyes and the FA
By Josh Carr

I’m not going to lie, I’m devastated that Big Sam has taken his dream job as England manager and left us some way behind our rivals in the Premier League in terms of signings. How selfish eh?

Allardyce did a great job at Sunderland. He improved our defence massively, he made some fantastic signings with little money, he got the fans back on side and more importantly he kept us in the Premier League. For these reasons, many of us were quite looking forward to this season but, such is life as a lads fan, the FA came along to ruin it.

This sort of thing happening just shows what little luck we get as a club and thanks to some quite atrocious timing from the FA, we now look to be manager-less with just a few weeks to the start of the Premier League season.

Not coming out to applaud the fans that turned up to the pre-season friendly against Hartlepool left a bit of a sour taste in the mouth, but if it wasn’t for Big Sam then we wouldn’t have the opportunity of Premier League football next season. So, where do we go now?

Well it looks like David Moyes is the favourite to take the hot seat at the Stadium of Light and I personally think this would be a reasonable appointment, especially with the lack of managers currently available.

Although it didn’t quite work out for Moyes at Manchester United and Real Sociedad, you only have to think back three years to the end of his extremely successful 11-year stint with Everton. It is because of this that I think he could be the perfect man to stabilise the club.

This “long term plan” we seem to hear about every time we appoint a new manager could well finally be put in place now. Having spent 11 years at Everton, it is clear to see that he is a loyal manager and considering he was so successful on a limited budget there, he may stick out to arguably the tightest chairman in the Premier League, Ellis Short.

Having said that, it would be nice to sign somebody this transfer window as, may I remind you, our current first choice right back is Billy Jones. However, it is through no fault of the club that we have been left in this mess, it is entirely the FA’s fault.

Let’s just hope that, if it is Moyes, he signs the right players and we don’t end up with the likes of a 36-year-old Tim Cahill or another free agent in Leon Osman. To add, Ellis Short has to trust the new manager with a bit more money, as we seem to keep missing out on top players due to him not putting his hand in his pocket.

It really is a shame that Allardyce is leaving, but I suppose you can’t deny someone of their dream job. I wish him all the best in his endeavours and hopefully he doesn’t come out of the England job with a tarnished reputation like many have done before him.

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Dear Sam...
Mackem Stepping Stone

Dear Sam

When you got the job at Sunderland I was absolutely delighted. When you struggled with the team that you had been left with I was patient, I kept the faith. When it came good in the end I felt vindicated that you not only proved a lot of people wrong, but that you also seemed to embrace our club. West Ham drove you out after a good job well done, and the Scum, well no further comment needed. I read your autobiography and it concludes with you having turned us down. I read how your Mrs pointed out that the vast majority of Mackems actually wanted you as their manager, rather unique since Bolton, and that this made the difference to join us.

I accept that you have always wanted the England job and that it's reportedly in your contract, which frankly when you left West Ham was a million miles away. I get all of that, however it literally made my blood boil to hear you moan about the lack of signings, and then the pictures of you at Hartlepool looking like you had won the lottery. Spare a fucking thought for the Club you leave behind back in the shite that we were when you joined us with three weeks to the new season and no signings. At least you didn't spend our money then fuck off like Dick last year.

Secondly the FA are wankers. They announce that Woy will not get a new contact if England (I nearly wrote we but fuck them) don't make the semi's, and then when they cock up against Iceland he's gone. To be fair Iceland was a slight surprise but France in the next round wouldn't have been, and the clueless bastards decide that 5 weeks before the Premier league kicks off they will start a round of interviews. It took them 3 weeks to interview You and Bruce ( I mean for fucks sake couldn't they pick someone better than Bruce to make the numbers up) and even then as I write they still haven't actually announced anything

Rant over unless You come out with a master class leaving press release grovelling for your handling of the situation- then both you and England can fuck off and as I'm quarter Irish its Eire from now on.

It's the hope that hurts and I really thought that you were the one

Mackem Stepping Stone

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Sobs On Darlo & Pool...
Pre Season Criac

I suppose that the results of the two friendlies contested by SAFC over the last couple of days are the last thing (well not quite, but you get my drift) the fans want to read about, but I’m going to waffle on about them anyway.

First and foremost, though but, there’s The Sam Situation. As of now (07:36 on Thursday July 21st) he’s still our gaffer. The FA, in all its wisdom and blazers (and bigwigs of other Premier League Clubs) has let enough information into the public domain to make Sam’s appointment as England head honcho all but official. Why, then, does one of them press a button on their steam-driven laptop and send out an announcement that confirms it? The longer they tart about, the less time we have to deal with the consequences. Had the man in the frame been manager at, let’s say, Man Utd, it would have been done and dusted in SAS fashion – in, do the job, out – but because it’s a little provincial (in footballing terms) club, they feel no need for expediency. The whole process could have been done and dusted at least a week ago – three days for interviews, two days for weighing up the quality of the interviewees’ PowerPoint presentations, two minutes to write the necessary email to the world. Bang, job done. Instead, as well as the default Sunderland position of looking for a new manager again, we’ve been wondering if he would go, when he would go, and who would come in if he did. It’s bad enough having your legs kicked from under you, but to have that now familiar process drag on via a series of little niggles over the course of the last fortnight is a new one on even us. Let’s face it, our last manager that wasn’t sacked or walk away in the huff was Jimmy Adamson – off to bigger and better things at Leeds.

There should be some pride in the fact that our manager was considered to have done a good enough job to manage England, but to listen to some of the guff spouted in the media, and by Joe Public in radio phone-ins, really makes my blood boil. England will turn into a long-ball, defensive, dull side, because that’s all Sam knows. Did these people, who are well paid to write and broadcast about football, not take the opportunity to either watch us in the last six months? Catch-up TV is available, and even I can get it to work. Do some research, you lazy buggers, and actually earn your wages.

But – let’s talk about football, baby, and Darlo. This wasn’t a very well-publicised affair, meaning that I (who, admittedly, had been concentrating on other matters SAFC – apparently, the manager is up for the England job) didn’t decide to go until a few hours before the game. It’s an easy train ride then a sweaty stroll to the Quakers’ new/old home, and the ticket was no problem. Mind some folks didn’t even pay for them, including someone who looked remarkably like Gordon Armstrong and answered to ‘Gordon’ who confirmed he was waiting for his freebie as he loitered at the turnstile. The 1600 or so crowd looked a bit lost, occupying only one side of the George Reynolds White Elephant Stadium, now shared with Mowden rugby club.

Andy Welsh sent out a young side (well, it was the U21s) of Stryjek, Matthews, Casey, Ledger, Brady, Bridcutt, Gomez, Wright, Mavrias, Buckley, and Trialist. Honest, Trialist, but his real name is Harvey.

After apparently putting in a poor show against some Championship side at the weekend, Darlo were in no mood to let us play, and allowed us no space. Even I’d worked that out by the time the home side got a corner in the second minute, and Burgess got to the ball first to head home. Sam, watching from the fancy boxes, can’t have been impressed with the defending. Twenty minutes later, Cartman scored the second with a low shot. We missed a few decent chances, with Gomez and Mavrias twice each failing to work the keeper. There was a break for refreshments, as it was as hot as it’s been at a match in this country since that League Cup tie at Forest a decade ago. Our passing was typical U21 stuff – pass, control, pass, move – but Darlo didn’t allow us space to break forward. I was asked to ‘shush’ by the lady sat in front for shouting Haway Sunderland – perhaps she feared attack from the Darlo Ultras – which was a first for me.

0-2 at the break, and about what we deserved. The second half started with the usual raft of substitutions, and we started with Talbot, Storey, Casey, Brady, Wright, Bridcutt, Embleton, Nelson, Gomez, Lawson, Bone. Much the same as the first half in term of penetration, but a bit more life about the play from us. Unfortunately, Darlo upped their defensive game and kept us at bay, and Embelton’s curled effort just wide was the pick of our chances. We brought on Pybus for Bridcutt and Molyneux for Gomez, but still couldn’t find a way through. If we’d only taken a couple of the chances in the first half, when we had people with European experience on the field….

A 0-2 defeat, and we didn’t find out anything new apart from the fact that Gomez is still ours. A chance to turn things around and take our minds off the Sam Situation was only 24 hours away…..

Groundhog day from Bishop International Station, but this time me and our Ian stayed aboard at Darlo, had a quick half in Thornaby (it’s only 100 yards from the station and we had half an hour to kill) alongside some of Teesside’s less sober people, then got our train to Pools. The conversation between two blokes behind us was both worrying and hilarious. The sixty-year-old in the Rangers top swearing temporary allegiance to Red Imps of Gibraltar, and various other things I couldn’t print for fear of being accused of promoting both racial and religious abuse, then declared his love for Pools and dislike of us, before saying that he was going to wear his Borro (that’s how it’s pronounced, apparently) shert (likewise) and take the mickey out of the Mags. Mind, he also claimed to have never been sober for forty years before getting off the train and hurling abuse at the Polis. Clever lad, I don’t think he quite made Spoons. We managed the Rat Race, and met up with an old work colleague and top Poolie Alan Willis, and spent an enjoyable pint finding out who else had jumped ship since I left. He had, and he showed us the quickest way to our turnstiles in plenty of time to find a nice spot to stand.

Not quite as hot as Darlo, and with the early threat of thunder accompanied by a few drops of rain, we spied Sam in the dugout as the team ran out. Numbered 1 to 11, with no names on the shirts, floodlight pylons, standing on the terraces – ah, the good old days. A crowd of 6,021 included almost 4,000 visitors – alreet, marra?
Manonne
Jones Kaboul Kone PVA
Catts
Rodwell Lens Khazri
Borini Defoe

Kicking left to right, it was quickly apparent that we were there “for real” and this was to be no tappy-lappy training exercise. With no sign of Kirchoff, Catts sat deep, Lens and Rodwell just ahead of him, and Khazri out on the left. Both fullbacks were conspicuous by their upfield positioning, and Defoe looked as sharp as my best suit. Jones clipped a lovely ball over the top to Defoe, who held of his much larger marker and found his feet before popping it past Trevor Carson. That was basically it for Pools, but they played their part in an entertaining first half as Defoe went close again and Borini hit the bar with an effort from a ridiculous angle. A really sweet passing move ended and Defoe’s feet, and his thunderbolt came back off the post. Not to worry, it went straight to Khazri who hit it even harder and beat Carson all ends up. Soon after that, Defoe got to the ball first as it flew along the edge of the box, and scooped a delightful shot over the defence and keeper for three.

Nice to watch (Sam haters, please take note) football, and Kone almost put the icing on the first half cake with a header (of the thunderous variety, natch) from a corner that thumped off the bar. With Kaboul winning aerial duels by taking the ball off his opponent’s head with his chest and Kone looking – well, just massive – Pools were no real theat.

3-0 and half time, game over, really. It being a friendly, Sam replaced the whole team before chatting with a few of the first half eleven and making a hasty exit before the media scrum descended.
Pickford
J Robson Ledger Beadling T Robson
E Robson Honeyman Gooch N’Zogbia
Greenwood Watmore

With the Robson clan making it sound like a proper North East football team, there was a chance to see our up and coming youngsers – and Charles N’Zogbia. To the Mags who’ve been having a go, saying we wanted Sakho but got N’Zogbia I say – you went for Rafa and got relegated. Nuff said.

Numbered 12-22, but with Pickford confusing matters by wearing 13 – he’s obviously not superstitious – we set off at a decent pace, but the game as a contest was already over.

To be honest, the second half was nowhere near as good as the first, but we saw a few chances missed, and couple of good saves from Pickford, and – when a shot came back off the post into his arms – possibly the pass of the day to set Watmore away down the right. His distribution is as good as having another midfielder, and something that our Ian reckons opponents just can’t defend against without leaving extra men back when they have a corner.

While there might not have been any more goals, and Pools made lots of changes as well, it was good to see the young’uns show they know how to play together – and entertaining to see how they coped with Paynter, a centre-forward in the Bob Newton mould who would normally eat Premiership kids for breakfast. Having said that, apart from a couple of slightly naughty tackles from Pools, the game was played in a great spirit, and there were genuine handshakes all round at the end. It was also nice to see the first team talking to their replacements and obviously making positive comments to them as all the players came over to salute the fans.

All in all a nice day out...

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He's gone...
ALLARDYCE new england gaffer

Sam Allardyce is the new England manager, oh well, thanks for keeping us up I guess. We now need to move on and get ready for the season. It's never dull, is it?

It seems that Sunderland AFC will announce David Moyes as their new manager as soon as they have agreed compensation with the FA for stealing Sam Allardyce.

Meanwhile, new Chelsea boss Antonio Conte congratulated Big Sam on his new post. as England manager “I know him,” said Conte. “I visited him when he was training West Ham two years ago. I am happy for him if he becomes the coach. I can say this experience is fantastic because you are the coach of your country. It’s a great responsibility, you feel great pressure but it’s fantastic because you know you represent your country and your colours. I am happy for him.”

Former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson has also backed the appointment of Sam Allardyce. "I think it is good. Sam's been in English football for a long time. He's always been doing very well," he said. "If the FA want an Englishman he is one of several good names. I wish him the best of luck. I know he is very organised. He knows all the players and he wants the job."

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WHY SHOULD SUNDERLAND BE PUNISHED FOR THE FA’S FAILINGS?
BY CHRIS THOMPSON

Sam Allardyce is the new England manager, and while this may be great news for the English Football Association, it is terrible news for Sunderland AFC, whose fans looked to Big Sam to guide them through one of the darkest periods in the club’s history.

Through no fault of its own, Sunderland AFC, the survivalist North East club, now finds itself without a man, or a plan, just a month before the new Premier League season. As an extremely frustrated and aggrieved Sunderland fan, it raises the following questions — why should Sunderland fall victim to the FA’s continued failings and displays of incompetence? How is that our problem? How is this fair?

In selecting Sam Allardyce as the new England manager, the Football Association has finally chosen a candidate with the type of strength in character that will command a pool of relative strangers on the rare occasions that they all meet up and try to qualify for, and then win, a major international football tournament. He’s a big man with a big personality, he’s English, and nobody can dispute his experience in managing and coaching English players, even if it hasn’t come at Man Utd or Liverpool.

Sam is a grafter, and doesn’t turn his nose up at managing the likes of West Ham or Sunderland, teams that need a lot of work but don’t have carte blanche for recruiting players. That is Sam’s level, and he embraces it. Allardyce isn’t fancy and doesn’t claim to be, but his much-criticised style requires players to dig deep, show their teeth, and grind the result when they really need it. Portugal proved that this is an effective way to win an international tournament, particularly if your squad lacks the quality that others — teams like Germany, France, Italy — possess in abundance.

Given the restricted amount of time that an international squad gets to train, this result-focused approach is exactly what England needs — playing to strengths, papering over weaknesses, and playing to win, not to entertain. The transformation he masterminded at Sunderland last season is a great example of this.

Allardyce joined Sunderland in October 2015, picking up the slack of former manager, Dick Advocaat, whose only gain on Wearside was arguably a free bouquet of flowers for his wife. His start at the club was not great, however, with big Sam’s Sunderland suffering five straight defeats in December, leaving them with only 12 points from 19 games. That’s relegation form. The new manager was not without his critics, and he was unable to grind results given the talent at his disposal.

Sam Allardyce was tasked with keeping us in the league. A freakishly solid January transfer window was the blessing that Sunderland needed, and the introduction of Ivorian defender Lamine Kone, a true barbarian of a man, allowed Sam to instil one of his key football philosophies — if you don’t concede, you can’t lose. Dull draws ensued, we all moaned, but those extra points were the ones that would eventually keep us in the league. Points that other managers simply wouldn’t have been able to grind out. This is all in hindsight, of course.

Sam’s other signings, tricky winger Wahbi Khazri, and cultured midfielder Jan Kirchhoff, were equally as successful. Kirchhoff’s midfield displays were so impressive that they even eclipsed those of Yann M’Vila, whose form throughout the season had been the only shining light in an otherwise flat Sunderland midfield. Suddenly, Sunderland had a solid defence, a creative, disciplined midfield, and a striker in Jermain Defoe whose inclusion all but guaranteed chance conversion.

It wasn’t until April, six months after he took the job, that Sunderland fans started to see what an Allardyce side was really supposed to look like. Having a level of understanding and stability in the squad allowed players to showcase their individual brilliance, and our match winners started to re-emerge, no longer fearful of costing us points or losing their place. When we won, we did so comprehensively. When we lost, we did so as a team, eager to improve. Somehow, despite all the madness, negativity, and rotten luck, Sam had taken the fear out of his Sunderland side. It was this absence of fear that allowed Sunderland to grind results and beat the likes of Norwich, Chelsea, and Everton to stay in the league, despite the odds being firmly stacked against them from the start.

After defeating Everton in the penultimate game of the season, securing Premier League survival in the process, Allardyce summed up Sunderland’s campaign perfectly: “It’s been a testing time on and off the field. There have been more difficulties, more challenges than I’ve faced before, but we’ve come through it.” Indeed, like Andy Dufresne from The Shawshank Redemption, Allardyce crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side. He got under the fans’ skin. His infectious glow and straight-talking manner guided us through a valley of darkness, a period of shame. Initially some weren’t sold on him, but they slowly but surely got behind him, and it paid off. He was exactly what we needed. It was a job performance so impressive, and so well-calculated, that the Football Association decided that Sam Allardyce was too good for Sunderland.

For a club like Sunderland, success can sometimes come at a cost. In-form players will draw interest from other clubs, as will in-form managers. That is our level, and we accept that. If Chelsea, for example, had made an approach for Allardyce, fans may have felt aggrieved by it, but ultimately accepted that Premier league football is a competitive animal, and these things happen. However, when the Football Association itself makes an approach for your manager, the very governing body that exists to regulate and protect a club like Sunderland, fans have every right to feel confused, betrayed, and infuriated by it.

What better reward for Sunderland, who felt they had finally found stability and direction in a league so obviously tailored for bigger, richer clubs, than having their manager poached? What better way to encourage the Premier League to maintain its quasi-status as ‘the greatest league in the world’ than to disrupt one of its stalwart clubs at the height of pre-season? What better incentive for players to come to Sunderland, than to demonstrate that even the English Football Association doesn’t rate them. Doesn’t respect a team in their own Premier League. Doesn’t care. Doesn’t consider Sunderland worthy of consideration.

Sunderland AFC is being punished for the continued failings and incompetence of the FA, which, despite the untouchably high profile of English football on the world stage, cannot appoint an England manager talented, knowledgeable, or ballsy enough to inspire performances that even rival the likes of Northern Ireland, Wales, and Iceland. I’m embarrassed for the FA, I truly am. English football continues to thrive in spite of the FA’s meddling, as without the ruthless business minds of the Premier League as a corporate entity, we’d be lucky to rival our Scottish neighbours.

Sunderland fans can live with decades of our players not being selected to represent England, despite their superior form to some of those who are. But having our manager poached by a Football Association that makes no effort to even appear to represent our best interests as a football club, is enough to leave us questioning why we have to bend over to appease them. Why is their problem suddenly our problem, when our problems are never theirs?

Sunderland fans can be grateful for Sam Allardyce’s contribution to their cause, and wish him well in his new job, but have every right to feel aggrieved at the Football Association for their lackadaisical, ill-timed, and disrespectful conduct that has undermined Sunderland as both a club and a fan base. Sunderland are being punished for the repeated failures of the FA, and that, simply, is not fair.

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BACK TO SQUARE ONE
BY EVE SAYERS

So after the high we all felt at the end of the season and the optimism we all had for the season ahead, here we are again. Back to square one, shit creek, the most familiar territory for a Sunderland fan.

The past few years have been plagued with managerial failings, off-the-field scandals and players who just aren’t up to standard. But Big Sam was the one to change all that, he was our man, a perfect fit, he was the one who was going to stop the rot.

His January transfer window and his ability to steer us away from relegation at the death was just a small glimpse into what Allardyce could have done here. A summer transfer window and a full season could bring us that one season of mid-table mediocracy that would give us the stability that we so crave.

But no, a tactically inept Roy Hodgson was sacked by the FA and England needed a new manager. All fingers pointed to Big Sam of course, it’s no secret that managing England is his dream job; he speaks about it a lot in his book. He was clearly hurt when he was overlooked for the job 10 years ago in favour of Steve McClaren, but now he’s prepared to go back. You can’t blame him, it’s the pinnacle of a man’s career and he deserves a shot. He doesn’t get the credit he deserves, he’s an excellent manager and there are no Premier League relegations that tarnish his CV, a big ask in the current climate and considering the teams he's managed.

However, for me, there is no taking England forward. Not for a good few years, unless they get a new team. The national side is lightyears behind other national teams. There are no real quality standout players that can be England’s driving force, no Bale of Wales or Ronaldo of Portugal. Maybe there’s a similar rot in the England set-up that there is at Sunderland, something that nobody can put their finger on but something that everyone knows is there.

I would like to think that we got under Big Sam’s skin, the way in which we sang his name whilst we were 6-2 down at Everton, and the way in which we sang it when we were 3-0 up against them in our last home game. We’d support him no matter what, he’d be backed to the hilt. At England he won’t get the patience or the support we afforded him. He said the atmosphere the fans created during the Chelsea game will stay with him for the rest of his life, so we clearly meant something to him but this situation is just so typical of Sunderland.

I’m trying to think of his three best games and his three worst games. I can think of his three best games easy but I’m struggling to think of his three worst games, maybe it’s a case of nostalgia but there are no Southampton aways or Aston Villa at home showings that we had under Poyet, or Palace under Advocaat, no run of games in which we thought ‘what the hell is this guy doing?’.

For the score line, Everton away has to be one of his worst. After going 2-0 down and being able to draw level, we should have been able to walk away from that game from something but we didn’t. We fell apart in the second half and it was a poor showing.

Manchester City away on Boxing Day was another horror showing. December was without a doubt Allardyce’s worst month on Wearside, we failed to register a single point. We were 3-0 down at the Etihad in the opening 25 minutes and to be fair to City, it could have been a lot more. We didn’t turn up till the second-half, which is unforgiving in the Premier League, especially against a team of City’s calibre. Our defensive showing was a shambles, poor from Big Sam considering he made his trade as a defender but we were offensively sound. We just couldn’t put it away. Fabio Borini eventually did stick one of our chances away and bizarrely celebrated like he’d just put us 1-0 up. The game ended 4-1 and I’ll leave that at that.

West Brom at home – zzzzzzzzz. The drab 0-0 draw was possibly one of the most boring games ever witnessed at the Stadium of Light. Both teams were dreadful, West Brom were struggling to register a single shot on target and we failed to take advantage of that. We should’ve been more clinical that day.

His best game at the club was Chelsea at home. After going behind, it would have been easy for the lads to become disheartened and let their heads drop but Allardyce kept them going. Khazri equalised with a goal of the season contender and sent the fans into raptures. That was short lived as Chelsea went ahead again, just before half-time. I’m not sure what Sam said at the break but it didn’t half work. The lads played out of their skin, Chelsea didn’t know what had hit them. Borini equalised and Sunderland fans once again were in raptures. And then three minutes later our goal hero Defoe popped up and put us ahead. The noise from that goal was unbelievable and moved Defoe to tears. The Roker Roar echoed over the River Wear and could be heard a mile away. That’s what Allardyce is leaving behind, it’s hard not to dwell but we still can’t begrudge him.

The game that followed as equally as brilliant. An out of form Everton, Martinez was on the brink of losing his job and we needed three points to secure safety with one game to go and relegate Newcastle and Norwich. You could forgive Sunderland fans for thinking ‘here we go again’ as we prepared ourselves for the lads to send things tits up. But they didn’t, they played out of their skin yet again. Patrick Van Aanholt put us ahead with a free-kick. The concourse at half-time was unbelievable. My hair was dripping with beer and I had mascara all over my pyat, it looked like someone had just chucked a keg over me but the atmosphere was great and it continued throughout the second-half. “Are you watching Newcastle”, “Rafa Beneathus” and “Big Sam Allardyce” were sang repeatedly for the remaining 45 minutes and beyond. There were bodies everyone, people sailing down rows and even someone waving their false limb in the air when Lamine Kone netted a second-half brace. Sunderland fans moved Younes Kaboul to tears and it’s hard to imagine that Allardyce didn’t feel similar emotions. How could anyone not? This was Sam’s doing. He did this, he could’ve been a Wearside hero.

And how can we forget his first home game. Championship Newcastle United. Sunderland were far from good enough in the first half, though Newcastle still didn’t play anywhere near as good as they like to think they did. But on the stroke of half-time Steven Fletcher won a penalty after a foul by Coloccini. Of course we scored the penalty and the game was ours from there. Billy Jones of all people doubled our lead to give us a bit of breathing space and then Kaboul produced one of the finest crosses I’ve ever seen to set-up Fletcher who sealed our win with a third goal. Six in a row.

It seems like it’s typical of Sunderland that just when everything was going so well it’s all went downhill again. The season starts in four week’s time and here we are, manager-less and with no new signings. Sigh.

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THE IMPOSSIBLE JOB
OR THE OPPORTUNITY OF A LIFETIME

BY FRANCIS TODD MALONE

A week or so ago, the happiness of a cheeky week in the sun was shattered by the news we'd given the FA permission to talk to Big Sam. As I chewed over the development, right on cue the intro of our favourite Bob Marley tune came out of Zeppi's Bar, and seconds later a guy walked part in a T-shirt with the Jamaican's face plastered over the back of it. With a few Cisks inside me, I thought the Marley on this T-shirt bore more than a passing resemblance to Kevin Phillips and took this as a sign not to waste time fretting about our latest saga. I reasoned that a decent solution would come out of it and I should instead concentrate on the welcome break (in Gozo, not the chain of service stations).

Whether every little thing will be all right - again - we don't know. But it's lousy luck that Big Sam is off to take the impossible job, sorry, I mean "the opportunity of a lifetime." Just when I was thinking the best manager we've had in donkey's years would lead us to mid-table safety, he's on his way and we're searching again for someone with the same skills and experience who can build on the excellent work of the last six months or so. Typical Sunderland isn't it? When things appear to be going well, a spanner finds its way into the works which gets us all cursing. Chuck in everyone having their say about what a great appointment he'd be for the Football Association, particularly Sir Alex Ferguson, and it was clear we didn't have a chance of keeping him. Christ, as I typed that last sentence Phil Brown popped up on my TV screen to tell everyone what a great appointment he'd be - only the 187th of the day to do it. 

Of course, news of Allardyce going came just hours after the FA's chief executive Martin Glenn had insisted they were in no hurry to make an appointment. The beauties. As it dragged on I clung to the hope they'd do the usual thing of appointing someone totally different to the man they've just binned off - fat chance. If I'd known how it was all going to end I might have actually wanted England to do a bit better in France, instead of pissing myself as it all unravelled against Iceland.

Anyway, thanks Sam. Shame you don't care more about our club than you do your country - but it's not a crime. We appreciate everything you achieved in such a short space of time with us. Oh, and don't be in a hurry to pick Jermain for England, it'll only end in injury or a loss of form.

If Allardyce is seemingly the best fit for England, David Moyes appears to be the best candidate available to us and looks the most likely replacement at this stage. Although I like the idea of a Manuel Pellegrini/SuperKev double act, I guess I should accept that the last time we went for the 'dream team' of seasoned veteran (Howard Wilkinson) and bright young thing (Steve Cotterill) who hardly know each other, it failed spectacularly. 

So let's continue to trust Ellis Short - a man who's made a number of tough decisions and got most of them right when it comes to managers. Don't agree? Despite being paired with some grim stats in recent years, we're still in the Premier League. No mean feat.

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SAM FOR ENGLAND...
ALLARDYCE TO ANNOUNCED IN NEXT 24 HOURS

Sam Allardyce will be announced as England manager in the next 24 hours. Sunderland are in advanced talks with David Moyes. That's all there is to say

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FA SPEAK OUT...
THE IDIOT AND THE THIEF

FA chief executive Martin Glenn has broken the silence regarding the next England manager. "We've consulted widely in the game and spoken to a handful of people," said Martin Glenn. "The new manager's got to be someone who can inspire people. The British press, like it or not, are probably the most intensely passionate about the game in the world and that has a spill-over effect. The consequence of which is people probably play not to make a mistake, as opposed to play to win. So the new manager's got to be someone who can inspire people to get the best out of themselves, build resilience and unashamedly adopt the kind of psychological techniques that other sports and other football teams have done, but really to inspire people that when they put their England jersey on they play as well for England as they do for their club. Everyone we've spoken to about the job is massively enthusiastic about the prospects for England," added Glenn. "We're not after a short-term mercenary, someone just to do the job for a couple of years. I want someone to come in to the England role to really work with not just the senior team but to make sure all the great work with the Under-16s, 17s, 18s - look at how well the Under-19s are doing now - and to knit all that together. We want someone to do a great job for the England national team but as well make sure all the development teams are laddering up to something more effective. It's only been three weeks since the hunt started, we're making good progress and we're clear about what we're looking for. We're pretty encouraged about what we've seen. It's the manager of the England national team, we've got to get that right and got to make sure we've covered all various alternatives as best we can. I can't be specific on timetable, we just want the right choice."

Despite fielding the likes of Adam Matthews, Liam Bridcutt, Jordi Gomez, Will Buckley and Charis Mavrias, Sunderland Under-21s were beaten 2-0 by non league Darlington last night, hopefully we can do better again Hartlepool tonight!  However, Younes Kaboul reckons we'll be OK for the start of the season! “The excitement is definitely building,” he said. “But we still have some work to do in training and pre-season games. We will make sure we put everything into pre-season to succeed straight away in the Premier League. We know it’s going to be a tough league again, like last season. But we’ll make sure from ‘Day One’ we’re ready to compete again. We had a good pre-season in Austria, we worked very hard every day so we’re feeling very fit and sharp and we’re looking forward to our first game. Every session was well coordinated. It was either biking or in the pool in the morning, training straight after that then lunch and back training in the afternoon. It was very good, everyone worked very hard and we’re all happy. You can already see the quality when we got the balls out in training and played small games, which is very positive. We’re looking forward to the game, we’ll put everything on it. We’ll work hard in terms of fitness, because the first couple of pre-season games will be very important. That’s why we have to put a good shift in, be focused and try to win the game. Hartlepool will try to impress against a Premier League side. We know that, we’ve experienced that in the past. But we know how to handle that, and for us the first target is to work hard on the pitch and to win.”

Steve Bruce is talking himself up after being interviewed for the England manager's job along with, Sam Alladyce, Jurgen Klinsmann, Eddie Howe and Glenn Hoddle. Bruce said: “I never quite made it as a player going back all those years ago and who wouldn’t (want the job)? If you’re English and it means something to you, who wouldn’t? It’s got to be the prime job that any Englishman could ever want to have. Yes of course it’s difficult, we know that, but there’s something in you. I am highly flattered to be even considered and extremely grateful to be considered. If anything happens, let’s see what the rest of the week brings and if it does, then happy days. You never know in an interview, I hope it went okay,” added Bruce. “I put my case across and let’s hope it was successful. But then again I am up against a big pal of mine in Sam who has always done a good job over the years. And apparently there are some other candidates who are there too. To be in the mix, I am highly flattered because any Englishman for their salt would be extremely proud to be the England manager. What I said to them in the interview has to remain there, but we have to take away the fear especially in tournaments for sure.”

Patrick Van Aanholt is back from international duty and is raring to go. “It’s lovely to be back,” he said. “I joined up with the squad in Austria and had a great week of training, so I’m very happy to be back with my team-mates and I’m ready to crack on. I’ve not found it hard to start training again because I’ve been working with my personal trainer over the summer, so I’ve come back fitter than expected and after two days training with Lamine (Kone) and Wahbi (Khazri, the pair having similarly enjoyed a longer summer break after action with Ivory Coast and Tunisia respectively), I joined in with the team. I’m very happy I came back in good condition but the club also deserve credit for that. Everyone had an individual programme, it helped a lot, and I’ve got to say mine was quite tough, but it worked out well for me and I’m happy to have had it.”

Despite his silence regarding who he will be managing next season, Sam Allardyce was in court today talking about how he's was conned out of £13,000 by Businessman Stephen Ackerman. Allardyce said: "He was extremely smart and well spoken and set his stall up exceptionally well. He had a very good array of quality products that were for sale. A good salesman I would say. Very smart and excellent in terms of how he would sell his goods and how good the value was. I said he could then deal with Anita, my PA, for the payments, I went and told Anita and went off training with the lads. I was a busy man, especially at that time of the year. Later I had a phone call from my bank asking had I authorised transactions for £1,272 from Harrods. I said I hadn't. That was the third transaction. I provided the bank information I had not authorised any of those. It was at a later date I saw so much of those transactions had gone through in one day."

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WHERE ARE THE CULT HEROES?
BY RORY FALLOW
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

Since the end of the Peter Reid era, we have been average at best and mostly yearned for mid table mediocrity. Except the couple of relatively safe seasons under Steve Bruce (including when we finished tenth, y'knar) we have battled relegation and spent most of our time angry and frustrated. There is now a slight feeling of resentment starting to build towards the players as well.

For a footballer it's probably easier for them to become disliked by supporters as all they have to do is put it little to no effort. If a player at Sunderland just saunters around the pitch looking like he can't wait for a pint in The Isis later on or that their mind is more focussed on securing a VIP booth with Steven Fletcher at Perdu, then they'll face more abuse than James McClean river dancing in front of the South Stand.

At Sunderland though there is still a pretty simple route to becoming a cult hero. All you have to do is try really hard no matter how limited your ability and/or have a big personality.

Let's take Nyron Nosworthy for example as he embodied both the effort and personality. Signed from Gillingham just in time to be part of a team that was relegated with a record low number of points, he transformed himself in the seasons that followed and quickly became a fans' favourite. Nuggsy had all the perfect components of a Sunderland cult hero. Undying commitment? Check. The odd ridiculous flash of skill? Aye. A slight look of not knowing exactly what was going on? Better believe it. Bit of a funny name? Yep. In an age where we lament the lack of personalities in football, Nosworthy was a perfect antidote. He would sing his own song in front of the fans while topless and wearing a trilby but was still capable of playing a blinder whilst helping the defence to clean sheet.

Nyron isn't the only cult hero of our recent history though. Phil Bardsley may have divided opinion but he always seemed like he'd run through brick walls for the club (when he wasn't lying on casino floors at least) and his goal in the League Cup semi final second leg at Old Trafford will always keep him fond in the heart of many of our fans. The Argentinian flair, sheer determination and enthusiasm of Julio Arca made him instantly loved at the Stadium of Light. You can't talk about cult heroes without mentioning Kevin Ball either who, if you're reading this fanzine, won't take any explaining at all.

Even if you hated Nicklas Bendtner during his time here (not me, I'd like to add) you couldn't help but be entertained by the ridiculousness of his personality. I mean, how many Sunderland players can you remember standing in the tunnel wearing a fedora? Exactly. It would also be remiss of me not to include the designer facial hair and flashy underwear of Djibril Cisse too.

Where are these players in our side now though? We all know that Lee Cattermole embodies the passion that we love in a Sunderland player but he still divides opinion too much for someone who has been here as long as he has. Seb Larsson will run up and down for the side all day and certainly has the determination of a potential cult hero, but a lack of cutting edge continues to frustrate some fans.

Billy Jones with his luxurious locks looked like he could have achieved cult status if he put in the performances, but as soon as he cut his hair that dream died. It was like that lad who you went to school with who always drummed in pub bands finally accepting that he'd have to put down the sticks, put a shirt on and get a job in a Doxford Park call centre, heartbreaking. Fabio Borini has the potential of a cult hero but he still has some way to go, keeping up his knack of scoring crucial goals won't harm though. I thought Santiago Vergini could have been a Nosworthy/Arca hybrid but sometimes life just deals you the calamitous monotony of Sebastian Coates instead.

It seemed easier to accept the inevitable struggle of Sunderland when we had likeable players who seemed to love playing for the club. Whilst losing games is the most worrying thing, it's also sad to be losing personalities.

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FFS FA...
GET ON WITH IT

Well there's still no news about Big Sam staying, or going, with the FA dragging their feet as only the FA know how. They are still to interview Bournemouth's Eddie Howe or Hull's Steve Bruce. It's like watching paint dry!

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THE JOY OF SIX
BY SOBS
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

Six of the best used to be what you got at school for being disobedient, before looking sideways at naughty pupils became a capital offence. This, however, is a convenient look back at six of the more memorable moments from our encounters with “them up the road.”

SAFC 2 NUFC 0. Let’s go way back to January 1966. League position 16th, crowd 54,688, temperature freezing. Things didn’t seem to be going our way when Len Ashurst was booked (at a time in football where only the execution of a life-threatening challenge was deemed worthy of such punishment, and sendings off were reserved for unspeakable things) early on, John Parke was already in for regular right-back Cec Irwin, then Hurley had to leave the field. With only winger Mike Hellawell on the bench, we had to reshuffle at the back and did well to keep out a young Pop Robson. With John McGrath (think Neil Ruddock without morals) and Moncur stifling the efforts of John O’Hare and local Lad Gary Moore, no score at the break was an achievement. However, with Baxter pulling the strings, it took only four second-half minutes for right winger George Herd to find the net and set Roker alight with one of the 55 goals he scored for us. That was it, we were on top, and when John O’Hare got the second, we had 25 minutes to play out for the two points. Of course, we did just that.

NUFC 0 SAFC 3. It would be remiss of me not to include a 3-0 victory. No, not one of those two, but one from October 29th 1966. Ask yer granda about the time Ian McColl’s Lads went to Sid James Park, then as now near the bottom of the league, and 58,740 watched as Jim Baxter produced a vintage display and winger George Mulhall put us ahead after only 7 minutes. We maintained this lead until just before half time, when Neil Martin scored our second, putting him well on the way to becoming the first player to score 100 times both north and south of the border. Of course, we were happy with the way things were going, and the Mags, under Joe Harvey, never really looked like getting back into it. Bobby Moncur was glad just to keep us at bay, while a slightly less young Pop Robson got no change from even younger Colin Todd and new boy George Kinnell, cousin of team-mate Jim Baxter. We sang for Kinnell, and a version of Jim Reeves’s recent number one Distant Drums (over there, and do they stink, like f****** h***), but were singing for John O’Hare when he put away the third with ten to go, and that really was it.

SAFC 3 NUFC 0. If there’s one thing we like, it’s beating them 3-0. In the return fixture (March 4th 1967) there were 50,422 at Roker. With Bobby Kerr in his first season, he provided the right wing to Mulhall’s left, and it was a surprise that there was no score at the break. Things changed in the second half, when Bobby left Dave Elliott, who’d been our sub in the game up the road, and his defensive colleagues for dead and opened the scoring ten minutes in. Again without Hurley, Kinnell and Todd kept Pop and Wyn Davies at bay, and Kerr doubled our lead fifteen minutes later. Right at the death, Mulhall added the third and Wearside were singing again, we finished the season 17th to their 20th, but only 21st and 22nd went down. Little Bobby broke his leg in the Cup game against Leeds a week later.

SAFC 1 NUFC 0. April 5th, 1980 saw us in an unusual 5th place. Unfortunately, it was the Second Division, and when our barcode chums rolled up to Roker, we were definitely chasing promotion and they thought they were. With Ken Knighton in charge, we had THAT New Year’s Day to avenge against Bill McGarry’s side, but had that penalty shoot-out victory at Sid James in the League Cup under our belts. With Roker starting to suffer from Health and Safety rules, the crowd was 41,742 and it was a tense affair. Of the eight defenders on the pitch, all four full-backs were booked as no prisoners were taken, and midfielder for the day Shaun Elliott often joined Jeff Clarke and Rob Hindmarch in central defence. Even with Rowell and Stan Cummins joining Pop and Alan Brown in going at the visitors, the second half seemed to be following the pattern of the first until the second smallest man on the pitch (5’6” to Alan Shoulder’s 5’5”. There’s one for the pub quiz) struck. The deadlock was broken on 73 when little Stan put the ball into the Fulwell End net the pace went mad. It might have been our first home win against the Mags since that mentioned above, but it was our 14th in an unbeaten league sequence. Of course, we went up and they didn’t.

SAFC 2 NUFC 0. May 16th, 1990. We’d already played out the first leg of this play-off semi without scoring, despite a last minute penalty. It’s part of Roker folklore that Burridge saved at the Fulwell end and Hardyman tried to volley Budgie’s head into the net as a follow-up, meaning that he missed the second leg. Agboola took his place, Sid James was packed to witness the G-Force’s finest hour on a decidedly claggy pitch, and we had to withstand a fair amount of pressure at the Leazes End before things turned decidedly sunny. Marco hooked the ball over his head into the box from the right, Gary Owers leapt to lob a cross to the near post, and Gatesy as there first to poke home on 13 minutes. It got even better after the break, when Warren Hawke slid the ball to Marco from the left, he ran into the D and exchanged the sweetest of one-twos with Gatesy before clipping the ball across Burridge and in with five to go. Right in front of the travelling fans. Of course, the mags tried invading the pitch to get the game abandoned, the players were taken off for a while, and Benno revealed that ref George Courtney had said “Gary, if we’re here until midnight, this game will finish.” Finished sixth to their third, lost at Wembley, still went up.

SAFC 2 NUFC 1. You can’t have a piece on this subject without mentioning Singing in the Rain. It might have been August 1999 when we paddled up to Sid James, but the rain came down in buckets. It should never have been played, really, but they had the builders in, meaning our allocation was both reduced and uncovered. The authorities didn’t want hundreds of Mackems wandering the streets of Magland, just as they didn’t in 1992 when similar weather left large parts of the pitch under several inches of water. So it went ahead, with playing conditions getting worse by the minute and only the warm temperature preventing the soaking fans from developing hypothermia. Of course, they went ahead through Dyer, but when we won a free kick out on the right in the second half, we were off and plodging. Summerbee whipped it in, Quinny stooped to touch it across and in, and the water didn’t matter. They brought on Shearer and Duncan Disorderly, Bally splattered the former, and with fifteen to go, Phillips got through, only to see his effort saved. He picked up the loose ball and clipped it across Tommy Wright and we watched it curl into the top corner to create joy in the rain. Who put the ball in the Geordies’ net?

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NO NEWS...
WAITING GAME GETTING BORING

No real news of interest today, other than speculation in the Sundays that the FA will appoint their new manager this week. Oh good, hurry up!

Other than that, Bristol City are still keen on forgotten man Adam Matthews and whoever is in charge at SAFC will need to shift on other deadwood left by previous managers, such as Liam Bridcutt, Will Buckley, Jordi Gomez and Charis Mavrias.

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PLODDING ALONG...
PICKFORD INJURY

After predicting a big season for Jordan Pickford, it seems that the young keeper could miss the start of the campaign after picking up a thigh injury in Austrian during pre season training. Typical.

However, Jermain Defoe is still determined to start the season off the best we can, despite the speculation over Big Sam. “We need to make sure we’re flying out of the block because if you make sure you’re fit the football and quality takes care of itself,” explained Defoe. “The conditioning we’re doing here with the sports science team is great because they know exactly what we need. Going away from ourselves, you look at Leicester and how they started against us on the opening day of last season – you just know they had a good pre-season in terms of conditioning – and it is one of the first things Sam [Allardyce] said to us when he came to the club. He wants to get us fit first and foremost because, as I said, when you’re fit as a team all the rest takes care of itself. I remember going on trips with the first team when I was younger and they were special because you wanted to impress the senior players, coaches and the manager. It is a challenge for them because you want to improve every day and learn from the players you’re around, and you know it is a new season and at some point you want to try and break into the fold.”

In other news, Fabio Borini has also been chatting about the season ahead. “We love to play football and the only thing we miss is playing competitive games,” he said. “Obviously we all did our best to stay in the Premier League for this season. We are here and we want to enjoy it all through the season without the final rush. I think we’re really enjoying it (pre-season), especially the young boys, because it’s a great experience for them to be here with us. To be fair, myself and also the other boys are enjoying it as well, because we’re working hard, triple sessions every day. As a group of boys, we enjoy ourselves, the company and playing together. It’s good to be back. It’s good to see that nobody let themselves down over the summer, and that’s the key to starting the season well. Hopefully we can do that, with hard work and the shift that we put in every day because, obviously, when you start well you’re half the way through.”

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MORE FLANNEL...
KEEPER CRAIC

The word the club are putting out is that they intend to continue with the foundations created by Sam Allardyce even if he leaves. I'm sure that will get new players to come and sell loads of season tickets!

Meanwhile, Sunderland's goalkeeping coach, Adrian Tucker, reckons that Jordan Pickford will push Vito Mannone all the way next season. Tucker said: “This time last year we had another senior goalkeeper, Costel Pantilimon, and Jordan was in a similar position to the one Max (Stryjek, Sunderland’s Under-21 keeper) is in now, but we felt it was important for him to go out on loan, play games and he’s done that, matured over the past 12 months and is ready to kick on. He has to push, as does Vito, to become No 1 for the start of the season and even though Vito ended the season well, there are no guarantees he will start, so it’s up to Jordan to prove himself to the boss and up to Vito to stay where he is. That competition is important for both of them and they push each other through a rivalry, but they also have a great relationship and a real friendliness. The first few days back are always going to be tough but they’ve come back in good shape. Their fitness levels are quite high and they’ve got back into the swings of things, so we’ve been able to progress quickly. Pre-season for keepers can be done in many different ways but personally I like to get the balls out as quickly as possible. But as I said, it’s important to build that base of endurance before moving onto the technical side. I also try and get the boys incorporated with the general warm-ups with the outfield players, because it is good for them and good from a social point of view, and it’s important the players and keepers bond and form a unit.”

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FAMOUS ON THE FULWELL
MATTIE FROM VANT
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

You know the drill... we find someone who loves the Lads, but is also canny well-known for something or other and ask them a load of daft questions...

This month we grilled Mattie Vant, who formed a band, couldn't think of a name, so named it after himself.

For those who haven't heard your music, how would you describe VANT?
Scuzzy pop rock with a punk ethic.

Can you tell us a bit about what VANT have been up to and what your hopes are for the band?
We've had a great year; signed to Parlophone, played Reading and Leeds Festival, then two of our tracks were made BBC Radio One's 'Hottest Record In The World'. Ambitiously we want a Number One album when we release it next year, so it's just a case of working our asses off over the next 6-12 months with that in mind.

When did you first start getting into music?
Probably when I was about 7 or 8 through the dogshit my mother was listening to. Soon after that as I hit double figures my dad rectified it with some classic rock, before I discovered my own way in the early 00s due to the then rising indie rock scene.

Is it true that your manager, agent, and tour manager are all Sunderland fans, even though you are mainly based in London? Do you only work with Mackems!?
Yes that is completely true and our occasional sound guy is as well. Our drummer is a Geordie though which is a bit of curveball. We stand for equality though, so I guess that means we avoid being hypocritical!

Can you remember your first Sunderland match?
My uncle has a season ticket and has travelled from Manchester for the last 30 years to see the Lads play week in and week out, on the mid week game he couldn't make it my Gran and Grandad would always take me and use his ticket. It was Pompey in the League Cup on a cold, rainy Tuesday evening. I think we won 4-2.

Who did you used to pretend you were in the playground?
I've always been a goalkeeper so probably at the time Lionel Perez, Thomas Sorenson or Mart Poom. If I was playing out it would always Niall Quinn, I was one of the tallest in my year and every Sunderland fan of a certain age remembers him being a hero at both ends against Bradford!

What was your first heartbreak and magic moment with Sunderland?
Heartbreak moment was definitely the 1998 play off final loss against Charlton, annoyingly for us one of the greatest football matches of all time.

My first magic moment was when we beat the Mags at St James's Park in the rain. Quinny and Super Kev scored. That shut them lot up for a bit!

Give us your all-time SAFC XI
4-3-1-2
Jim Montgomery
Phil Bardsley Gary Bennett Charlie Hurley Michael Gray
Sebastian Larsson Lee Cattermole Nicky Summerbee
Kevin Phillips
Niall Quinn Brian Clough

Favourite all-time SAFC player
Quinny

Favourite all-time band
Pixies

Favourite all-time SAFC match
Sunderland 7-0 Oxford

Favourite all-time gig
Leeds Festival 2007

What was the last book you read?
Stewart Lee: How I Escaped My Certain Fate

What was the last album you bought?
Demob Happy: Dream Soda

Guitars or Footballs?
Guitars, simply because they pay the bills...

Sex or Sunderland scoring?
Sex as it happens on a more regular basis

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PRE SEASON UPDATE...
YOUNGSTER CRAIC

Duncan Watmore is happy at Sunderland and reckons he can develop his career at the club, despite the speculation about Big Sam bailing. “I really enjoyed last season, especially the way we stayed up at the end, but I’m hoping to build on that this year and I won’t get carried away because I have a lot of work to do on my game,” he said. “One thing I do have is the right coaches, the right facilities and the right players to learn from, so as far as I’m concerned I’m going to keep pushing myself to see what I can achieve and become a better player. We haven’t been as good as we should’ve been in recent years and the manager has been very clear on that, so we know the work we have to do and the staff have put together a really good pre-season for us. All the players have taken to it perfectly and they’re getting on with the work because if you don’t put in the hard work you won’t get the benefits. So it’s something you have to enjoy and embrace, which is what we’re doing at the moment, so it’s good fun.”

Meanwhile, Jordan Pickford has been chatting about the rigours of pre season. “All the sessions we’ve had so far in Austria have been good and each of them have been different,” he said. “This morning we were working on our sharpness and getting back in the swing of things after not playing any games for a few weeks. We’re doing a lot of power work, jumping and working with different members of the backroom team – Mike Clegg and David Binningsley – to help with our overall fitness. I’m hoping to get some game time during pre-season. I’m just going to keep my head down and get stuck in and then if I’m ever called-upon I’ll take my chance to impress. We’ve got six games across pre-season, hopefully out of those I’ll get a few chances to play. That’ll be good for me and it’s what I’d like to take from pre-season, it definitely helped me last year.”

In other news, Academy Youth Coach Elliott Dickman reckons that Sunderland under-18s' youngsters need to seize the opportunity that pre season brings. “We have got Josh Maja away with the first team which is fantastic and there are a number of lads; Elliot (Embleton), Joel (Asoro), Brandon (Taylor) and Alex (Storey) training with the under-21s for the next few weeks, so that is great for them,” he said. “That has given the younger lads an opportunity to show me what they can do. We tend to ease the first years into the games programme because of the way it is," he continued. "However, it’s great a opportunity for the first-years, the lads who are with the under-21s and the ones with the senior team to prove themselves."

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the sam shambles...
day three

Well the Sam Saga rumbles on, but the good news is that The FA plan to interview Jurgen Klinsmann next, however Sam Allardyce is still top of the betting charts for the post! In terms of who would replace Big Sam if he left SAFC, the clever money is on David Moyes, although a Ryan Giggs and John O'Shea duo has been mooted and a mad Irishman rang us up and said that we should go for a Martin O'Neill/Roy Keane double return to SAFC. Now that would be amusing!

In other news, it seems that Napoli and Sunderland have agreed a €1.4 million fee for Emanuele Giaccherini, better than a poke in the eye. “It's all done, the last few details with Sunderland are being smoothed out,” said his agent Furio Valcareggi. “Emanuele is very happy to join Napoli, a great team that will be playing to win. He's finally getting what he deserves, after being underestimated for years. He'll put in triple the effort to match what he showed at Euro 2016. Giaccherini runs 13km per game and plays wonderfully. He's a box-to-box midfielder who can also play on the wing and who reaches the goal seven-eight times per game. He already spoke with [Coach Maurizio] Sarri. It's true, we did have a deal with Torino, but in football these things happen and will continue to happen. It was inevitable that an offer by Napoli would be answered affirmatively. So we went quickly to the training grounds in Dimaro and we settled everything in a mere moment. [Torino president Urbano] Cairo is a great person, but he must understand that these things happen. I've known Sarri since he was at Sansovino and he's happy about the signing.”

Meanwhile, DeAndre Yedlin is still waiting to hear about a possible return to Sunderland, but I guess as long as Big Sam's future is uncertain transfers are hard to negotiate. "I haven't heard anything on a deal or anything like that," he said. "It's all up in the air right now. I'm just waiting to see what happens."

We have also been linked w with Paris Saint-Germain right-back Youssouf Sabaly, who is available on loan.

Elsewhere, Sunderland’s Football Operations Director, Ryan Sachs, has left the club. He came in with Di Fanti and his role has become nonexistent since we ditch the Director of Football model.

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THE SAM SITUATION
ALS COMMENT BY SOBS

Now that the dust has settled on yet another disappointing campaign for the national side, the dust has been well and truly kicked up on Wearside. The inevitable outcome of the aforementioned tournament was the departure, under the equally inevitable black cloud, of Mr Hodgson, and the clamour for his successor. The papers have been full of lists (not very long ones, mind) of all possible candidates, and (even shorter) lists of those who could realistically do the job with any sort of meaningful ability. They’ve mentioned Gary Neville, whose managerial career to date is one short and pretty hopeless stint in Spain. They’ve mentioned Glenn Hoddle, who was exposed as mad when he had the job last time and probably hasn’t got any saner – talks a lot of sense when discussing games, but nobody’s touched him with a footballing equivalent of a bargepole for years. Klinsmann – German, so what happens when we play his home side?

Of course, much of the sports sections homed in on Big Sam. The haters, who clearly haven’t seen his Sunderland side play since he got them sorted in the January transfer window, churned out the usual old lazy journalist’s stock comments about route one, long-ball football, that West Ham fans would tell you he’s the wrong man, that the MOOBS (Mates of old Big Sam – honest, one of them even came up with that) in high places, like Fergy and ‘Aryy, would push him into the job with no thought of the consequences.

Those who actually thought about the requirements of the job reckon Sam is the best candidate, simple as that, because he’s shown that he gets players to perform above their perceived ability.

Which is where the Wearside dust has been well and truly kicked up. Despite losing out for the England job a decade ago to Mr Brolly (that worked out well, didn’t it?), allegedly because dodgy presentation facilities meant he couldn’t get his PowerPoint across properly, there’s obviously an ambition there to manage the national side. Who wouldn’t, as a football manager, want a crack at the biggest job in English football?

I was asked yesterday if I was worried about the prospect of losing Sam to the England job, and I said yes, of course I was. Which Sunderland supporter wouldn’t be, as the last six or seven months have shown that Sam has given us a bit of identity and a sort of recognisable style. Hell, even Shearer and the rest of the MOTD crew have praised the quality of our football, so we in the stands are right to think that we just might, for the first time in quite a few years, already have something positive at the start of a season rather than something that might be good enough to keep us up. We have a bunch of players who have largely “got” Sunderland and who know what do to. Three or four more players of the quality of those who arrived in January, which is what Sam has been planning to bring in, would have given us a realist hope of mid-table obscurity this season and something better after that.

No Sam, and it all goes away. Sure, he’s got himself what appears to be a good backroom set-up, but they’ll be destined for St George’s Park in the limo with Sam. Mr Short may well have a contingency plan for post-Sam, but there are few characters in the game as big as Sam’s. Paul Bracewell seems to be a doing a canny job as assistant, but is he management material in the Prem? With no Sam, the three or four incomers could well think we’re not worth taking a chance on – if he’s sold us to them as a four or five year project with him at the helm, which at his age would seem to be the most obvious plan, that project collapses without the man who developed it. All the progress that has been made in the last ten months – and there was progress in the first few months of his tenure, even though it didn’t look like it to us – will go up in smoke and we’ll be back to square one. I fear that, as almost always happens, a new man will invoke the dreaded contract clause entitled “bringing in His Own People” and that would mean another period of upheaval, re-establishing our identity and playing style, and avoiding relegation. The Job Centre doesn’t have a great deal of suitable (in reality or their own little minds) unemployed managers on its books –those that find themselves out of work seem to offered higher-paid jobs whether they’ve been a success or an abject failure, and it won’t be long before managers start to follow the players to China – why struggle in Europe when you can make £10 plus for a year’s “work” in the Far East. In short, there’s not much about and we’ll have to work really hard, and really fast, to get somebody decent in place.

Decent? David Moyes is one of the first names bandied about, but realistically he won nothing in eleven years at Everton, and the Charity Shield was won with the Man Utd side he inherited. Spain brought nothing, so his only “real” achievement is promotion from the third division with Preston. Still, I suppose eleven years in mid-table would make a change for us, even though we’d like something more than getting Manager of the Month several times a season.

Guus Hiddink? He’s managed fourteen sides and won a shedload of trophies, and seems immune to the bollocks that gets hurled at managers in the Prem, having filled in twice at Chelsea – but he’s sixty-nine and should, really, be putting his feet up. Also, my trust of Dutch managers has taken a bit of a knock with the Advocaat situation.

Pellegrini? Aw, give over. I know he’s won stuff, but it cost more money that Ellis Short has hedged in his career to set up his City team, and that side always looked like it won things because it had twenty-odd of the world’s best players to choose from rather than any clever tactics.

Giggs? I’m not joking, he’s been mentioned, and despite his seemingly having no impact whatsoever as assistant to van Gaal – despite claims about his “presence” in the dressing room. His body language seems to indicate someone who couldn’t motivate a player to get up of a morning, and his expression is “bugger, Rhodri’s come home early.” He just looks like a constantly worried man, and if he speaks to players at the same pace he spoke when assessing games at the recent Euros, they’ll all be asleep before the end of the first sentence. Can we afford to take a gamble on a rookie anyway? I don’t think so – we’re in no position to gamble.

This close season was one when I, and I suspect most other Sunderland fans, had a justifiable hope that the coming season would be decent, rather than a hope born out of years of false hopes that we might manage something. We’d seen five months of decent football that, albeit eventually, turned into the right results. I was genuinely looking forward to a reasonable season with no reference to the “R” word, but I feel like my legs have been kicked from under me and that, instead of carrying on where we left off in May, the sad cycle begins again. I’m getting too old to go through the perpetual hope/disappointment/hope/start again cycle every year. I need a rest.

Someone accused me of sulking when I expressed this opinion, and that I and Sunderland should just move on because Sam’s a greedy bugger who’s only in it for the money and he doesn’t care about Sunderland. I hope Sunderland’s got under his skin, that he still resents the rejection a decade ago, he realises that not even he can remove the poison in the chalice of the England job, and doesn’t want to end his career with the Black Spot of England on his CV.

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SAM ON HIS WAY???
ANOTHER SAFC CRISIS

Well as the days drag on it seems more and more likely that Sam Allardyce will leave Sunderland and succeed Roy Hodgson as England manager. Allardyce left our training camp in Austria on Monday to return to the UK to "work on transfers" but instead met with FA officials on Tuesday and was even pictured leaving the house of Football Association vice-chairman David Gill. Jürgen Klinsmann, Eddie Howe and Steve Bruce are still in the frame, but the fact that they spoke to Big Sam first and he's nailed on at the bookies suggests that we are about to lose our manager.

Meanwhile, SAFC have released the following statement: "The Football Association contacted Sunderland AFC to seek permission to speak with our manager as part of what was supposed to be a confidential discussion process with potential candidates for the position of England manager. At Sam Allardyce’s request, we agreed to this.

Sam is very much key to our plans. After what was an extremely challenging season, we are keen to see a period of stability, both on and off the field, and we want him to remain as manager of our football club. The ongoing speculation over Sam’s position is extremely damaging to Sunderland AFC, particularly at this crucial time of the season and we urge the FA to respect the disruption that this process is causing and bring about a swift resolution to the matter."

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MORE SHIT NEWS...
BIG SAM ENGLAND CRAIC

Very worryingly, Sam Allardyce is now 11/10 favourite to succeed RoyHodgson as England manager. Jurgen Klinsmann is 7/2, with Eddie Howe at 9/1. A Ladbrokes spokesperson said: “Allardyce is finding plenty of favour among punters, and Big Sam is now strong favourite to lead the Three Lions into the next chapter.”

Former assistant to Big Sam, Phil Brown believes Allardyce is the ideal candidate. Shit! Brown said: "We lost our identity at the Euros. Passion - that’s what was missing. We witnessed a great tournament by Wales and we witnessed great games from Ireland and Northern Ireland. The one thing you associate with English supporters and the one thing you would normally associate with England players would be the passion. But we let ourselves down from a passion point of view, especially in the game against Iceland, and that’s unforgivable. Sam wouldn’t allow that. If it happens once, it would never happen again with him. These players need to understand that they represent their country. Bring your quality and your little bits of magic, that’s what these players can do, but it’s the understanding of what playing for the badge is all about - that’s what Sam would bring. He also just brings the common man to the game again. He was brought up in Bolton and spent the majority of his time in Lancashire. It’s the common man who supports the game and it’s who you need to relate to, and I think that’s what Sam would bring as well. I think he’s a prime candidate."

Allardyce has also been backed by his former West Ham Chairman David Gold. “I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him,” said Gold. “He is determined, he is ambitious. He’s been in the business a long time. I think the most important thing from my point of view is that he’s English.”

On the transfer front, we are being linked with a £4million move for ex-loanee Danny Simpson, who won Premier League title with Leicester last season.

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EXPECTATIONS
BY JONATHAN SAGER

I have to admit it; I wasn’t very keen on the hiring of Big Sam. To be honest though, we have seen ourselves struggle to get a top notch manager that would come in to change the culture and mentality of the club.

Certainly Martin O’Neill led the Red and White Army through the rough battleground of the Premier League as best he could but for most fans it wasn’t enough. At some point, the time had to come when someone bigger than life had to come along and take the reins.

The PDC saga left us all wondering what the hell we had just experienced. (Do we really have to visit that bloody scene?)

I’m not going to say that Poyet leading the “Gus Bus” wasn’t a thrill ride that left us clinging to our seats with white knuckles.

We all thought Sunderland had built something when General Advocaat rolled into Wearside with a suit on ready to lead the troops onto the pitch.

However, as much as I love this club, I spent most of last season wondering just whether it was going to end exactly the way it began the season before. Is it going to be the same damn pattern every year? High hopes dashed against the rocks as the ship swirls into some murky undercurrent while the team tries to swim to shore? Was the General going to lead us out of the relegation sweepstakes that we’d been so accustomed to for what seems like eternity?

Again we all ended up shattered. Another manager leaves the revolving door that has been affixed to the Stadium of Light outside of the manager’s office. In comes Big Sam to save the day like Danger Mouse, when he foiled Baron Greenback’s plans. (Yeah I grew up watching it but I don’t like the remake). Save the day he did – but we are stuck in this terrible spiral of relegation like a runaway tornado. Four years and four relegation battles, each one feeling more and more destined.

Yes, I will give you the fact that every pre-season there is hope. Everyone starts with a clean slate. All points are wiped off the board. The seats at the SOL get a fresh coat of paint, the grass is pristine and the game has that “welcome back” feel. A couple of games in and the old guard see the writing on the wall. The hope goes out with last week’s trash.

On my trip to the Sunderland game in Toronto last year I learned a lot about what it’s been like to have been at Sunderland matches for years and years. The same things that I feel but multiplied by seasons and seasons. It’s not that we don’t love our team, because we do. We love the Red and White stripes. We love the Stadium. We love the history. We love the rivalry with our neighbors. We love our mascots (at least some of us do!). We love this team so much it gets in our blood. That’s what it comes down to.

Lately however, these patterns have appeared. We can see the signs. “Danger.” “Turn back.” “Relegation ahead.” Or we see stretches of terrible luck like someone broke every mirror in the North East. The questions we always ask never get answered or the answers we never like. We come with hope and leave with promises of a better year next season. Do we wish for too much? Do we wish for not enough? At the end of the 2010-2011 season we were all talking about Europe and pushing for a spot in continental play. Five years later we are just hoping to keep a hold of a Premier League spot. I suppose it’s true that football shows no mercy and fortunes fade.

Another season beckons us with open arms asking us to forget our reservations and celebrate the coming joy, drama and doubt. Another season of Sunderland football, what more could we ask for?…I don’t know…maybe a new guy up front or….

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SAM CRAIC...
PRE SEASON INFO

Sam Allardyce is still happy about his failure to land full-back Davide Santon from Inter Milan, but is hoping that new players will come in sooner rather than later. He said: "There's no doubt that the one big thing I have to cover is striving hard every single day on the phone with all our recruitment people to find the right deal for the right player. It was a huge disappointment for me that I was not able to clinch the Davide Santon deal, just a couple of days ago. We want to improve the squad with two, three or four players as quickly as we possibly can. It's been a huge demand trying to find those players, but we'll continue that until we're successful. Hopefully fans will be a little bit patient. I have to admit myself that my patience is wearing thin, but we have to keep trying to bring in those three or four players as quickly as possible. Everybody thinks the extra TV money will make things easier, but it's actually made it more difficult because we all have the same money. Everything has got more expensive. A player who cost £10m last year, will now cost £20m. That is the unfortunate market we're working in. We're trying to work as shrewdly as possible to get the best value we can."

However, Allardyce is hoping that Sunderland’s young players will grasp the opportunity of training with the first team during the warm up games and show the manager that they are ready for first team action. “We’ve got a lot of young players with us - a lot of last year’s Under-21 team, who are training with us on a regular basis,” the gaffer said. “We’re hoping they’re going to flourish under the microscope of being with the first-team squad and play a part this season. How many? It’s too early to tell, but I certainly hope that’s the case based on what we’re seeing and what they achieved in the Watford game on the last day of last season. The lads will have a few days off when we get back at the end of the week, and then we build up to game situations. I’m pleasantly pleased about the ability to do as many footballing sessions as we’ve done, and the quality of it. We made a specific effort this summer to send the lads all their off-season work. They had to log in with their heart-rate monitors and GPS systems so we knew they had done the work. Modern-day technology means that wherever they are in the world, we know what they’re doing, which allows them to be in the shape they are out here. The key ingredient now is steering clear of injuries, which can happen in pre-season. We’re paying a lot of attention to no contact in our football work.”

In other news, supporters must purchase tickets in advance for the games in France between 25-30 July as there will be no tickets on sale on the day at any of the games. Tickets are priced at £12 for adults and £6 for under 16s and over 65s and are on sale from the Stadium of Light ticket office. Supporters can purchase tickets in-person at the Stadium of Light ticket office, by calling 0871 911 1973 or online at www.safc.com
 
Tickets for the Borussia Dortmund game, (at the Cashpoint Arena in Austria, the home of SC Rheindorf Altach), on Friday 05 August, at 7pm local time, must be purchased online via https://tickets.scra.at/

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SAM READY FOR THE OFF???
KIRCHHOFF READY FOR THE OFF

It's expected that Sam Allardyce will be named on a three man FA shortlist for the next England manager's job, along with Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe and United States boss Jurgen Klinsmann. Word has it that Allardyce would love the job after missing out to Steve McClaren for the post in 2006, dispute the chaos that it would leave SAFC in.

Meanwhile, Jan Kirchhoff is enjoying the pre season preparations in Austria, where they speak his mother tongue, so no doubt he'll be acting as translator for the likes of Lee Cattermole. Kirchhoff often struggled for fitness during the latter stages of games last season, so hopefully a good pre season will stand him in good stead for 2016/17. “It’s been tough because we’ve had three sessions each day and each day we have taken up the intensity,” said Kirchhoff. “It’s hard as I said but it’s what we need and we’re enjoying being close to each other and creating our team spirit. The schedule is perfect and it’s been really well organised. We have testing every morning to see how we feel as individuals and everyone is getting the best preparation they can. This is my first pre-season with the club and I haven’t had a proper one for a long time, so for me it's really enjoyable to work hard and feel my body getting in shape for the season. I’m already seeing the benefits of my work and it’s getting easier for me to play football, so I’m feeling much fitter now than when I came here. This will allow me to be a better footballer and play football in a better way.”

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UP THE MARINERS. VIVA REVOLUCIÓN.
BY CRAIG CLARK
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

At the same time Sunderland were heading towards yet another defeat at West Brom, Julio Arca was scoring a trademark 25 yard free kick in Northern League Division Two. The goal came as South Shields marched towards yet another victory, their 10th in a row, away at Esh Winning Town, with the ex-Sunderland man finding the net in stunning fashion for the second time in recent weeks.

The Argentinian fell in love with the North East after signing for Peter Reid over a decade ago. He was adored by many of us during a dark period in the club’s recent history and now finds himself playing a central role for a side well away from the limelight of the Premier League. He might not be driving the footballing revolution taking place in South Tyneside, but he’s a central cog in its machinations.

Shields are well positioned to hoover up disaffected supporters of both Sunderland and Newcastle, sandwiched as the town is between the two cities on the south bank of the River Tyne. Now, with Arca a star performer in the centre of midfield, misty eyed Sunderland supporters, Shields Mackems or otherwise, have an even greater incentive to get themselves down to the newly rebranded Mariners Park.

Be it the signing of Julio, the general air of optimism around the club, their return home to play games in the town or more likely, all of the above, the positive effect has been palpable. 1,045 were in attendance for a recent victory over Ryton & Crawcrook Albion, a figure which the more illustrious and better ranked regional neighbours, Gateshead, were unable to match on the same weekend.

I was present at Mariners Park when Shields hosted Team Northumbria, at the time top of the table, in front of a slightly smaller but nonetheless notable turnout of 595. This might not seem as impressive, but again, on the day a team plying its trade in the lower echelons of the football pyramid were able to draw a crowd that dwarfed those managed by a handful of sides in the National League, formerly known as the Conference.

Although there are mitigating factors for the surge in attendances, they do not explain the sheer scale of the increase. A town the size of South Shields should not be wallowing in a division where they’re vying for promotion with a university. No disrespect to Northumbria or their players, but this is a town with a footballing heritage and population that should be mixing it at a much higher level against significantly bigger opponents.

During the previous two campaigns, the Sandancers were forced away from what was Filtrona Park after a dispute with the former owner over the ground. Due to Northern League rules, Shields and the hardy fans who stuck with them during this bleak period, an average of about 50 for home games, were forced to play 20 miles away in Peterlee.

Up stepped Utility Wise owner Geoff Thompson to intervene and save the day. His ambitions stretch further than simply bringing the club home, at least in part evidenced by the signing of Julio. Whilst he might be the headline act, the club have moved shrewdly to bring in a number of other, not so illustrious but no less important, players with experience at a higher level. One such man is David Foley, who plied his trade at Hartlepool Utd for several years, before making a sojourn abroad. Afterwards a return to the North East and the South Shields revolution beckoned.

Whilst the size of the town is significant, the club’s potential is also reflected by a brief spell in the football league. In its original incarnation, South Shields played in Division Two, now the Championship, throughout the 1920s, at one point having a real chance of promotion to the top flight, only to fall away and finish 6th in 1922. Two consecutive FA Cup quarter final finals were reached, the second resulting in defeat to Swansea Town in front of a club record attendance of 24,348 at the old Horsley Hill ground.

The two clubs have traversed very different paths since and the current chasm between them couldn’t be much wider. Swansea, now City, have won the League Cup, while South Shields weren’t eligible to enter the FA Cup this term due to their lowly finish last season. In the intervening years Shields were something of an MK Dons of their day, moving not once, but twice to Gateshead after financial troubles forced the club out of town. This is a phoenix that has been forced to rise from the ashes on too many occasions.

If Geoff Thompson continues as he means to go on, then those days could well be over and attendances exceeding the 1,000 mark may become the rule rather than a remarkable exception to it. If there’s a feeling of ennui towards Premier League football held by many fans, then at present it’s most strongly manifested in the North East of England, where Sunderland and Newcastle have performed dreadfully on the pitch and been run, at best, questionably off it.

Both are lucky that the region’s “hotbed of football” constitutes just two clubs. Middlesbrough and Hartlepool Utd make up the rest of the area’s league representation but they are a significant enough distance away not to matter much. Following them is Gateshead, who are in the top tier of non-league football, meaning there’s not a great deal of competition. Could Shields eventually become the area’s fifth or sixth biggest club? There’s no reason why not and if nothing else, even in their current position, they offer an alternative.

Aside from the victory over Northumbria University, I also witnessed a 1-0 pre-season “Ferry Derby” win over rivals North Shields, who won last season’s FA Vase. They brought a significant number of supporters across the Tyne and one of them, a disillusioned Newcastle fan, told me they’d taken 800 away fans to Whitley Bay during the previous season. The towns may not be far apart geographically, but many league clubs would struggle to take that number of fans away from home to any destination, regardless of distance.

Whilst at the games I’ve bumped into old school mates who have packed in Premier League life altogether to follow their local team. It’s no surprise, given the affordable cost of entry, entertaining football on show and the feeling of community and optimism surrounding the place. The reasonably priced, decent quality beer that can be supped on what constitutes the terrace while watching the game doesn’t hurt either.

It would be great to see the region better represented in the lower echelons of the league and there is a real opportunity for Shields to be a vehicle of change. I won’t be a regular there this season, I’m still a Sunderland supporter and season ticket holder, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on the scores and going whenever possible. I’d fully recommend others do the same, even if it’s just to see Arca reproduce some of the magic of old.

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SIX OF THE BEST
GREAT GOALS FROM 2015
BY MURPHY
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

Duncan Watmore v Stoke. 28/11/15
Sunderland's most exciting young prospect, Duncan Watmore, seals a second successive victory for Sunderland with a dagger of a shot into the far corner. Watmore's uncompromising pace is enough to leave any defender in his wake and his finishing proves to be exceptional from a tight angle. The youngster loves nothing more than to get his head down and run with the ball and Stoke's lapse in concentration made the lad's job all the easier as he galloped towards goal and converted with the outside of his right foot.

Jermain Defoe v Newcastle. 05/04/15
What could be said of this goal that hasn't already been said? Jermain Defoe scored what could only be described as a dream goal against Newcastle in April. It was a chance out of nothing, and a one-in-a-million strike that will haunt Tim Krul forever. Defoe's long-range volley harboured nothing but the perfect amount of power, spin, dip and placement. I use the word perfect, and it is perhaps no more appropriate than in this situation, for Defoe's goal against Newcastle was flawless, impeccable, or any superlative that may spring to mind. The perfect goal.

Danny Graham v Everton. 09/05/15
No list of great goals would be complete without Danny Graham's worldy against Everton. Have you ever seen a player wait so long for a goal, in such hostile circumstances and then end his goal drought in such comical form? The ball quite literally hits Danny on the arse and loops into the net. He didn't know a single thing about it and yet the look on his face when it went in was absolutely priceless. You can only really feel sorry for the lad, who to his credit works his arse off any time he is granted the opportunity to play. If only Graham's talent matched his enthusiasm and workrate.

Jermain Defoe v Palace. 23/11/15
This goal is on the list not for its awesome technique, its comic value, or the fact that it prompted Connor Wickham to cry away his fake tan, but for the hope it inspired in us. With Sam Allardyce shaking up the club and fiddling with tactics, this goal proved that patience, rigid defending, and experience can prevail in the Premier League, especially on a Monday night in London. Not a great goal, but a great moment.

Jeremain Lens v West Ham. 03/10/15
This absurdly cheeky goal is the one piece of hard evidence that Jeremain Lens is a good player and not just some lazy mercenary that we paid too much money for. We've signed plenty of them, mind. A dink over the keeper from long-range made the game 2-0 to Sunderland and Lens sealed what would be a great win over West Ham, until he got sent off and we ended up coming away with only a point. Shitbag.

Steven Fletcher v Newcastle. 25/10/15
This goal was delightful for a number of reasons. It made the game 3-0, the classic scoreline against the great unwashed. It was also scored by Steven Fletcher which, let's be honest, is the ultimate insult, the lad lives on a diet of Irn Bru, Krispy Kreme and deep-fried Paracetamol. Perhaps the most satisfying thing, however, is that the goal was made by none other than King Midas himself, Younes Kaboul. Played over to the left hand side by Yann M'Vila, Kaboul somehow found himself joining the attack. With all the finesse of a Mr Whippy ice cream being loaded into a cone, Kaboul floated a first-time right footed pass over the head of two Newcastle defenders and into the stride of Fletcher, who smashed it home. It was one of those moments that inspired sheer disbelief and jubilation, and is one of my favourite ever goals.

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PICKFORD CRIAC...
SAM NON STORY/pep talk

Despite reports to the contrary, Sunderland AFC have had no contact with the Football Association regarding Sam Allardyce and the England manager's vacancy and Allardyce also has no break clause in his contract. However, that would mean very little should the gaffer wish to leave.

Meanwhile, Jordan Pickford has been chatting about Sunderland staying up, Newcastle going down and being Sunderland's Number One next season. “It’s massive staying up as a fan,” he said. “As a Sunderland lad I am buzzing we stayed up last season. I have played in the Championship and it is a hard league to be in, it is a slog, as a club it’s massive to be in the Premier League. I have a big chance next season,” he said. “I am ready to make that step to playing in the side. What I have to do is keep working hard in training and try to show what I am about. If the manager picks me, he picks me, that will be his decision. It will be about being patient, and making sure I’m ready for that step whenever it comes. It was more nerve-racking being on the bench during all the big matches we had last season. But we still needed to focus on the last game at Watford and we did that. I know I am ready and hopefully I showed that at Vicarage Road.”

New Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola is looking forward to getting kicked all over by SAFC on the opening day of the season. Well he didn't really say that, but I'm trying to make this more interesting. He said: “I know how difficult it is here in England. To find a team to win four, five, six games in a row is not easy. Maybe that’s the challenge. Against Sunderland, against Big Sam in the first one, I am sure it will be completely different (to what he’s previously experienced). Here is another test for my career. It would have been comfortable to stay where I was but I feel this is the right moment to move here. I never played on a Boxing Day. I have never been to a stadium where it is windy and freezing and the pitch is not good. It’s a target for me. I want to prove myself here. When we have the ball more we want them to move it as quick as possible and create as many chances as possible. My responsibility here is to try to work with the players. I’ve got to do everything for them. I am just focusing on my players and what they have to do on the pitch, which is why I decided to come here.”

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SAM SPEAKS...
TV MESS UP YOUR LIFE

Sam Allardyce has spoken about SAFC for the first time since he was linked with the England manager's job. I guess that can only be a good thing. The players fly out Austria tomorrow for a nine-day training camp and Big Sam had this to say: "I have not signed any of the free transfers or loan players just yet, because that can be done later on," said Allardyce. "I'm basically focusing on the top players that I need for the team this year and waiting patiently for those. Let's do that first, rather than taking a player here or there, who might be a good one, but we want to get those who can go straight into the team and make an impact. Then we'll look around after that and see what we need to bolster the squad and challenge the players that are already here. The lads seem to be in good spirits. They've been through the usual start of pre-season testing. They did have their own programmes while they were away to keep them ready so we can move straight into football practices. It's fitness and football at the moment, quite long, but they seem to be coping pretty well."

Meanwhile the TV companies have already changed four of our first five fixtures! Our game at Manchester City on Saturday 13 August will now kick off at 5.30pm. Next up the Middlesbrough game, will now take place at 1.30pm on Sunday 21 August and our home game against Everton FC, has been moved to 8pm on Monday 12 September. Finally, our match v Tottenham Hotspur FC in September has also been moved from Saturday 17 September 3pm, to 4.30pm on Sunday 18 September.

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SIR ALEX BACKS SAM...
SHUT UP!

Sir Alex Ferguson reckons that Sam Allardyce should be England’s next manager, if the Football Association appoint an English gaffer. Although, it is thought they are looking at a European coach! Fingers crossed Sam stays. Ferguson said: “It’s very difficult to think of the right man and there are only three English managers in the Premier League. With Sam’s experience, he is the obvious choice. But I think they have to search wider to make sure they get the right one. If it’s Sam, fine. But they have to have someone with the capabilities, the tactical awareness and the feel for the national side. Thank goodness I’m not making the choice because it’s a difficult one but Sam’s the best English candidate because he’s in the Premier League. The league programme English players go through – to then play a major tournament after that makes it impossible. In Germany they have a rest in December and January and teams who play in a better climate must be better prepared than English players.”

In other news, Head of academy sports science Scott Ainsley has been chatting about the importance of pre-season. “It’s down to us to put some challenges and demands on them to make sure they’re ready for the start of the season physically, tactically, technically and psychologically,” he said. “We are looking to put a solid foundation down for the lads and then we can start to build match specific energy systems. We will then build a tolerance to fatigue and create some adaptations so when matchday comes round at the start of the season the work that’s gone in, in these few weeks is brought out in performances on the field. The young lads are going to find it tough because they’re going to be training with players who are maybe three of four years older than them. That has implications because they have more of a training history and more experience operating at a higher level.”

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SOBS' CRAPPEST SAFC XI
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

They’re childish, oft-repeated, contentious, emotive, often entirely arbitrary and based on personal opinion or experience (and thus often inaccurate), but they keep cropping up. I’m talking about lists of players – the best, the worst, the fattest, the ugliest, the most wasted talent – generated to pass the time on the bus to away games.

These lists fill page after page on message boards and hours huddled over a pint, and the names thrown up by the most recent SMB discussion on SAFC’s s****est players merited further discussion, so I decided to put a team together. They’re not necessarily the eleven worst players we’ve ever had, but, collectively, they’d struggle (but not much) to win an argument. I’ve tried to leave personal experience aside – Tom Ritchie once said “do you know who I am” to me as he jumped the queue in a Bristol pub and I’ll forever hold that against him, but he scored a hat-trick so I’ll let it pass. I have the added advantage of being dead old and therefore having witnessed dross of various vintages when it comes to sorting through the names, so here goes.

GOALKEEPER. Where do I start? It’s the position in which is easiest to be bad, as every mistake is potentially disastrous. It would be extremely lazy to choose Calamity Kelvin, or one of those ‘keepers reduced by Mackemenemy to un-coordinated statues unable to catch a cold, so I’ll pick Michael Ingham. Signed from Cliftonville in 1999, and he spent six years with us, mainly on eight loans elsewhere, but earning a reputation for the foulest mouth in the reserves, where he also nutted a WBA player. When he eventually made his debut in 2001, he conceded four as we lost at Sheff Wed in the league cup, his performance overshadowed by a Lilian Laslandes goal and a band of kazoos in the away end. Two years later he repeated the trick at home to Huddersfield, this time overshadowed by a Jon Stead goal (for the opposition) and a Ben Clark red card. 2-4 again. It was another two years before his third game, as a sub for Myhre in a defeat by Reading, and the following week played at Ipswich in a 2-2 draw, but his display resembled an audition for “rabbit staring at oncoming vehicle.” 4 games, 1 point, 255 subsequent games for York and great craic during our last friendly there.

RIGHT BACK. Mark Lynch came from Man Utd with none of the ethos that others brought. From the off he never looked that interested, and at Millwall in November 2004 (alongside Collins N, Collins D, and Caldwell, in mitigation) he managed to give away a penalty and the second goal. The fact that he never once attracted the referee’s attention in 13 games (including Andre Marriner at Millwall) shows his commitment, as does the fact that he was subbed in three of his five league games. Fizzled away at Hull, Rotherham, Yeovil, Stockport and Altrincham.

LEFT BACK. If Mark didn’t look interested, then namesake “Tiddly aye” Tommy was as close to comatose as you could get without actually falling over. Genial Limerick man Tommy just looked like a really happy feller who’d wandered onto the pitch and wanted to take in his surroundings. Thankfully, after six games (no bookings either) between 1988 and 1990, we palmed him off on Shrewsbury, where he became a folk hero for his committed style, wherever that came from, and the fact that an opponent fractured his own skull nutting Tommy.

CENTRE HALF. Sortirios Kyrgiakos, brought in by O’Neill to make up the defensive numbers in 2012, on loan from Wolfsburg. He’d been around the block more times than the milkman, and stuck in our minds for his Liverpool days, when he largely tripped people up or fell over. Unfortunately, that’s all he did for us, although less frequently due to whatever pace he’d ever possessed having entirely deserted him. Thankfully, we sent him back to Germany after 4 games and one yellow.

CENTRE HALF. Alan Stubbs. If ever a bloke looked like he didn’t want to be somewhere, it was Stubbs at Sunderland in 2005. In 11 games, this allegedly uncompromising defender never got close enough to anyone to tackle them, although he did score at Arsenal. Rumours of his lack of loyalty grew as he attended Everton games when not playing for us, and looked more interested in Everton when on the bench against them, and returned in January 2006.

RIGHT MIDFIELD. Chris Byrne actually looked a decent prospect when he arrived from Macclesfield in 1997, actually competing for Lee Clark’s place, but quickly faded, with each performance less useful than the last, and after ten games he was done. Back in Cheshire, he turned out for Stockport and the Maccs again, but seemed more interested in criminal activity with his mates, which probably explains a lot.

CENTRE MIDFIELD. Christian Bassila arrived in 2005, with promises of being the experienced midfield enforcer and powerhouse we needed, and at 6’4” he looked the part. Unfortunately, he was as weak as water, kept getting injured (allegedly) and again failed to attract the attention of referees. I’m not condoning fouls, but you’d expect defensive midfielders to get amongst it occasionally. Big Chris just didn’t, and after 14 games and relegation, he buggered off to Greece.

CENTRE MIDFIELD. OK, let’s get personal. Calvin Palmer arrived from Stoke in the late ‘60s, when I was just growing into the game, with a bit of a reputation for a) being awkward off the field and b) useful on it, which he a) justified and b) failed to justify. He might have scored 5 goals in 41, which isn’t bad, but there was just something about him that me and my mates couldn’t get, maybe it was his high opinion of himself. He also fell out with manager Alan Brown, and left for South Africa in 1970 because no English club would touch him. Awkward sod.

RIGHT MIDFIELD. Jeff Whitley. Oh my. McCarthy chased this lad forever, and then watched as he wandered about the pitch for a couple of seasons. His penalty in the Palace Playoff goes down as one of the worst you’ll ever see, and it’s a miracle we managed to top the division with Jeff playing 35 times the following season. He left for Cardiff, Stoke and Wrexham, but it turned out he’d been off his head on drink, drugs, or both the whole time he’d been with us, so he has an excuse.

FORWARD. Milton Nunez. Quite which video Reidy watched to convince him this conman was worth a punt remains a mystery. We couldn’t find a kit to fit him, he couldn’t kick a ball, and I saw him run between a defender’s legs. Honest, Luton in the cup. It was as if the mascot had been allowed to stay on for a game. After 2 sub appearances, he left in 2001, and we were one of his 19 clubs over 22 years. Crazy. You couldn’t make it up. You don’t have to.

FORWARD. Andy Gray, a football name, with a football pedigree (son of Frankie, nephew of Eddy) who spectacularly failed to follow up his debut goal in August 2005 with, well, anything other than falling over, fouling defenders, and not getting his shots away. OK, we were rubbish, but he was an integral part of that rubbish and ended the season with that solitary goal in 22 appearances and was off to Burnley. Still, he managed nearly 500 league games and over 100 goals, so we must have taught him something.

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N’ZOGBIA TRAINING WITH SAFC...
KIRCHHOFF CRAIC

With most the players back for the early stages of pre season training, Charles N’Zogbia is training with us this week. He's a free agent after leaving Aston Villa and is looking for a new club.

Meanwhile, Jan Kirchhoff is looking forward to the start of the new season and facing his old boss, Pep Guardiola, when we kick off the new season at Man City. “I don’t want to talk too much about Pep because it’s a different team and it’s not mine to talk about, but I’ve said a lot of times that he is a great coach. He brings every club and every player he works with forward and I’m sure that’s what he will do at City. A lot of eyes will be on this game and looking at him as he takes charge of his first game in Manchester. It is going to be a tough challenge for us and we need to bring our best performance to the pitch, but that is what the Premier League is all about and I’m really excited for the new season. There are a lot of good players coming here and a lot of great managers are in this league at the moment, so it is a really exciting time.”

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FAMOUS ON THE FULWELL
TERRY DEARY FROM HORRIBLE HISTORIES
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

Over the last twenty years, the Horrible Histories series has been successful worldwide in book form, on TV and in stage shows. It turns out that the author, Terry Deary, is from Sunderland and loves the lads. We met him up on Penshaw Monument on a cold and lonely winter's day in December. Thankfully we had a flask of soup to keep us warm!

Can you tell us how Horrible Histories came about?

I was an actor and a children’s author with about 50 published novels by the early 90s. A publisher commissioned me to write a funny history book. Monkwearmouth School in the 60s had taught me to hate history. Boring, boring, boring. I know nowt about history so I wrote a ‘history’ book about the world’s most fascinating subject – people. People and the traumas they’ve inflicted on one another through the ages. They seemed to strike a chord with readers of all ages, I’m sure it’s because I’m not an historian, I’m an anti-authority Mackem with no university degree. ‘Proper’ serious history still bores me...

The books are first and foremost ‘entertainments’. Any historical facts are researched by specialists and then re-told by me in a funny way with the cruel, the disgusting and the tasteless emphasized. Tales of human goodness are overlooked, so they are not balanced history, they are simply a history of the horrible. That’s why I am shocked to hear that they’re used in schools. The teachers who use them in class just don’t get it. Those books are alternative education, anti-school and anti-establishment!

You seem to have done it all, so what next for Horrible Histories that you haven't already done?

A movie is in development for 2017. A ‘HH Pirates’ exhibition has just opened in Sydney, Australia and will tour worldwide; there will be more TV programmes, and the theatre tours go on from Hong Kong to… well, Sunderland. The stage version ends its 40-week tour at Sunderland Empire in July 2016 when I get to perform in “HH Groovy Greeks” on The Empire stage where I made my acting debut over 60 years ago.

Have you written any other books away from Horrible Histories?

I’ve written around 100 HH titles but also another 180 other titles, mainly fiction for children. I have a new play in production for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in April 2016 and various TV series in planning.

If you were to go through our last five managers, which 'Horrible History' would they'd best fit in e.g. Di Canio = Rotten Romans etc?

They’d have to have a book of their own. Tom Cowie once told me he could write a book 12 inches thick about what Lawrie McMenemy didn’t know about football. I could do that for every manager since Peter Reid, a “Horrible History of ignorance, arrogance, and hot air”.

Can you remember your first Sunderland match?

17 November 1955, Sunderland v. Dynamo Moscow. I was 9. It was a midweek friendly to launch Roker Park’s new floodlights. My Dad took me along. 0-0 till the 86th minute when Dynamo scored the winner. Nothing new there then. You can see a brief film report on YouTube. Magic.

Who did you use to pretend you were in the playground?

Len Shackleton. A class-mate of mine at Fulwell Juniors was called Charlie Buchan, the same as my Dad’s hero, so I couldn’t call myself that.

What was your first Heartbreak and Magic Moment with Sunderland?

Heartbreak? (Have you space for me to write a book?) 1987, Division 2/3 play-off against Gillingham and relegation (on away-goal rule) to Division 3. I watched grown men cry in the Fulwell End.

Magic moment? Away in the League Cup to Arsenal at Highbury. 2-0 down in no time and I was sitting among gloating Gunner fans (£49 quid!) We scored one, then equalized and I had to keep quiet or get a beating with their stuffed wallets and Eton boaters. We scored the winner in the second half and the effort of not jumping up and screaming with joy probably damaged my brain cells.

Give us your all time SAFC XI

Shay Given
Cec Irwin – Dave Watson – Gary Bennett – Len Ashurst
Billy Hughes – Jim Baxter – Len Shackleton – Denis Tueart
Brian Clough – Andy Cole (… or me)

Favourite all time SAFC player and why?

Cecil Irwin. Seeing him charge down the wing was thrilling to see, an overlapping full back. (He overlapped like his Prince Charles-style comb-over hair.)

Favourite all time SAFC match and why?

Early 70s. Sunderland v. Bolton at Roker Park. 1-3 down at half time. Billy Hughes came on as a sub, ran at the opposition and transformed the game. We won 4-3. The winner went in the net and my big, beautiful, blonde girlfriend of the time gave me a hug that crushed me. (Don’t tell the wife).

What was the last book you read?

I can’t remember the last time I read a ‘book’ but I am reading “The Edge” by Dick Francis on my Kindle e-reader

Right get that flask out, I'm freezing

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OH VITO MANNONE...
TWO MORE YEARS

Vito Mannone has signed a new two-year contract at SAFC despite the emergence of Jordan Pickford. Fair play Vito. He said: “I’m really pleased. I just got back and what a way to start the season. It’s a massive boost for me and my family. We love it here - I love the club and the fans, so it’s a great deal for me. I’ve fought hard in the past - with many ups and downs - to get to this point. It’s a great achievement for me to sign this contract and hopefully we can look towards a great season. It’s been three years at the club for me. I know everyone at the club and I really enjoy playing my football here, and that’s what I want to continue doing for the next few years and maybe even beyond that. It was massive (staying up). We keep repeating ourselves each year but I think now is the time to really kick on. We have a great base, the squad is strong and hopefully there’s going to be a few players coming in as well to help. We just want to get going, get ready, get the pre-season hard work done and then look to the start of the Premier League.”

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SAM FOR ENGLAND...
PLAYERS RETURN TO TRAINING

Depending on what news source you believe, The FA are still looking at Sam Allardyce as a possible replacement to Roy Hodgson. However, USA boss and ex-Germany striker Jurgen Klinsmann is the favourite with the bookmakers. Hopefully this will be sorted out very soon as our players have returned to pre season training today!

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FRANCE V ICELAND, JULY 3, 2016
BY IAN MOLE (LINES FROM LONDON)

It’s been the season of the underdog so I was hoping it would continue as I made my way again to the Nordic Bar to cheer on Iceland. When I got in just after 7.30 nearly all the tables were reserved and most of them were already occupied so, after getting in a pint of Tuborg, I found an ideal standing place in a nook in the rear section of the bar. To my left was a group of young blokes in full Iceland regalia and some of them were drinking out of horns which they stood on little holders when they weren’t slurping – could be one for the Christmas list there. They had the words ‘Eg er kominn heim’ on their shirts which Google Translate tells me means ‘Truly there kominn secret’. Ah well, it’ll have to remain a secret to me at any rate. Not far away was a tableful of French fans suitably kitted out. A Swedish guy next to me explained that the spooky chant-handclap thing the Icelandic fans do was picked up from a Polish handball match and wasn’t an ancient Viking war-cry. I had a certain sense of disappointment on hearing that. The place filled up and of course there was some very tall knobhead who came in last and stood blocking several people’s views but with firm requests and appeals he reluctantly moved to the side. I like the French anthem because it sounds so upbeat unlike the tedious dirge we and many other countries have.

Anyway, after six minutes or so the French started to show what they were made of with a good low shot from Payet soon followed by Sissoko running to the line, getting past the defender and putting in a great cross. Five minutes later it was no surprise when they took the lead and a class effort it was with Giroud having the vision to run into space past the Icelandic back-line to receive a great ball down the left. He just hit it first-time into the bottom right corner and the French table roared into life. The Swedish lad next to me said, “England scored first too” but the game followed a very different path with Pogba rising way above the defence to power in a great header from a corner in the twentieth minute. Iceland by no means lay down and they fought like terriers producing a good effort from Bodvarson not long afterwards. As half-time loomed I knew I’d have a job getting served then so I nipped to the bar early and a friendly woman of indeterminate nationality kept my place. As soon as I got back France scored two more great goals to put the result beyond doubt.

The first was a shot from Payet after he’d received a short pass from a downward header and the next was from Griezmann who ran onto a ball that had come straight down the middle from the French half and outpaced the Icelandic defence before chipping the goalie. The whistle went very soon after and many people in the bar also went somewhere.

Iceland brought on two subs, Finnbogason and Ingeson at the start of the second-half and clearly they were going to fight all the way. Eleven minutes in there was a great roar from the bar when Iceland pulled one back as a cross from the right was toed in by Sigthorsson. Within a few minutes the French had restored their lead and it was a nicely circular goal. Giroud had been fouled by Bjornason, for which he was yellow-carded, and when the free-kick was pumped goalwards Giroud himself was there to rise above the defender and nod it home. He was promptly subbed by Gignac both to save him for the semi against Germany and to take the applause of the crowd. In the middle of the half Iceland were dominating possession as the French sat back and I think it was commentator Hoddle who said they were working their socks off and playing with pride. With ten minutes left Gudjonson came on for Iceland and this roused the first chant from the horn-swilling Iceland lads near me. I’d been starting to think they were a bunch of English posers as they’d been shouting at the screen in English. Anyway, Iceland pulled a second goal back shortly afterwards when a Skulason cross from the right was headed in by Bjornason. They kept on battling till the end and did themselves credit but France had the vision and skill to run out worthy 5-2 winners. This was the first time I’d seen France play a whole game and they looked more impressive than Germany to me.

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STRANGE SIX...
BY EVE SAYERS

Things are a bit quiet on the transfer front, and there’s not a pre-season game for a few weeks yet, so I thought I’d run through some of the most unusual games I’ve seen at the Stadium of Light.

6. Sunderland 3-1 Tottenham. This rare win against Spurs came in April 2010, under Steve Bruce. Harry Redknapp was in charge of Tottenham and as per they were doing well. Sunderland, not so well, we weren’t doing badly but we’d just ended a run of 14 league games without a win, so the odds were pretty much stacked against us.

However, Sunderland beating a decent Tottenham side wasn’t the strangest thing about this game. It’s no secret that referees usually hate Sunderland but this day was remarkably different. We were awarded not one, but three penalties in one game, three! Though in typical Sunderland fashion, we, or Darren Bent should I say, only managed to score one of them.

Still, we were 2-1 up, and who better to confirm our win than Anton Ferdinand? The defender had the ball in the back of net and ran off to celebrate with a seemingly bizarre dance tribute to Michael Jackson. Embarrassing in normal circumstances, but even more embarrassing when you look over to see that the linesman has ruled the goal out.

It was a pretty nervy end to the game until veteran Bolo Zenden piped up with one of the most audacious volleys you’ve ever seen!

5. The Spurs game wasn’t the only unusual game at the Stadium of Light that season. I give you Sunderland 5-2 Wolves. Sunderland were 2-0 up thanks to two penalties (even more penalties!?), but no less than seven minutes after going 2-0 up, Wolves had drawn level.

Their first, an own goal by John Mensah, not your typical own goal, still nothing like Vergini at Southampton, but odd nonetheless. It was wayward shot that rocketed off Mensah’s chest, if it was a weak or smaller player then I have no doubts that the ball would’ve just dropped down. But Mensah was built like a brick shit house so of course the ball bounced off him as if he were made of out concrete and ricocheted straight past Gordon and into the net.

Their second goal was even stranger. Kieran Richardson’s ridiculous decision to pass back to Craig Gordon left the keeper with no option but to handle the ball outside the box. Thus Wolves were awarded an indirect freekick. This was from such close range that it was harder to miss than to score, regardless of the fact we had everybody on the line. Doyle of course scored, but it took the visiting supporters about 70 seconds to realise this, leaving me, and several supporters around me thinking that the goal hadn’t stood.

There was no need to panic however, because thanks to Kenwyne Jones, Michael bullet header Turner and another own goal, Sunderland won 5-2.

4. Right there must’ve just been something about Steve Bruce because looking back there was an alarming number of ‘bizarre’ games under him. Sunderland 1-0 Liverpool.

The Fat Spanish Waiter was in charge and Bruce hadn’t long been in charge of us. Liverpool were more than a good side and still had the likes of George McCartney, Nyron Nosworthy and David Healy on our books, whereas they had Javier Mascherano on the bench.

Take Liverpool’s sense of entitlement now, and imagine it when they were still half decent. Imagine the fume when five minutes into a game against little old Sunderland and Darren Bent pops up and puts them 1-0 up. Initially when I saw Pepe Reina and his pals all pleading to the linesman I genuinely thought they were just doing it for the crack, like big teams can when a smaller opposition beats them.

Turns out Reina had every right to run to the linesman. One of Liverpool’s lovely diehard supporters had thrown a beachball onto the pitch; Bent’s shot ricocheted off the massive red inflatable leaving Pepe Reina dumbfounded. “Do I go for the huge red inflatable with a massive Liverpool badge on?”, or “do I go for the Premier League match ball which I’m used to training and playing with every week?”. Turns out the choice was a bit too much for Reina. The goal stood, much to the Scousers’ protests.

It was a nervy game, Sunderland aren’t the best at holding a 1-0 lead and the seven minutes added time were the longest seven of my life.

3. Sunderland 1-2 Notts County

Notts fucking County. The League One side looked like an easy draw for us and progression into the next round looked a cert. Oh how wrong were we. Notts County’s opener was bizarrely given by the officials despite being a massively clear apparent obvious definite clear-cut foul on Simon Mignolet. (I’m not still rattled I promise).

County held that lead for the most the game and the game looked to be wrapped up on 75 minutes when Lee Hughes put them 2-0 up. The delightful striker then seemed to the take piss out of our ball boys. A consolation goal from Darren Bent meant nothing in a miserable afternoon at the Stadium of Light.

2. Sunderland 4-2 MK Dons. Another lower league opposition, this time under Paolo Di Canio.

The whole MK Dons thing is bizarre enough for me, the whole concept of their club and how anyone over the age of 12 can actually support them is still something that I can’t understand.

The League One side were deservedly 2-0 up, we’d been pretty drab and looked to be heading out of the Capital One Cup in the opening round. But in the 78th minute everything changed. Jozy Altidore popped up and pulled one back. With less than 12 minutes to go could we find one more to take it to extra time? That’s all fans were asking.

And in the 85th minute Connor Wickham did just that and drew us level. From two goals down, it was now 2-2 and we were back in it. Extra time looked like a dead cert. But no more than three minutes later Wickham struck again and made it 3-2, it was only MK Dons but it sent the Sunderland fans into raptures. Such late drama in such an eventful game was a proper buzz for us.

Six minutes added time was given by the fourth official so it looked like it was going to be a nervy end to the game. Though, Adam Johnson wrapped it up for us on the 93rd minute make it 4-2 and kick-start our road to Wembley. Four goals in 12 minutes, Di Canio may have been mental but his fitness regime definitely paid dividends.

1. Sunderland 0-1 Fulham. This wasn’t the actual scoreline of this game; it was 2-1 to Sunderland. That was in the rearranged game and our first home win of the season.

The original game was called off after 21 minutes because it was snowing actual golf balls and the serious reduction of visibility made it nigh on impossible to play. Brian McBride had put Fulham ahead and Rory Delap had suffered a pretty horrific injury to his face after clashing with his own player and referee Mike Riley then decided enough was enough and decided the game should be abandoned. Maybe this game summed up Sunderland’s season.

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LEE HOWEY, LEE HOWEY, LEE HOWEY...
BY FRANCIS TODD MALONE
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

Although it may feel like the last few years have been a struggle, the reality is that things are as good as they've been for us for years - unless you're 65+. However, things might be as bad as the moaners would have you believe were it not for a goal at Portsmouth in 1996.

Most will have great memories of the Peter Reid era, even if it did all go sour at the end. Forget about that for now though. The bloke gave us the kiss of life when he arrived in 1995, keeping us up when all hope was gone. Despite a slow start, there were no relegation worries the following season - we actually went top of the league in December with a 6-0 win over Mick McCarthy's Millwall. But then we wobbled, won only one of our next eight - and went to Portsmouth not expecting much. The 1,000-odd who made it to Hampshire that day would have been dreaming of a place in the play-offs, at best.

I always enjoyed our trips to Portsmouth. Until they went all loadsamoney (and paid for it, but not before an FA Cup win and Europa League adventure), they were the closest you'll get to a Sunderland in the south. Fratton Park was very much like Roker, a characterful ground with decent support who deserved far better than the dross usually served up. And a bit of a tricky place to get away from post-match if you didn't respect your surroundings. Every time I went there, there was a well dressed set of lads in the paddock to my left, paying us marginally more attention than the match. They were far more than just a pretty Pringle - and we knew it.

Martin Scott was injured, so the Fireman (Gareth Hall, everything he touched went out) returned to a defence which was also without Dickie Ord. Bally's return to his old club was some sort of milestone league appearance for him, although I can't remember the number, but he was set in midfield - so Lee Howey lined up alongside Andy Melville in central defence. Shay Given, Dariusz Kubicki, Paul Bracewell, Micky Gray, Steve Agnew and on-loan Manchester United winger Terry Cooke were our other players, all behind Craig Russell on his own up front. Phil Gray, John Mullin and Micky Bridges were on a one-dimensional bench. 

Aggers gave us an early lead with our first goal of the year (it was mid-February) but they equalised before half-time and a grim 300-odd mile journey home looked on the cards when they made it 2-1 late on, after Russ had seen a penalty saved.

Cometh the hour, as they say. We won a corner and makeshift defender Howey reminded us all of his striking roots with a beast of a header. To say it was powerful is an understatement - I've never kicked a ball as hard as he headed this one. It sparked a song we still sing to this day and a nine-match winning run I can remember as if it were yesterday (apart from most of the 2-1 win at Oldham, when I supped too much on the way down and spent most of the game sleeping it off). Home crowds doubled, away allocations were sold out - it was a wonderful time.

The run set us up for promotion and although it petered out with just one win and three goals in one of our last six games, we won the league to make sure we'd say goodbye to Roker at the top level. Reidy had improved us – though nobody could have predicted such a spectacular change of fortune. But for the lad with the dubious brother, it might never have got off the ground.

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BELGIUM V WALES, JULY 2, 2016
BY IAN MOLE (LINES FROM LONDON)

As I approached the Belgo, a large chrome and glass bar on Kingsway WC2, I knew that anything could happen in this match. I hadn’t seen the Belgium v Hungary game but had just been told that the 4-0 score flattered them as the veteran Hungarian goalie had had a stinker. Of course I was rooting for Wales as apart from anything I’m one eighth Welsh – well, you have to hang onto anything you can in these grim times. I was pleased to see that there were loads of Belgium fans in the bar with red shirts, chevrons and all the gear. The Belgo bars aren’t cheap (£5.35 for a pint of Belgo Wit) but the booze is quality and there’s a great selection of beers as well as a good variety of tasty-looking snacks (mussels being to the fore). Ever since that Monty Python sketch forty-odd years ago the idea that Belgians are boring has seeped into the collective consciousness but I’ve always found them to be a jolly lively crowd. I took a spot against the bar right at the front with a good view of one of several tellies just as the game kicked off.

Wales were in red and I was glad as I think it weakens a side if they have to change colours. In the seventh minute there was a tremendous assault on the Welsh goal with three shots on target being cleared within a matter of seconds but finally the ball was turned out for a corner and they’d somehow survived. Six minutes later though, they fell behind when Nainggolan lammed a great shot from outside the box into the top left-hand corner and Hennessey in goal could only help it into the net. Wales were very much on the back-foot for a quarter of an hour or so and looked punchless upfront while they picked up yellow cards for Chester and Gunter. Finally they produced a good shot on target from Taylor but Courtois saved well. A few minutes later they were level when from their second corner in a row Williams placed a stonking header into the bottom right corner. A sizeable cheer erupted in the bar and clearly I wasn’t the only one supporting Wales. This revitalized the Welsh and they had the better of the rest of the half producing a great move down the right in the final minute which culminated in a Robson-Kanu header on target that Courtois saved.  It had been a great game and I looked forward to the second-half.

Fellaini had replaced Carrasco as we kicked off again. Belgium pressed in the early stages with a Lukaku header going well wide and then good shots from De Bruyne and Hazard going worryingly close. Ten minutes in, Wales went ahead and it was a great finish from Reading’s finest Robson-Kanu. He received a cross from the right and swivelled round a defender or two before shooting home. Now if Harry Kane could have done something similar… The Belgian fans in the bar raised their first chant of the evening as they rallied to support their side but it was looking good for Wales. One thing about the Belgo, you have to keep your eye on your pint as several times I had to wrest my partly-full glass back from overzealous bar-staff. Belgium pressed forward as they had to but Wales held out with doughty defending. Mertens replaced Lukaku with fifteen minutes on the clock and the latter had been a disappointment. Wales replaced Ledley and Robson-Kanu with King and Vokes and they continued to defend well. Five minutes from the end they crowned a great night with a third goal when Gunter crossed from the right and Vokes nodded it into the bottom right corner. In the bar this was greeted with whoops in some places and stony silence in others. There were three minutes of stoppage-time but Wales were never going to let it slip and there were cheers in the bar as the whistle went.

Once again a well-organized side that plays as a team has defeated a side containing a galaxy of great stars. It’s Wales v Portugal next and you’ve got to fancy their chances of making it to the final.

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BITS & BOBS...
BIG SAM WANTS A FRONT MAN

Big Sam is still in for Swansea's Andre Ayew, but will have to wait to see if any of the top four clubs come in for him first as the player is understood to be looking for a Champions League club. If we can't get Ayew we could turn our attentions to his Swansea team-mate, Bafetimbi Gomis, however Marseille are also very interested in the 30 year old striker.

In other news, Laurie McMenemy had admitted that he was unmitigated disaster as Sunderland manager! Oh well at least he's honest! “I haven’t been to the new stadium... I’m not sure I’d be allowed in. Hands-up, I didn’t do anything right when I was at Sunderland,” he said. “It’s the biggest regret of my career. More was expected of me because I came from up here and we’d won the cup down at Southampton and were second in the league to Liverpool. I think everybody expected the same up here. There were things that I had to sort out that I didn’t know about until I got here. But I wouldn’t put the blame on anyone else. The manager has to take the blame because you’ll get the pats on the back when you win. Jimmy Tarbuck is a friend of mine and he famously joked ‘What have Lawrie and the Titanic got in common? Neither one should have left Southampton’. I’d been at Southampton all that time and it was time for a move. I’d been there 12 years. I came from a situation where you handled everything at the club from top to bottom. And when I came here, the boardroom was completely different. The mistake I made was being made a director, when I should have just concentrated on the football. Some of the players didn’t do it for me and hands-up, I failed. That was probably the least pleasurable time of my football career.”

Meanwhile, Julio Arca reckons that Sam Allardyce will have SAFC safe next season with a comfortable mid table finish. Hoolio said: “If you look back it’s the same kind of school that they come from - Sam Allardyce and Peter Reid. Last season they finished well but the last thing Sunderland fans want to do is go through that again. It’s been happening for the last three or four seasons and it’s very frustrating. When you see all the support from the fans - every time they play at home it’s a full house - so of course it’s frustrating. But towards the end of the season they played really well, they fought for each other and obviously there was a big influence from the manager. I’m sure that he’s going to get the team right. He’s probably going to bring new players because they do need to get stronger in different positions. But I’m looking forward to seeing Sunderland being comfortable in the Premier League this season. It’s probably the best time to play them. They’ll have new players and might not know each other much. Don’t get me wrong they’re going to have a great squad but I believe Sunderland finished well last season, so I’m sure they are going to get new players that will make the team stronger. I’m sure Sam Allardyce is going put the team this year into a comfortable position in the Premier League.”

Finally, Steven Fletcher has joined Sheffield Wednesday on a free transfer.

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SAFC 3 ENGLAND 0...
BY GILES MOONEY

There is a scene at the very end of The Truman Show where two security guards, having enjoyed the programme for years, are ready, moments after Truman leaves (spoiler, sorry), to ask 'what else is on?'. I've always enjoyed that scene. It highlights the brevity of celebrity and the ease with which we move on to the next all encompassing, over exposed world.

The scene was repeated in my house as England crashed out of Euro 2016. I didn't care. Wait, that's not true. I wanted us to win, a glorious end to 50 years of hurt, goals in the final by the rubbish one from City or that racist one from Leicester. But when the inevitable happened, I moved on. In about 10 minutes. Within half an hour I was discussing how relieved I was Defoe and Pickford hadn't been involved. They were spared the negative vibe and whatever that stuff with the lion was all about. My position on club v country now very different from the Giggs clashes of ten years ago.

SO WHAT HAS CHANGED?
After Euro 96 I was drained of all emotion. It meant everything. Twenty years on, friends still remind me that Southgate's penalty was the only one I watched and that it was therefore my fault. In 1999 when Kevin Phillips and Micky Gray played for England, I'm not ashamed to say I welled up with pride. Why have I gone from pride that our striker played to relief that they didn't? 

The first reason is that club football is better. Much better. El Classico or Italy v Spain? Could you imagine a time when Italy's top scorer played for Southampton? Can you imagine a world where James Maclean gets to the knockout stages of a major tournament? It's hard to care as much when it doesn't feel like their day job. It's not as good and so not as entertaining. 

But there's a bigger and more important reason. There's too much football. 

In a 'European week' I'll watch games or parts of games five days a week. No longer do I get a glimpse of an international legend every two years. Now I watch an interview with them on Sky Sports News followed by a live report from David Craig outside their dog groomer of choice. There's no longer the magic of sitting in front of the TV to watch that flickering picture from Mexico City and the little Argentinian genius we'd heard about and read about. Maradona went through a paternity case in Italy after an alleged long relationship that no one had known about. These days we'd get live updates from Paul Merson watching CCTV in the restaurant at their first date describing the choice of pudding. 

The Big Match on a Sunday was the time you got live football on TV. It made it special. You didn't turn over to it from Goals on Sunday or Scottish League Cup Live or the ridiculously named FL72. It was on between The Waltons and Highway with Harry Secombe. Knowing too much about the players, seeing them in my living room or on my phone whenever I want has made me care less when they select a best of eleven (that isn't that good) and head off to play other best of elevens who are also constantly on my TV, often made up of players from the same club side as someone in the other team.

I still enjoy the 24/7 coverage of my own club side. Whether it's Sky, the Internet, ALS, The Echo or Twitter. I spent longer discussing Borini's hair on Monday than discussing whether Sterling forces a narrower formation and puts too much pressure on the full back. Inevitably Sunderland and English club football will be the last thing I tire of. But that's in part down to the roller coaster of our club and watching the equivalent fun fair that is our nearest neighbours. Imagine being a Stoke fan. Or West Brom. Or even Everton, a team who had a shocking season having flirted with mid table but eventually finished safely in mid table. 24/7 news of 'nothing really happening'. People will get bored.

A lot of the people I know who feel the way I used to feel about England support League One clubs and below. The coverage of their club is more like the way we were covered ten or more years ago. They don't associate the players with being owned for 90 minutes by Kone, they're still just remote enough to be special. It's still a big stage for 'their team' by comparison to Hartlepool on a Tuesday night.

I've no doubt I sound bitter and old to many but I'm writing because I'm worried where this ends. I've gone from disgust at 'club v country' arguments to understanding and supporting them. I've gone from World Cup wall charts and diary planning to 'nah, I'll catch the highlights' How long before we start to wonder what else is on TV?

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TESTING TIMES...
BIG SAM FOR ENGLAND?

Well Sam Allardyce continues to be linked with the England job after Under-21 coach Gareth Southgate knocked back the job yesterday. Ex-FA chairman David Bernstein reckons that Sam is the man for the task. "I'm not saying we should have an English manager but, of the English managers, I actually would go for Sam Allardyce," Bernstein said. "He's a very powerful character. I think he's got the personality, the strength, he's a good technical manager, he's very experienced and he's someone who perhaps could imbue confidence. Because, clearly among other things, there's a psychological problem with our players, where they seem to get to a stage with international football where they just can't cope, and that's manifest time and time again, year after year, in individual errors which you just wouldn't expect from players."

Meanwhile, Allardyce's autobiography ghostwriter, the Sun's Shaun Custis, has also stated that if Big Sam was offered the job he'd take it! Eek!

Meanwhile, Santiago Vergini has gone back to Argentina to join Boca Juniors and Espanyol are looking at Jordi Gomez as Sunderland attempt to clear other deadwood like Will Buckley, Liam Bridcutt, Charis Mavrias and Adam Matthews. It also looks like we'll move Emanuele Giaccherini on despite him looking class during the Euros.

Boca president Daniel Angelici said: “With Vergini, we’re all settled. We’re just waiting for the player to come. But there is an agreement on the transfer and his contract. We think we will finalise it on Monday.”

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MURPHY'S LAW 
EURO 2016 IS ABOUT WINNING GAMES, NOT PLAUDITS

During ITV’s stellar coverage of England’s humiliating defeat to Iceland, a fantastic phrase was uttered by Clive Tyldesley. After Iceland netted their second goal, the winning goal, commentator Tyldesley said: ‘England have failed to capitalise on their superiority’. While I understand what Clive was implying — superior possession, chances created, and general control of the game — the phrase humoured me in its demonstration of why England continue to fail at major tournaments.

There are two things that matter in a game of football: scoring goals, and not conceding goals. If you can do one of these things then you might have a basis for a decent football side, if you can do both of them then you’re in business. If you can’t do either of them however, like England, then you will end up going out of a major international tournament faster than Roy Hodgson can say his own name. Playing a certain style of football may see you right over a 38-game league season, but in a tournament as short as this one, all that matters is outscoring your opponent. The only superiority, as Tyldesley would put it, is in winning.

WINNERS AND LOSERS
One of the most entertaining aspects of Euro 2016 so far is how competitive it is. There is no outstanding team as such, and none of the quarter finalists have an unblemished record at this stage of the tournament. Belgium, France, Germany, and Wales have each won 3 games out of 4, showing they have no trouble in finishing sides off. Germany and France are also undefeated, with the Germans showing great defensive stability, and France always with a late trick up their sleeve. Draw specialists Portugal may not have won any group games, but matching their opponents goal-for-goal means they are yet to lose a game as well. The tiny nation of Iceland is also undefeated at Euro 2016, having taken at least something from every fixture thus far, winning 2 of them. Astonishing, really.

There is no clear favourite. There are always teams you would expect to do better than others, but England fans would tell you that expectations are worth less than the pound sterling these days. On the basis of what really matters in football however, scoring goals and not conceding goals, who are the best team in the tournament, and in theory, the team that will go on to win it?

GOALS SCORED
Belgium entered the tournament as the highest-ranked team, and their goals department appears to reflect that. They have netted 8 times so far, averaging out nicely at two goals a game, although four of the goals did come against Hungary. Wales are only a goal behind them, however, and have showed that they aren’t just a one-man team, even if that one man is extremely important for them. Robert Lewandowski and his Poland side will definitely be concerned with their lack of firing power, having only scored 3 goals so far in France. Given that Lewandowski scored 5 goals in 9 minutes for Bayern Munich last season, however, Pepe and the Portugal defence certainly won’t be giving him an easy ride in their quarter-final fixture.

GOALS CONCEDED
Goal-happy Belgium have conceded just two goals so far, but that is by no means impressive given Germany’s record. The Germans are renowned for their disciplined defending, and after four games at the tournament they still haven’t conceded a goal. You’re looking at around 370 minutes of football there. For perspective, England conceded 2 goals in 12 minutes to Iceland, so aye. Newly signed Bayern Munich defender Mats Hummels is justifying his £30m transfer fee by showing consistently solid performances for Germany, while Jerome Boateng looks a different player to the one who was kept out of the Man City team by Kolo Toure and Joleon Lescott. Yikes.

At the other end of the spectrum, both Iceland and Portugal have conceded four goals. For Portugal, three of those goals came against Hungary, so they are no strangers to a defensive meltdown. Iceland will hope that their tenacity in attacking will see them through, as they have been known to park the sledge. While England and Wales couldn’t break them down, you would think that France have the attacking and midfield quality to do so.

CONCLUSIONS
With an overall goal difference of 6, both Germany and Belgium are winning the tournament on paper. Both teams know how to score goals, and their impressive defensive records show that cohesion and understanding is high in both camps, perhaps this is due to both squads having played together at youth and professional level for, in some cases, well over a decade. Maybe this explains why the England side never prospers. Alternatively, under-performing England players may be being punished for their sins in a past life, or at least that’s what Glenn Hoddle might say.

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DEAR ALS
TO THE FANS

Dear ALS

It was back in those far flung days, long before Stuart Hall was revealed as a pervert, and the BBC was an organisation with our best interests at heart. The days of It’s a Knockout now creepily idiosyncratic. The days of the long, entertaining and joyous road to Wembley on TV for a team lined up against the might of Leeds United. A truly David and Goliath encounter that no-one doubted the outcome. I too sat and watched more for the fun on display than any serious interest in the match. I sat giggling at the antics of the giant puppets occupied by the citizens from the respective finalists gave friendly and competitive battle.

After the fun it got serious as the kick off loomed. Interviews were made with the pundits of the day, the experts and the punters were all of the same frame of mind, how many were the invincible Leeds United going to win by.

Then there appeared on screen this man sat on the train, to me as a boy he looked quite elderly but was probably in his forties with his cloth cap and long overcoat he sat passively on his journey to watch his beloved team Sunderland FC. It may well have been his first time to the Capital, for me, I had never been nor had any inclination to until this frail-looking, humble man spoke when asked by the interviewer in a clipped and noticeably condescending accent who he thought would win in the final.

The man removed his cap, aware he was on camera and talking to people at home and leaned forward slightly and quietly and unassumingly replied. ‘My head tells me Leeds, but my heart says Sunderland.’ And that was that. I remarked to my dad (God rest him). ‘I’m supporting Sunderland dad.’ Good for you son he commented, most likely smiling at the naivety and innocence of the still very young.

But as we all know what happened on that extraordinary afternoon and the quite extraordinary scenes of the beautiful Bob Stoke, (God rest him) overjoyed and running across that pitch as if wings were on his feet to celebrate with a bunch of lads who with heart and courage seldom seen with footballers snatched victory for all the no-hopers in a world dominated by the mighty and they had been humbled and hope for the masses of ordinary people had been restored.

It has not been an easy journey supporting Sunderland especially in a place like Belfast. I catch glimpses of that fateful day in the army of Man United and Liverpool shirts and the same condescension when it comes to our encounters with them. Some things will never change, like my support for SAFC.

Laurence Todd

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DREADFUL DEFENDERS
BY JOSHUA CARR

THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

Over the years we’ve signed some fantastic defenders. The likes of Mickey Gray and Danny Rose have graced our left side, John Mensah and Jody Craddock have stood strong at centre back and Chris Makin and Phil Bardsley have impressed on the right side.

But since the Premier League started in 1992 we have signed many more dreadful defenders than decent ones. So many that you could probably fill all the pages in this magazine and still have a few players left over.

So, who are the worst defenders to wear the red and white shirt in the Premier League?

Marcos Angeleri
Where better to start than with the “beautiful Argentine”? Angeleri made a mere 3 appearances for the lads and it’s no mystery why. Despite featuring so little, we all have fond memories of the Argentine.

His saving grace was his beautiful, black locks, reminiscent of a member of Hanson but with a beard. You could almost forgive him when he made his final appearance for Sunderland and fell over the ball within seconds of coming off the bench.

My fondest memory of the Argentine comes during a pre-season game v Benfica in the Algarve. Angeleri had the ball at the corner flag and instead of clearing it, he weaved his way towards our goal, taking on 3 Benfica players before trying to clear the ball in a panic, directing his clearance at the bemused Simon Mignolet. Angeleri is currently a regular in the Malaga side, which is completely baffling if you ask me.

Ondrej Celustka
Despite having an outstanding debut against Fulham, this Czech Republic international right back, who was signed on a season-long loan under Paolo di Canio, soon saw his Sunderland career go right down the pan. He was slow, didn’t do much when he had the ball, and wasn’t actually very good at defending.

Somehow the defender did make an incredible 21 performances and was an unused substitute in our 3-1 defeat to Manchester City in the Capital One Cup Final. It makes you wonder why we don’t delve into the academy, when we sign players like this.

Calum Davenport
Calum Davenport began his career at Coventry and made a great impression in his 75 appearances for the Sky Blues. But after he left to move on to bigger and better things, the controversial defender never made more than 20 appearances for any of his future sides.

Davenport never really brought anything to the table and seemed a pretty pointless signing. He managed just 8 appearances for the Black Cats and it is safe to say he is better known for his off-field antics.

On his return to West Ham, Davenport was charged with assaulting his sister before he and his mother were both stabbed in the legs by two attackers. His career then came to a sudden halt and he ended up playing for amateur side Elstow Abbey, where he was later expelled for allegedly assaulting a teammate. Clearly a radge packet!

Wayne Bridge
Some of you may forget we once possessed a weary looking Wayne Bridge at left back. You would be forgiven for not noticing, as all he seemed to be was a name to fill the team sheet.

Bridge had a glistening career at Southampton before being snapped up by Chelsea where his career began to spiral out of control. Manchester City tried to save him but ended up shipping him out on loan. One of the teams at the receiving end was Sunderland.

His eight appearances were completely forgettable and when he left I don’t think one Sunderland fan batted an eyelid. He merely faded into the abyss, and retired after being released by Reading in 2014.

Sortirios Kyrgiakos
The wild Greek defender was anything but the calming influence Sunderland needed in their defence. Apparently, he was only signed because there were worrying rumours that Marcos Angeleri wanted to leave Wearside because he had no one to compare hair products with.

It is maybe harsh to describe Kyrgiakos as one of the worst defenders ever to wear a red and white shirt in the Premier League era as he only made three appearances. However, it is probably also a good thing we never got to see more of the clumsy Greek defender.

Kyrgiakos went on to sign for semi-professional side Sydney Olympic where he made just two appearances.

Paul McShane
I don’t know if it’s just me but it amazes me how Paul McShane is regarded by Hull fans as a decent defender. The Irish defender was signed for £1.5m under Roy Keane and made 24 appearances for Sunderland.

Of what I remember, his career on Wearside was littered with mistakes and he would probably fit perfectly into our current calamitous defence. This makes it even more incredible that he has made 31 appearances for his country.

The honey monster lookalike is currently lighting up Reading’s defence in the Championship.

Andrea Dossena
Dossena was another one of Paolo Di Canio and Roberto De Fanti’s odd signings. Although, it was one the Sunderland fans were slightly optimistic about. For the first time in a long time we’d signed a genuine, left footed, left back.

The Italian had enjoyed impressive spells at Udinese, Liverpool and Napoli before signing for Sunderland. And After a solid performance in the fiery 2013 2-1 derby day victory, Sunderland fans had every right to be optimistic.

But just one game later, Dossena proved what a poor defender he was. After cyphering down David Meyler at Hull, the mad Italian was sent off, and from that moment on, he seemed to lose the plot in every game. Almost as if hacking down wingers was something of a hobby.

There are so many more names that could be added to this list. Unfortunately the likes of Titus Bramble, Carlos Cuellar, Greg Halford and Pascal Chimbonda didn’t quite make it. Nor did the likes of Talal El Karkouri or Tal Ben Haim. I’m going to have to stop this because it’s just becoming embarrassing…

It is incredible how easy it is to compile a list of horrendous defenders who have donned the Red and White. It would be our wildest dream to one day possess a defence complete with quality.

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STAY SAM...
DEALS BUILDING

Sam Allardyce is concentrating on that task ahead at Sunderland, despite being third favourite for the England manager's job. Allardyce said: "I think for me, I had the experience a few years ago when I was at Bolton and I think I'm focusing on Sunderland at the moment. That (the England job) isn't on my mind. At the moment, my focus is on Sunderland."

Next England Manager Betting: 7/4 Gareth Southgate; 7/1 Harry Redknapp; 9/1 Sam Allardyce, Alan Pardew; 10/1 Eddie Howe; 12/1 Alan Shearer, Glenn Hoddle; 16/1 Gus Hiddink, Gary Neville, Laurent Blanc.

Jermain Defoe reckons that Big Sam could do well with England, while admitting he wants him to stay at Sunderland. Defoe said: “He (Allardyce) should be (linked with the England job), although I hope he doesn’t leave Sunderland. I’ve always known about Sam, but it’s only when you play for a manager that you actually realise what they bring to a team and what they bring to a dressing room. I remember when I was young, at West Ham, playing against his Bolton team and travelling up to the stadium thinking ‘It’s going to be a difficult one against Sam’s team’. It was so direct, and we always used to say it was a horrible way of playing, but so effective. He came into Sunderland and gave us the basis of how to win games, and that was it. He didn’t really complicate anything. On a Thursday, he would do the team shape and say, ‘This is what I want’ and ‘This is how we are going to win today’. It was always different depending on who we were playing against. ‘This is how I feel like we are going to win’. He could transfer that (to England), 100 per cent. If you look at the players we’ve got, especially the young players with the legs and the energy, then 100 per cent (he could do it). Obviously I want him to stay at Sunderland, but maybe he could do both.”
 
In other news, Emanuele Giaccherini, who is doing so well at the Euros, would love to join his national team manager, Antonio Conte, at Chelsea this summer, his agent has revealed. "I'd like to see him at Fiorentina, undoubtedly, but we have other situations at stake now. This is probably the high point of Giaccherini's career. If Conte calls, we'll fly to Chelsea."

Meanwhile, Giaccherini reckons his own pre-match speech helped Italy to a 2-0 win over Spain! "I made the speech to the players before the game, telling them we needed heart because tactics can only take you so far, and we had heart. A different player makes the pre-match speech every time as we are a group and everyone plays their part. "It should’ve been more than 2-0,” he continued. “We suffered towards the end of the second half, as we got too deep and they have exceptional players. We had so many chances and could certainly have finished it earlier.”

Now some good news, Rubin Kazan manager Javi Gracia reckons he doesn't want Yann M’Vila in his squad next season, despite M’Vila returning to Kazan last week for pre-season training. So fingers crossed we can do a deal with the Russians. “When I arrived at Kazan, there was a list of players to train with the first team,” said Gracia. “They were not included on that list. I can’t say at all that I am unhappy with them, they just weren’t on the list.”

Elsewhere, Marseille are also in for Sunderland target, Bafetimbi Gomis, who Swansea are looking to move on.

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TWO EURO EXITS IN A WEEK
BY FRANCIS TODD MALONE

Now the dust has settled, or more accurately, with the shit dried nicely on the walls and desks of the FA's headquarters having been flung there by an Iceland-shaped fan last night, what can we make of England's Euro 2016 campaign?

The latest exit from a tournament was not unexpected - but the manner in which it happened was. After qualifying impressively and raising hopes with a few decent pre-tournament results, England failed to find form in Group B, and - although they got out of it - a failure to win the group meant a tricky run of games awaited. That was assuming we beat Iceland, which was universally fancied given our supposed quality and resources and the fact that they are part-timers, plucky underdogs, glad to be here and all that.

As we all know, it didn't pan out that way. Within a quarter of an hour of getting the early goal they wanted, England found themselves trailing to a couple of soft goals. Then, with confidence drained and fearing the reaction if they went out, Hodgson's men showed a woeful lack of confidence and quality. Although some of them clearly had the desire to take control and try to bring about a change in fortune, they weren't up to it, consistently making the wrong decisions and failing even to do the basic things right. Crossing - a weak spot all tournament - got even worse, as did the shooting, while the introduction of the promising Marcus Rashford came too late. 

Of course, upsets happen in international football just as they do in the domestic game. There have been some bad England performances over the last 30+ years and in Nice the Three Lions looked relations of the one on the Wizard of Oz. None of this was lost on the punters. The phone-in shows which specialise in giving irate punters a platform to spout off after a disappointing defeat were doing good business - and for a change the callers were not OTT with their reactions. A quick glance at the ratings given to the players by some of Fleet Street's finest backed them up.

It was only minutes after the final whistle that Roy Hodgson was reading a statement announcing he was offski. Apparently the players had been fantastic and committed to the cause. Really Roy? Apparently he had written his farewell speech in the dressing room after the game too. Again, really Roy? Maybe he can rustle up a sequel to War and Peace while having his morning dump too. Clearly Hodgson's been around a bit but I'd wager a farewell speech is at the bottom of a manager's list of priorities in the immediate aftermath of crashing out of a big tournament. It's not controversial to suggest he feared the worst and was well prepared for it, just like the FA - who weren't far behind with their own statement. 

Who next? There are a lot of depressing names around. Pardiola is among the bookies' favourites, while Shearer threw his hat into the ring, speaking of experience. I've not heard Big Sam's name mentioned, which is just fine by me. Keep your grubby mitts off our man. 

Arsene Wenger looks to be a good fit. He's someone who would have no problems commanding the respect of players, meaning the days of knowing what our team will be 24 hours before the game, thanks to a mole in the England camp, would be gone. Has to be a good thing. The FA could offer the Frenchman an easy route out of a job where he seems to be increasingly unappreciated. Gareth Southgate and Gary Neville could learn a lot working alongside this guy, someone with serious experience and knowledge. He'll make sure his players know exactly what's needed of them - and they'll grow in stature as a result. Okay, so it might mean we start seeing a bit more of Theo Walcott again - but is that such a bad thing if it's at the expense of Raheem Sterling?

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KNEE JERK REACTION
BY SOBS

A "knee jerk reaction" said the gaffer. Fairly obvious, I thought, after another in a long line of England exits that make following Sunderland sort of understandable and a lot more than acceptable.

We'd seen the reaction to qualifying after all those changes, and it generally wasn't pleasant. But we were through. Roy could pick his bestest chaps, apart from Lallana, who'd got some ice stuck on his foot. Well, shit happens in major tournaments, and folks have to deal with it. Apart from Germany, because they plan too well, despite their flamboyant hairdos and all of those tattoos. Priorities? You decide.

Of course we were favourites. More people live in Leicester than Iceland, so there was no way they'd get the better of us. OK, he's unsure of the attack, but the defence is sound- or so we thought.

If you'd ordered a pint of Guinness at kickoff, you'd have been lucky to have knocked the froth off before Iceland levelled. Everybody's current fall guy, Sterling, has been comprehensively flattened by the keeper and the ref said pen. Rooney fired into in the corner with a      couple of minutes gone, and we quite naturally expected a deluge of goals. Sterling was sort of doing what he'd been picked to do, and was a nuisance, but a nuisance with no final ball or shot.

Did we get it? Oh no we didn't. There was plenty of attacking play, and a few choice saves by the Icelandic keeper, but most of the time we were fearing another defensive no-show like the equaliser, when our back post had been left woefully bereft of white shirts to allow the easiest of finishes. For all the possession there were precious few clear-cut opportunities, and as the clock struck 18, what looked like a fairly harmless shot from the edge of the box went through a few legs and, not for the first time this tournament, trundled into the net in a cloud of dandruff. Howler.

Still, well over an hour to go, I thought as I dodged and weaved to see the big screen past the West Ham shirt that continually moved instinctively to obscure my view.

Roy brought on Wilshire at the break, then Vardy, then Rashord (for Rooney, who at least had looked interested) but reverted to Kane, who's second half showing was abysmal, taking corners and shooting from free kicks over 40 yards out. Corners? Why, when Wilshire was on the field?

Last time I'd watched a game in the Scillonian Club (Portugal's 1-0 the other day doesn't count), it was in the company of a dozen German yachtsmen as their team dismantled Brazil a couple of years ago. This time, there was only one tipsy lady who kept shouting "come on Iceland" but I strongly suspect that I was the only person in the room to have actually visited the land of fire and ice (Ferryhill) and Iceland.

You do wonder what the coaches spend their time doing in the England camp, as players ran into each other and misplaced passes, but it certainly doesn't appear to be the basics of team play.

I'll not tire you with my detailed analysis of individual performances save to ask why Smalling continually risks penalties by shirt-pulling in every challenge in the box, and where Cahill was for the first goal. The rest? Disjointed is the nicest I can be. Sturridge had to come far too deep to get the ball, and Vardy, again, had a crowded box to run into.

Now Roy has handed in his letter of resignation (I wonder when that was written) and will be standing behind David Cameron in the dole queue shortly, that's another tournament of inexcusable inefficiency from England. I stood up for them and the manager after the last game, but I won't stand up for them after failing to dispatch a team from a nation with a population smaller the Leicester. Whatever your opinion of Roy's team selection and tactics, you have to question the disorganization that the Prem's best bunch of Englishmen displayed. They managed 17 shots, sure, but only four were on target and one of those was the penalty. It's easy for me to say, but Defoe and Townsend represent a simplicity that was shamefully lacking. Shoot when you see the goal, run in straight lines at the opposing defence.

The future? For me, it's seven o'clock and the sun's out, so I'm ok. For England, another over-badged dullard who hasn't cracked top- level management awaits. Gareth Southgate was a cracking player and seems like a nice enough bloke, but....aww, ha'way.

Anyway, my cousin Lily's grandma was Welsh, so I'm swapping allegiance until they show their essential Englishness and crash out in a cloud of shredded leeks - look, they can't be that good, cos England beat them.

Anybody want to buy an England shirt?

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SPAIN V ITALY, 27TH JUNE 2016
BY IAN MOLE (LINES FROM LONDON)

Bradley’s Spanish Bar in Hanway Street W1 is my favourite bar down here and the main barman impressed me by remembering after just one brief meeting what I usually drink and which team I support. As I strolled in at around 4.30 he had the pint of Mahou flowing without me asking and announced, “He’s not playing!” He was referring to Giaccherini but quickly corrected himself as Emanuele’s face appeared onscreen. There were a lot of Spanish fans present as kick-off approached and their side was unchanged yet again. Spain had a good idea maybe when they decided not to have any words for their national anthem but I was impressed with the way all the Italians belted theirs out as if their lives depended on it. I had to try to hang on to five seats for some new American relatives of mine and that can be tricky in a busy bar.

There were some cries of “Vamos!” (Haway!) as the game started but it was Italy who really got going from the off. Despite the sudden pouring rain, which caused several players to slip, the Italians looked like they really meant business and their domination culminated in an eleventh minute overhead kick from Giaccherini that De Gea did well to save before it was booted off the line. A London guy near me announced, “This is just Italy kicking the ball around” and the Spanish fans in the bar were ominously silent. After about twenty minutes Spain started to get back into it and just before the half-hour they mustered their first decent shot on target. This renaissance was short-lived as Italy soon won a couple of corners and then a free-kick in a dangerous position. The kick was shot low and De Gea managed to block it but as Giaccherini raced in to pounce on the rebound he was brought down by De Gea and in the melee it broke loose to Chiellini who smashed it in from close range. My Americans folks had meanwhile arrived and squeezed themselves in next to me and one of them looked a bit alarmed as I showed my approval of the goal. I don’t know what Giaccherini’s plans are but after getting the Man of the Match award in his first match in this tournament he was again playing great, rounding off a fine first-half performance by lashing in a shot that De Gea did well to tip out for a corner. As far as I recall Giacchs was already out of the picture before Big Sam arrived so I hope they’ll be having serious talks soon.

Because of the cramped nature of the room and the fact that I was sitting right next to the bar I began to be called upon to assist sundry patrons with their orders, passing pints over heads and forwarding payment and change in opposite directions. I noticed that a few of the Spanish lads also spoke very natural English and were probably second or third generation. 

Spain had a very good chance three minutes into the second-half but Morata headed straight at Buffon in goal. Cries of “Puta!” (whore, but really a catch-all term of abuse) began to be uttered around the bar from then on and the mood among the Spanish fans near me was reminiscent of that in the Roker End and at the SoL for too many matches over the last five decades of my attendance. Spain had a few short decent spells but the Italians looked controlled and very sharp on the break. Vasquez replaced Morata with twenty minutes to go and this was met with great approval in the bar and as time ticked away Spain produced two very good chances, firstly a long-distance Iniesta shot that Buffon tipped over and then a Pique effort that was well-saved. The youngest of my American rellies knew a great deal about Premier League football but it was all rather new to his parents. I think I’ve sown the seed of affection for SAFC in them but maybe I shouldn’t have.. Spain were having a go but they didn’t look really threatening and the mood in the bar continued to be sombre. Four minutes of stoppage-time were announced and rather than sit on their slender lead, Italy powered forward and scored a great second goal. The Spanish were stretched and there was oceans of space down their right as the ball came over and was promptly passed back across the box. It took a slight deflection off a defender on the way and that was just enough to place it in front of the onrunning Pelle, who whacked it home. Several Spanish lads next to me promptly stood up and left. So, it ended 2-0 and despite being labelled by some Italian pundits as the worst squad ever/the last fifty years etc, this Italian side are into the last eight and are going to take some stopping.

If you’re in London and want to watch the Germany v Italy match on Saturday evening with a load of Italian fans, I recommend in the street outside Bar Italia in Soho. It’s only a little telly but the atmosphere is great.

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ENGLAND V ICELAND, 27TH JUNE 2016
BY IAN MOLE (LINES FROM LONDON)

If England win, I feel a vague glow in my mind but if they (not ‘we’, notice) lose, I don’t care. What I don’t like about a lot of England fans is this delusional belief that England are a top team. Apart from the World Cup in 1990 and the Euros in 1996 there’s been precious little evidence of this since 1966 and that’s a very long time ago. The Italians were saying before this tournament that their current squad is the worst ever; well, I’d swap them for the England squad any day. So, I didn’t care whether England won or not as I made my way to the Nordic Bar in Newman Street W1. I knew it was a place where Scandinavian fans gathered to watch big matches and as soon as I walked in I could see men and women wearing Viking horned helmets and looking full of hell. I got a pint of super cold Carlsberg (£4 a pop, which is very cheap for here) and threaded my way through the buzzing crowd to a rear area. I got a good standing spot with a decent view of a screen and there was a mix of England and Iceland fans around me; they were all speaking English.

As for the match, all the important action occurred within the first eighteen minutes. Four minutes in, England won what to me looked like a bit of a soft penalty and Rooney struck it well to put England one-up. I thought that would knock the stuffing out of the Icelanders but quite the opposite as within a minute or so they were level through a classic poacher’s goal from Sigurdsson (R). There was much roaring all around me with cries of “EECE-LAND” and maybe it’s the Viking genes in me but I have to say that I felt a bit pleased. England won a couple of corners in a row but it was Iceland who took the lead when Sigthorsson struck a low shot that Hart really should have stopped. On the telly, the Iceland fans had a scary chant that got progressively louder and sounded like “OO-AH!” Hmm, it doesn’t look very scary on the page but it spooked me a bit anyway. For both of their goals England’s defending left a great deal to be desired. Given what happened in the matches against Slovakia and Russia, it wasn’t hard to imagine how the rest of the game would pan out i.e. Iceland would play deep and defend their lead and England would struggle to break them down. That’s exactly what happened and despite having much more of the ball, Iceland’s goal was rarely threatened. Wilshere came on for the second-half and then Vardy replaced Sterling on the hour but things were going from bad to worse with lousy shooting and little in the way of inspiration. It wasn’t till Rashford replaced Rooney with four minutes on the clock that there was a spark but it was clear that an equalizer wasn’t going to come. How can a country with the population (forget Leicester) of Sunderland manage to defeat a team from a population of sixty-odd million? I don’t know for sure but team-spirit and the will to win must be major factors and I didn’t see much of that from England’s players. The Iceland fans in the bar were lashing down lots of bottles of Einstok Icelandic White Ale and getting stuck into all manner of meaty and fishy snacks as I left them to it.

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SAFC CONFIRMS VENUES FOR PRE-SEASON GAMES
NEUTRAL VENUES

The venues for Sunderland AFC’s trio of games in France next month have now been confirmed. The week-long trip begins when the Black Cats take on FC Stade Nyonnais on Monday 25 July, followed by Dijon FCO on Wednesday 27 July. Both games will take place at the Stade Camille-Fournier, Évian-les-Bains. The tour concludes with a fixture against Montpellier HSC on Saturday 30 July, at the Stade Jacques Forestier in Aix-les-Bains. The three stadia are located in and around the Lake Geneva area and are neutral venues, not the home stadia of the teams involved. Tickets will be priced at £12 for adults and £6 for under 16s and over 65s.

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MY SUNDERLAND PREMIER LEAGUE XI
BY CRAIG CLARK
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

I was born in 1986 so the vast majority of my footballing life has been dominated by the existence of the Premier League. Sunderland have also spent a decent amount of time in the top tier of English football since 1992, so I thought it might be interesting to make up a team of players who have made the most appearances in a Sunderland shirt in the Premier League in their respective positions. Here it is.

Goalkeeper: Thomas Sorensen
A hugely popular figure with the Stadium of Light crowd, the big Dane’s Sunderland career is best remembered for THAT penalty save at St James Park. Not only did it prevent Alan Shearer from scoring, it pretty much secured three points in the process. That aside, he racked up 126 top flight appearances for the club, putting him some way ahead of nearest rival for the position, Simon Mignolet.

Right Back: Phil Bardsley
Bardo currently holds the record for the most number of appearances in the Premier League for the Lads. After Roy Keane signed him for a paltry £1m, he saw managers come and go with alarming frequency, yet almost always finding a way into their sides. I was among his critics, but it’s hard not to look back on his time here with some fondness. He gave me one of the best moments of my Sunderland supporting life when he equalised in the League Cup semi-final at Old Trafford, which also marked the completion of his redemption after being frozen out by Paolo Di Canio.

Left Back: Mickey Gray
It’s always nice to see a local lad do well and Mickey certainly did that. His partnership with Allan Johnston was a joy to behold. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see him link up with Magic in the top flight, but Gray continued to be an impressive force without him. His ability to overlap and provide crosses for Quinn and Phillips to thrive on was one of the driving forces behind our two consecutive seventh place finishes under Peter Reid.

Central Defender: John O’Shea (captain)
A mainstay in our defence, O’Shea recently reached a personal milestone by playing his 400th Premier League game. The Irishman has come in for some stick during his time at Sunderland, but when he eventually calls time on his spell at the club, I think he’ll be remembered with affection. His importance to the side is most evident when he’s missing. Without him in the team, our defence has the solidity of a blancmange. He may not be the quickest, but he’s certainly a leader with a quick mind, and that makes him the obvious choice to captain the side.

Central Defender: Jody Craddock
To create a team of players in their correct positions, I had to overlook one or two wingers who made more appearances than Jody, but at least he’s not an unwelcome inclusion. Craddock is a likeable lad who played a vital role at the back during the Peter Reid years. Not only did he put in one of the greatest recovery tackles I’ve ever seen at the Stadium of Light, unfortunately I can’t remember the opposition or division we were in, he also seems like a top bloke. It was great to see him recognised with a Wolves testimonial involving a Sunderland XI not so long ago.

Right Midfield: Sebastian Larsson
Seb’s best years at Sunderland have come in central midfield, but he was signed by Steve Bruce to play on the right hand side. It’s a position he’s more than comfortable in, having made the majority of his international appearances for Sweden as a wide player. He hasn’t always been a popular figure amongst the Stadium of Light faithful, but his work rate and energy have finally won just about everyone over, earning him the player of the season award in 2014/15.

Left Midfield: Kieran Richardson
Like Larsson, Richardson was signed to play on the wing, before being played in just about every other position but that one. Not quite a central midfielder, a number 10 or a winger, he was probably best as a full back. His electric pace was undermined by wayward passing making him a frustrating player to watch. I was quite surprised to see he’d made 134 top flight appearances for Sunderland, comfortably making it into this team. Whilst he wasn’t always loved here, he’ll never be forgotten for that incredible free kick that broke our home hoodoo against the Mags.

Central Midfield: Lee Cattermole
A firm favourite amongst the vast majority of Sunderland fans, Cattermole will surely break Bardsley’s Premier League appearance record before his career on Wearside is over. What is there to say about the Teessider that hasn’t already been said, and frankly, what’s not to like?

Central Midfield: Jack Colback
An unfortunate blight on this team, I had to check my calculator several times before I admitted defeat and let him in! Best remembered for shushing St James Park after scoring in one of our countless 3-0 wins over them.

Striker: Kevin Phillips
Whether he was your favourite or not, Phillips is undoubtedly the best player we’ve had in the top flight in recent history. Alongside Quinn, he was an unstoppable force of goals, sticking them away with right foot, left foot, head, knee and knob. He was just as comfortable scoring a wonder goal from 30 yards as he was tapping them in from in the six yard box. Chips, lobs, long range screamers, all our players had to do was give the man a sniff of an opportunity and the ball would find the net. In fact, he scored so many goals that he won the European Golden Shoe in the 1999/2000 season, which was a quite incredible feat.

Striker Niall Quinn
One of the most important men in the club’s history and not just as a player; without Saint Niall we probably wouldn’t even be in the Championship let alone the Premier League. Whilst things didn’t start well for him as a player in our final season at Roker Park, he was simply incredible once he’d overcome his injuries. He formed the perfect partnership with Phillips, proving to be a real touch of class. An incredible player and it’s fitting that he leads the line in this XI.

Subs Bench
In order to create a balanced bench, I’ve left one or two out who made higher appearances than those listed. You’ve got to have at least one striker on there.

Simon Mignolet, Darren Williams, Gavin McCann, Kevin Kilbane, Steed Malbranque, Kenwyne Jones

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THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE FOOTY FAN
BY SOBS

THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

Apparently, there’s a formula which is used to generate the Premier League fixture list, one that contains algorithms which take into account who’s playing in the Europa League on a Thursday, or Champions League on a Tuesday, how tall the kit man is, and who you’re playing the week before or the week after. Very clever, you say, until both SAFC v Swansea fixtures this season are on a Tuesday, and the Welsh version is four days before our trip to Spurs. Is that really the best option the formula can come up with? Anyway, it can’t be expected to cope with the FA Cup draw, so the trip to Arsenal three days before we go to Swansea means that those attending all three games will rack up 1785 miles in eight days. Nearly as far as Gareth Hall could trap a ball.

Of course, mad fixture combinations are nothing new, our last three games at Palace have been on a Monday night, for instance, so it occurred to me to have a look at marathon efforts put in by our fans over the years. For the sake of my calculator, I’ve assumed that everyone starts in SR5, in our madness have decided to follow Sunderland to the ends of the earth whatever the day of the week, and have taken a week to be Saturday to Saturday. I’ve also used the current road network, which includes many more motorway miles than it did in days of yore, so most of these journeys would actually have been longer than indicated as I waffle on.

Take, for instance, December 1970, when we travelled 306 miles to Cardiff on the 12th to see Joe Baker’s consolation in a 1-3 defeat, with Richie Pitt scoring at the wrong end, before going 267 miles to Watford. Alan Brown replaced Martin Harvey and Baker with Cec Irwin and Dave Watson a week later, and we held on for a 1-1 draw after Dave Watson’s debut goal, in the days when he was the forward Alan Brown had signed him as, was equalised by a late penalty. Watford included Ray Lugg and Ron Wigg, names straight out of Roy of the Rovers. Colin Todd played in both games; two months before we received a club record £175,000 from Brian Clough at Derby for him. As Clough had managed Toddo and the rest of our youth team that won the Youth Cup in 1967, he obviously knew he was worth it. That was 1148 miles all told.

Ten months later, in October 16th 1971, there was a 203 mile trip to St Andrews to see Bobby Kerr’s 6th minute strike equalised by Bob Latchford seven minutes later, which was followed by a Tuesday in Charlton, where a 2-2 draw was gained thanks another 6th minute strike, this time from Billy Hughes, and another late in the first half by Phil Warman. Never heard of him? That’s because it was an OG, and four days later we were at Oxford, losing 0-2, and completing a round 1500 miles for the week. Eight men played in all three games, and only one substitute was available.

A decent cup run obviously necessitates the rearrangement of league games, which is why on the Monday 7th May 1973 a Vic Halom equaliser earned us a draw at Cardiff, a week after David Young’s only Sunderland goal, after just two minutes, won a point at Orient with debutant Trevor Swinburne in goal, and Ian Bowyer featuring for the home side. In between those games was a quick trip to Wembley to bring back the FA Cup and make a total of 1702 miles that week. Only fourteen players were used over the three games, proving that they were fitter, tougher, and dafter than their modern counterparts and probably didn't moan as much and just got on with it!

Our first away game of the ’75-76 season was at Bristol City on Tuesday August 19th, a shambolic defensive display that proved Jackie Ashurst was no full-back, and Trevor Swinburne had picked the ball out of the net in front of the unhappy few huddled on the terraces twice in the first half. It resulted in a miserable 0-3 defeat and an equally miserable overnight journey home, unless you went camping in Cornwall, as some of the Trimdon lads did. For them, that made a slightly shorter journey to Oxford on the Saturday, where Bob Stokoe replaced Swinburne, Ashurst, Longhorn, and Porterfield with Monty, Malone, Towers, and Tommy Gibb (aye, Tommy Gibb). Bobby Moncur’s first Sunderland goal, watched through a Pernod-induced haze by certain sections of the visiting fans, was equalised in the last minute by Derek Clarke, brother of Richie Pitt’s mate Allan, to earn us a point. A mere 1228 miles, or 1330 hitchhiking and 30 by bus if you happen to be writing this. Pfft.

Fast forward a few seasons to Easter Monday 1980 and we’d had two days to celebrate beating the Mags with a Stan Cummins goal as we travelled to Wrexham with promotion in mind. Alan Brown scored the only goal, which was nice, as we had to go the Shrewsbury the next day, which was more than a bit mad. Even madder was that nine of the Lads played in all three games, and two of them, Pop Robson and Stan Cummins, scored in a memorable 2-1 win. The round trip was 836 miles, but if you had access to a car, a tent, a day off work, and a willingness to spend the night in the Welsh Marches, you could do it in a loop of 440 miles. Double pfft.

The madness of the fixture list reared its ugly head again in February 1995, with us sitting in 21st place (of 24, so not a good place to be with four to go down) in the second tier, as it took us to Watford on Tuesday 21st. Mick Buxton’s team, on paper (insert usual joke here about grass) looked strong enough to win, and they did, thanks to Craig Russell’s early goal, moving us out of the relegation zone. Watford’s squad included the fabulously named Perry Digweed as an unused substitute goalkeeper, of whom a Watford fan once said “I’m going to ask Digweed for his gloves. I’ll do the washing up in them.” Someone who did play against us that day was a short-house striker called Kevin Phillips. Whatever happened to him? Saturday 25th saw us trek to Southend, avoid Eastenders on a short break, and this time it was Steve Agnew’s turn to score. His goal at the end of the first half lifted us to the lofty heights of 17th, and, for the record, a total of only 12,875 watched the two games, Peter Reid came in and kept us up despite having to play Brett Angell, and we travelled 1,020 miles that week.

In October 2000, the fixture computer could hardly be blamed for the League Cup draw, which sent us to Bristol Rovers at the Memorial Ground. Those of us who remembered Eastville as dilapidated could understand the move to Twerton Park in Bath and the subsequent share with the Rugby Club at “the Mem”. In League two at the time of this visit, they had a lively forward by the name of Nathan Ellington, and it took Don Hutchison’s first goals for us either side of his strike, all in the second half, to get us to the next round. That was on a wet Tuesday 31st, and four days later we were at Spurs, where Hutch scored again. Unfortunately, they scored twice to win, but at least the delightful Ben Thatcher was sent off for a nasty challenge in the last minute. That raised the second loudest cheer of the day from the away end, who remembered his assault on Nicky Summerbee when we played Wimbledon at Selhurst. When it comes to holding a grudge, we’re bloody good, and at least it gave us something to smile about on the last 275 of the 1,150 miles travelled that week.

Let’s finish this off with a London double. With games a whole week apart, it just sneaks in as awkward, as, over the years, you get used to travelling to the capital on consecutive weekends. On April 20th 2002 we were in a precarious 15th in the Prem when we nipped down to West Ham. We were rubbish, and Joe Cole tore us apart, having already having a goal incorrectly ruled offside before setting up Trevor Sinclair for the first half opener. Why did we never sign him? Steve Lomas and Jermain Defoe (who?) finished us off, meaning we were in 17th place when we fetched up at Charlton on the 27th. There were four changes, and by the time we’d found our seats it was 1-1, with Kilbane equalising Euell’s first minute goal in the second. Phillips put us ahead in the 11th, and it looked like we might claim all three points until Lisbie became the third Kevin to score that day (surely a record?) with less than ten minutes to go. The point lifted us to 17th, where we stayed for the rest of the season, preserving our Premier League status for another season. 1116 miles travelled.

So, of all the marathon journeys we’ve made in support of the Lads, and we’ll leave out the obvious trips to pre-season jollies in mad places like the west coast of the USA and Singapore, the first one of 2016 is the longest, but only by some 83 miles or so, of those I’ve remembered. There might well be some other long-distance nightmares that I’ve overlooked, because a) even I’m not old enough to bring them to mind, b) because I’ve simply forgotten them, or c) they were just so horrible that my mind refuses to cope with them. I vaguely remember a game being hastily rearranged at Selhurst Park about fifteen or sixteen years ago after the weather got in the way, necessitating two trips to Croydon, but I can’t work out when the original game was scheduled. Either way, there will have been many fans who made these journeys, as missing a game involving Sunderland is/was simply not an option.

Sunderland’s travelling Red and White army, we salute you.

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Out Of The Euros
By Sobs

Votes have been cast and counted. Democracy says that the UK no longer wants to be part of the European Union. This is a football /page/blog, so I'll refrain from making any political comments on this. Which I always do, because football and politics have nowt to do with each other (insert huge winky emoticon if desired).

However, the outcome, like it or not, could have huge repercussions on the English game - and probably the Scottish game as well (no, seriously). Sitting, as I am, in a compact and bijou holiday flat on Scilly, which is the furthest you can get from a league club (Plymouth, if you're asking) as you can get, taking a break between beach, pub, and whatever next, the implications of brexit on my football life should be the furthest thing from my tiny mind. But they're not. Euro considerations are now not how to get to our continental games this summer, but how to keep hold of our continental players.

Had we not been in the Euro, we'd not have been able to sign the likes of Vito, Kirchoff, Lens, M'Vila (having seen the Russian fans' antics in Marseille, do you wonder he allegedly kept an axe under his bed?), Borini, Kaboul, PVA (due to regulations concerning solvent content) and Toivinen? OK, mebbe forget big Ola, but you get my drift. Oh, and how would Arsenal have managed without bringing in 16-18 year-olds from abroad? That particular bit.might have meant better chances for British kids, and thus have given England a backhanded advantage in terms of an increase in decent players having the opportunity to get a break at an English club.

In the prem as a whole, there are 108 players who wouldn't have satisfied the criteria regarding the number of international games played to stay in that league. You might well say that gets shot of a lot of dross that has been clogging up the road to first team football for British players, which it does (bye bye, de Michaelis), but it also means that had we not been in the Euro, Chelsea and City would simply been unable to win the trophies they have in the last few years. As for us, we'd probably have been knackered without the season-saving antics of Borini, Vito, PVA, Kirchoff, and a few others. Up the road, Magxit would have happened a few years earlier and the Quayside bars would have gone bust without the hordes of overpaid French poseurs masquerading as footballers.
It'll undoubtedly take a while for all, or indeed any, of these rules to kick in, and bearing in mind who owns Chelsea, don't bet against things staying exactly how they are. If, however, the song remains the same (copyright Led Zep, just in case), we, along with the rest of the league, and not just the Prem, will have to seriously change the way we recruit and buy players.

The decision has been made by the Electorate, and it was democratic. Like it or not, we have to live with it, and whatever else it brings as a consequence (think mad blond hair, ill-fitting suit, and someone already saying " Yoiks, well, we don't actually have to leave just yet, because I've got what I wanted and that's Dave's job. Blimey!") so football will have to change its way of thinking. Passports for Swansea, anyone? No, that would be silly.

Aside from that, day one of brexit has made Ellis Short's fortune 7.5% larger, as it has the fortunes of all American owners, so happy days. That's a few more Bridcutts to the pound.

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EUROS ROUNDUP
BY FRANCIS TODD MALONE

It's fair to say no team has stood out. Italy looked a class act in beating Belgium, who recovered from their setback with two wins you'd expect from a side with their quality. Germany's passing in their win over Ukraine was near enough perfect but they're not taking their chances, France have been little more than functional but - like Germany - have that 'will take something special to knock them out' air about them. Spain and Portugal? I wouldn't back either.

That said, Iceland's late goal against Austria was good news for England. Sure, they've proved they're no mugs - but it's fair to say they don't have a world beater in the Ronaldo bracket. He woke up against Hungary, just in time to torment Roy Hodgson's lot again, so it's a good job their paths won't cross in their next game.

As for England, it's the usual tournament story. Players who've looked decent week in, week out, in the company of some of the best players in the world pull on the Three Lions and don't perform. Harry Kane being the most blatant example. The bloke has been nigh on unplayable all season, blasting in goals from all angles and rarely failing to work the goalkeeper. Then he pulls on the Three Lions and goes all Lilian Laslandes, although you have to think 60+ games might have something to do with that. Not that it helped that he was given dead ball duties against Russia, not quite sure what that was all about. As for Jamie Vardy, most would have backed him tucking away his first-half chance against Slovakia - and they'd have lost.

England's best players so far? Dier, Lallana, Rose - in that order, I reckon. At the other end of the scale we've got the perpetually frustrating Raheem Sterling, whose underwhelming form looks to be due to a lack of confidence. Not something he's struggled with before.

Somewhere in between is Jordan Henderson, who looked all right to most of us against Slovakia and was credited for his display by well respected journos. He tried to make things happen, valued possession and pinged a couple of decent balls in, yet seemed to be the scapegoat for the result on social media. It's cretins like these that keep me detached from England. I can sort of accept over the top bobbins I see and hear about Sunderland after a bad show - but if it comes from our fans I can deal with their opinions, whether I agree or not. Reading the OTT ramblings of Reading, Exeter and Halifax fans bleating about players I couldn't give a toss about is a different story. Jordan's the exception though cos he's one of us isn't he? I'd love to see him prosper. Of course he's nowhere near the finished article but I don't recall too many world-beating performances in tournaments from the more experienced Gerrard and Lampard either.

Elsewhere, Croatia have been good to watch so far. Plenty of spirit, no little quality, and the wand of a left foot of Ivan Perisic, who's looked the part for Wolfsburg and Inter Milan but still represented too much of a risk for me to plonk him in my Fantasy League team - doh. Two goals already and it could have been more. It was great to see two of our former gaffers, Keano and Martin O'Neill, share a tender moment after they'd made Italy pay for resting nine of their regulars, while Wales, Northern Ireland, Iceland and Hungary have all bloodied the noses of those who thought they'd be the runts of their groups. If you want proper schmucks, Russia probably edge Austria, although they're more convincing winners off the pitch thanks to the exploits of their black-shirted bell-ends. Gumshields and calling cards? FFS.

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WHY DON’T CAMBODIANS PLAY FOOTBALL?
BY SOBS

THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON 

Why don’t Cambodians play football? Perhaps because an area the size of a football pitch contains on average 3.5 anti-personnel mines and 33 pieces of other unexploded ordnance. Beyond belief, really, and Sunderland businessman Alistair Newton, who visited the country recently, is doing the Fan-Dance in the Brecon Beacons (part of the SAS & SBS training schedule) in January to raise money to help rid Cambodia of this menace. He takes up the story…

I was aware of the situation before I arrived in Cambodia, having had many hair-raising Skype conversations with my nephew who works in forestry there (planting, not cutting down.) He told me they cleared an area for planting, and at the end of the week had a collection of unexploded mortar bombs, bullets, and larger ordnance to be disposed of. Frankly, he and his team were taking their lives and limbs in their hands, but if they didn’t do something about the explosives, they’d never get any work done. I knew a little of the history of the country, but wasn’t prepared for the reality.

Everywhere there were people suffering the consequences, be they amputees asking for help on the streets, or just getting on with it as best as they can. Whilst the deaths and injuries affecting people who weren’t even born when the landmines were laid are terrible, there are unseen consequences: huge areas of land in one of the earth’s most fertile regions cannot be farmed because of the risks, which leads to food shortages and malnutrition. 20% of all villages are contaminated by landmines and cluster munitions, which makes even going to school potentially lethal.

The Cambodians love football and I’ve sat in a bar with them in Phnom Penh watching Sunderland beat Southampton (May 2nd) and the noise was incredible, brilliant atmosphere! But all those mines make it a hell of a risk for any kids who want a kick-about. Their passion means that there are great talents going to waste, lads who could be playing Premier League football and making a difference back home. Imagine SAFC sponsoring one or two of those talents and bring them up to professional standards? The average income in Cambodia is £625 per year. How long would it take for a Cambodian footballer to change his family’s or village’s living conditions? Obviously, they’ve got to be safe to play football first, so they need the landmines and bombs cleared. We can help them do that.

The reason I’m supporting CMAC (Cambodian Mine Action Centre) is because it’s Cambodians helping themselves, not waiting for anyone else to get involved, but the country is so poor they need funding to pay for equipment and training.

A few facts: 2.7 million tonnes of bombs (including cluster munitions) were dropped on Cambodia during the Vietnam War, which they weren’t actually involved in, but no-one seemed to care. For comparison, it’s about the same size as the UK, with a population at the time of about 7 million. That’s 380kg of bombs per person. During WW2 just over 30,000 tonnes of bombs were dropped on the UK, and the Allies dropped 2 million tonnes of bombs in all theatres of war, Europe, Japan, Far East, Africa, etc.

There are estimated to be about 6 million landmines still buried in Cambodia, mainly in the north western provinces, but they are found everywhere. The problem is that there are very few maps of the minefields and the survivors who laid the mines in the first place cannot remember where they put them.

There are a reported 40,000 amputees in Cambodia, which is one of the highest rates in the world. The last official figures are from 2013 which showed that there were 111 casualties including 22 killed and 89 injured. But just last week I saw an article which reported (in the Phnom Penh Post) a little boy who found something while swimming in the local river. He’d taken it home in the hope that they could make a couple of dollars by selling it in the market. Unfortunately, it was a 40 year old US grenade which exploded, killing his mother and wounding him and his little sister. It’s hard to imagine how that boy feels. How is his dad going to look after 2 injured children, keep them fed and clothed, and earn an income? I don’t know how I would cope, and I’ve got all the advantages of an excellent modern healthcare system, trauma therapy, state benefits and so on. They don’t.

I was challenged by a friend to take part in the Fan Dance a couple of months ago. There will be a few of us in our team, which is basically from St. Andrews’ Church with me tacked on the end. We’re raising money for different things, and it seemed a perfect vehicle for me to help CMAC.

I’ve been touched by the friendliness and hospitality of the Khmer (Cambodian) people despite their situation and have every intention of helping make a difference in that beautiful country. I have a small business based in Sunderland, which is starting to operate in South East Asia, meaning that I’ll be in Cambodia a lot. Part of the plan is to create jobs for local people with which I shall have some help from a friend who, although he’s from the ‘dark side’ in Newcastle, is involved in a Social Enterprise Hub in Siem Reap (North Cambodia). Part of any profits will be donated to CMAC. There is also a bicycle challenge from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon, Vietnam) to Phnom Penh in spring next year which I’m contemplating. So, one way or another, my support for CMAC will be ongoing as they are doing a fantastic job in extremely difficult circumstances.

I was born in Sunderland and went to my first match, carried to Roker Park on my Dad’s shoulders, some 40-odd years ago. I always have been and always will be a Sunderland fan. Sadly, I work away a lot so don’t get many opportunities to go.

I think it’s because he’s the ‘keeper, but for me, my favourite current player is Pantilimon. It has to be the toughest job in any squad, and I don’t think he gets a fair crack of the whip: if he lets one in he’s at fault, and if he saves, well, that’s his job, isn’t it? It’s hard to pick an all-time favourite, but I used to get into the Copt Hill and spent hours listening to the crack from Jimmy McNab, Monty, Bobby and the rest of the crew. We would sit spellbound by the tales. Magic!

My favourite game has to be ‘the Gary Rowell’ one, doesn’t it? I should have been preparing for my ‘O’ Level mocks, but, well, some things in life are more important.

I haven’t been to many away grounds but when I lived in London, the Boleyn Ground was local, and I saw Sunderland win there in the early ‘80’s. Don’t remember much about it as I ended up in the King Eddy in Stratford, worse for wear. So that has to be my favourite. I was lucky enough to go to the fabulous Estádio da Luz when I worked in Portugal, much to the disgust of my friends who were all Sporting or Porto fans.

Sadly, I don’t get to many games now because I work away so much, but my last game was against the Mags in October 2015, what a laugh!

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RANDOM TRANSFER GOSSIP...
THIS & THAT

It looks like Leeds United still hoping to sign Liam Bridcutt despite his wages of £26,000 a week. Bridcutt, who has 12 months of his contract left to run at Sunderland, said: “For me, yes I’d like to stay at Leeds if the circumstances are right. But I do want to play in the Premier League. I’ve been at that level before. Every club I’m at, I want to be aiming high and I want the club to aim high. If Leeds are willing to do that in the summer then I’d be happy to stay.”

Sam Allardyce added: “We’ll address the situation as part of the big summer turnaround. We’ll try to get them back out on loan again at the earliest opportunity, if we can’t move them on permanently.”

Meanwhile, SAFC are keen to bring DeAndre Yedlin back to the Stadium of Light, if we can broker a decent deal with Spurs. Yedlin said: “I wouldn’t mind going back to Sunderland, whether it be on loan or whatever. I think it’s a great club and I had a great experience there, so I’d be open to that.”

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GERMANY V NORTHERN IRELAND, 21ST JUNE 2016
BY IAN MOLE (LINES FROM LONDON)

I didn’t go to the pub last night to watch the England v Slovakia match and just listened to it on Five Live at home. I must admit that I was so bored I nodded off for thirty minutes or so in the second-half. Anyway, I wanted to see how Northern Ireland would shape up against world champs Germany so I chose one of the best places to watch German games in London i.e. the Octoberfest Bar in Fulham Road SW6. It’s really a place for Australasians and others to meet and try to piece together what happened at the Munich Beer Festival but on days like these there’s always a good turnout of German fans. I got there about 4.30 after having reserved a place online for £5 but I could see that I needn’t have bothered as there was a lot of free space. I did get a free pint of Kaltenberg lager in return for the admission price and it just about matched it. There was a largish room with a number of benches and a big screen at the end as well as a smaller room with two flat-screen tellies. As time went on around seventy-five people turned up, many wearing Germany shirts and some bedecked with flags or bunny-ears. There was continuous waitress food-service from young women in traditional Bavarian checked dresses and many people were tucking into the meaty menu. A group of lads built like house-ends occupied the next table to me and they put Desperate Dan to shame in their meat-intake. The TV commentary was naturally in German.

As for the match, Germany gave Northern Ireland a real pasting but could only manage one goal. This was largely down to a splendid display in goal from former Hamilton Accies’ McGovern, who time and again was there to block shots from Gotze and Gomez. He’s certainly put himself in the shop-window. In addition Muller hit the bar and the post in the first-half while Ozil mishit the ball horribly after about ten minutes when he looked certain to score. The Irish were clearly there for a point and the stats showed that the Germans increased their possession in the second half to 75%  while managing five times as many passes. The Northern Ireland defence actually looked pretty cool a lot of the time with our former player Johnny Evans putting in a solid display. They managed one effort on target in the first-half, a shot by Ward in the twenty-eighth minute, but none in the second. They did create a micro flurry around the hour-mark, winning two corners in a row in the middle of which a decent Evans header was deflected over. The Irish fans were great though, bouncing away and singing like mad while one was wearing a very stylish George Best T shirt. Germany brought on Schurrle and the very popular Schweinsteiger but they couldn’t increase their lead and while I, as the only person there supporting Northern Ireland, was dreaming of a late equalizer, it never looked like happening.

Surprisingly, to me at any rate, Northern Ireland have still gone through to the last sixteen as one of the best third place sides so that’s great news. I was disappointed by the atmosphere in the Oktoberfest Bar today as although the Germans roared a little when they had a good chance, there was nothing in the way of chanting. I suppose the comparatively early start and perhaps the belief that they were going to walk the game might have been responsible for the fairly low turnout. It’s usually crammed in there with a lot of noise. I don’t know who Germany will have in the next match but if you live in South-West London, you could do a lot worse than watch a game there.

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COME ON ENGLAND!
BY SOBS

Here's a question: what was England's aim?
Here's an answer: to qualify for the next round.
Here's another question: did they achieve that aim?
Here's another answer: yes they did.

Which naturally prompts yet another question (sorry, I'm in an inquisitive mood): what's all the moaning about? We (that's England for the duration of this piece) did what was required and qualified, yet I spent the last five minutes of the game arguing with a bloke in the Longboat in Penzance who insisted, loudly and often throughout the second half (and probably the first as well, but I watched that in the One for All next door) that we were "shit".

I tried to explain that if we'd been shit, we'd have been losing, and that we'd have lost to Russia and Wales. His understanding of football was probably summed up by the fact that his cartoon fan mate (England shirt, shorts, pint of Stella, skinhead, overweight - the stereotype so beloved by the media) spent the last 20 minutes with his back to the telly, recounting tales of what a funny lad Gazza was. He did comment, unprompted by me, that Defoe would have scored - which is quite perceptive when you're not looking at the action, but shows that it's not just us Sunderland fans who think he should have been taken to France.

Now we're through to the next round, we'll come up against teams who know that "parking the bus" is not enough. Draws won't do, Vardy will have space to run into, Sturridge will have spaces to wriggle through, and Kane will have spaces to turn in.

Last night our defence was fine, apart from Smalling's moment of madness that almost gave the Slovaks an unlikely lead (now, THAT would have been undeserved). Henderson, despite people claiming he was rubbish, was the instigator of most of Clyne's runs down the right, which is where most of our chances came from. OK, he hit a couple of poor dead balls, but would probably have scored but for Slovakia's 39th block of 54. Lallana did well, refusing to be distracted by the mirror placed in a prominent position by the cunning opposition manager in the hope that Adam would do his usual thing and stop to preen himself.

Wilshire - well, he managed not to get hurt, which is a positive. In the side to carry the ball through the centre of midfield, which he is apparently the best at doing, he was a let-down. Carry the ball forward:check. Have the ball nicked off his toe:check. Pass to the opposition:check. He should have gone, in Rooney's favour, at half time, and I'd also have replaced Vardy rather than Sturridge when Kane came on, as the team as a whole were so far forward that he had nowhere to run into.

We're through, which is satisfactory and therefore good enough, and I look forward to the next game, to be watched somewhere on Scilly in my case - it might be a holiday, but football doesn't stop.

Back at Sunderland, our version of the Euros has been announced, and I'm trying to find how to get to the wonderfully named Cashpoint Arena. Visions of its appearance are already floating around my head - will the seats line up with the numbers? Will it have part of last night's kebab stuck to it? Will some people take 20 minutes to gain entry? Will there be time to nip into Lichtenstein or Switzerland, which are close by? Get yerself there if you can -life's too short and you might not get the chance again. As if to emphasise that point, it's a whole two decades since Quinny first arrived on Wearside. An inauspicious start to his career with us ("us" being, obviously, Sunderland for the remainder of this piece) gave us no indication of the impact he'd have on the future - the very existence, even - of the club we hold so dear to our hearts. It's also a whole decade since he galloped back up Houghton cut on his white horse to save us, bringing in Irish Drumaville madness and eventually Ellis Short. In short, we wouldn't be what, or where, we are without Quinny. Thanks a million, big fella.

The man who brought him celebrated a significant birthday the other day. Peter Reid turned 60, and should be remembered for keeping us up in 95, promotion in 96, and those four (almost four, to be honest. We'll forget the early autumn of 1997) seasons of swashbuckling fun. Football, fun, and Sunderland? That seems an age ago, but the last few months showed that the three words can be used in the same sentence without being sarcastic. Read what Defoe says about being part of that, and feel rightly good about being a Sunderland supporter.

Happy belated birthday, Reidy - you'll always be a bit older than me.

Come on England!

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pre season complete...
Borussia Dortmund confirmed

Sunderland AFC will play Borussia Dortmund in their final pre-season game at the Cashpoint Arena in Austria, the home of SC Rheindorf Altach, on Friday 05 August, at 7pm. Here is our pre season fixture list in full.

Hartlepool United, Thursday 20 July, 7.30pm, Victoria Stadium, Hartlepool.
Rotherham United, Saturday 23 July, 3pm, AESSEAL New York Stadium, Rotherham
FC Stade Nyonnais, Monday 25 July, 7pm, venue TBC
Dijon FCO, Wednesday 27 July, venue and time TBC
Montpellier HSC, Saturday 30 July, venue and time TBC
Borussia Dortmund, Friday 05 August, 7pm, Cashpoint Arena, Altach, Austria

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QUICK CATCH UP WITH...
JOHN CORNFORTH

THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON

Every now and then (well, most matchdays, to be honest) a player crops up in conversation and you wonder “what are they doing now?” Wikipedia can generally help these days, but there’s nowt like talking to the man himself, especially in this case, when the aforementioned website’s first suggestion is someone who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

John Cornforth was one of those players who looked to be destined for good things at Sunderland as a central midfielder who could spot a killer pass, but found it necessary to move on in order to get regular first-team football. I asked him to sum up his football career, sat back, and listened.

I started with football at Marden Bridge and Monkseaton High school, then joined Sunderland. At the end of 84-85 we were already relegated and I think a few spat their dummies out and claimed injuries. Len Ashurst told me he’d run out of right backs, and asked if I’d play there in the last game against Ipswich. Of course I said aye, no problem. I was only seventeen, and I’ve always been confident, but lining up in the tunnel at Roker opposite Terry Butcher got the nerves going a bit. I’d always played centre mid, for school and the county, and I don’t think I’d ever taken a throw-in before. I did about three foul throws in the first half, but in those days it was quite easy playing full back, if in doubt, do a Cruyff turn and give it back to the keeper, who could pick it up back then. Then McMenemy came, I get on all right with him now, but not then. He lost his first five games, and was getting slaughtered off the press. My old man was sports editor of the Shields Gazette, and McMenemy was convinced I was a mole in the camp, and I was getting nowhere near the team so I went on loan to Shrewsbury, Lincoln, Doncaster. Donny wanted to sign me, but McMenemy kept asking an extra five grand, then, ten grand, then fifteen. So I stayed.

When Denis Smith and Viv Busby came, it was like a breath of fresh air. They’d take the team to the races, to Spain at Christmas time. Denis was a great man-manager and it was good for team spirit, and Viv was a very good coach. We had a hell of a side that season and won promotion.

Coach Frank Burrows had tried to toughen me up as a youth by kicking the shit out of me in training. I was once on the treatment table, and had just had a perm, as footballers did then, when Frank came in. “I’ve just taught ye how to f###ing tackle and you turn up looking like Shirley Temple.” He was a character, hard but fair, and had eventually become manager at Swansea. We were on an end of season break in Ibiza, having just been relegated again, when Denis told me Frank had been on the phone. I wasn’t getting a regular game, so I went to Swansea. Frank was years ahead of others tactically, the best manager I worked for, but I broke my leg in my third game and missed six months. Great start, but I got meself fit and went from strength to strength. I got the captain’s armband, scored in a penalty shoot-out at Wembley to win the Johnston’s Paint Trophy, and got into the Wales squad along with Vinny Jones, because of my grandma, and got a couple of caps. To play alongside the likes of Giggs, Neville Southall, Dean Saunders, Gary Speed, God bless him, was brilliant for a lad from Whitley Bay. How that team didn’t qualify for anything is a mystery.

There were some ex-Sunderland lads at Swansea. I’ve known Westy (Colin West) since I was about four or five ‘cos he played with me brother for Harton Youth club, when I’d watch him. Frank had known Reuben Agboola since he was a youth at Southampton, and for me Reuben was one of the most under-rated fullbacks around. One of the best two-footed players I’ve played with, even if we did have to remind him which way to kick in the first half at Sunderland. A proper character, and we had Colin Pascoe as well, so we should have got promoted but got beat off West Brom in the play-offs when Westy came on as sub and got sent off.

Barry Fry then signed me for Birmingham in March 96, and I started at Roker in April (alongside Gary Breen) in a 0-3 defeat, but Barry got the sack at the end of the season, in came Tricky Trevor Francis and he just brought in big names like Steve Bruce. Me and Mike Newell had to train by ourselves, and I used to have a go at Francis on a Monday for not playing me, and he would send me back home to Swansea, so I spent most of my time at Brum watching Swansea. Then John Gregory came in for me to join Wycombe in December, and sod’s law, I did me Achilles on Boxing Day and that was a while out. John was an outstanding good coach, and I scored a few goals there. While I was at Wycombe, Frank Burrows, by then at Cardiff, asked me to go there as captain, but to be honest, my kids were born in Swansea and it’s a bit like Sunderland and Newcastle, I’d been so long at Swansea that I couldn’t bring myself to play for Cardiff. Eventually, though, Frank persuaded me to go there in 99, but when they read my name out before the games both sets of fans would boo. It was paying the bills, but I couldn’t stay. My legs were starting to go a little bit, so I went to Scunthorpe with Brian Laws, then to Exeter as player-coach for Noel Blake. When Blakey got the sack, I’d had to retire because of problems with both calves being kicked so much over the years, so I became manager. I brought in a few decent players from Swansea, but the owners changed and Uri Geller became vice chairman, so soup was straight off the menu. Then Michael Jackson and David Blaine turned up, and David Prowse (Darth Vader) was on the board, it was a complete circus. I got the sack, Exeter went bust, and I never got paid off. I took over at Newport but didn’t like the non-league side of things, with players having to miss training for work. So I went to Torquay and signed some decent players, but one day Ian Atkins turned up, having been given my job, and I got the boot.

I got a bit disillusioned with the whole thing, so I went abroad to the Philippines, South Korea, Kuwait, coaching in the sun. It was fantastic, getting so much respect for being a coach with English league experience, and I think I’ve still got a lot to offer football-wise. After that I went back to Devon, where my kids are based, then I got offered a job up here in the North East, about four and a half years ago, working for Cancer Research. I work closely with the nurses, and they do a fantastic job. When we set up in the street in Shields or wherever, we get blokes especially who don’t want to talk to their doctor, but they’ll say go to the nurses and say “can I have a word?” and then they get their treatment and come back afterwards having had the all clear. That’s fantastic, and it shows that things are improving in terms of survival, but there’s still a lot to be done. Completely different to football, but immensely satisfying. So that’s me….

John Cornforth, SAFC 1985-1991, 38 games, 2 goals

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jd, lovin the fans...
tears & emotion

Jermain Defoe has been sating loads of nice things about our fans. What a nice man.  “They turn up in numbers every week. I always say to my close friends and family - obviously the ones who haven’t been to the games and had that experience - that it doesn’t matter how the season’s gone or even at times when we’ve not played well, the following week they always turn up. And then after games they always stay behind - it could be snowing but they’re always still there after the game just waiting for the players to get autographs and stuff. You don’t always get that at football clubs. There’s times when naturally people get frustrated but at this club it’s different. It’s unbelievable and they’re unbelievable people. I think when you come here as a player and you experience that you just want more and more. I don’t think it’s one of them clubs where players come and just want to go. You come and it’s like a family club. I remember saying to Younes (Kaboul) when he came, ‘You need to see what it’s like and then speak to me at the end of the season’. And then against Everton he was crying on the pitch. I just looked at him and I said I told you, and he just said ‘JD it’s unbelievable’. And Younes is like a proper guy. Younes is one of those people who if he says something you listen because he speaks from the heart. When he cried as well, it wasn’t crying like tears in the eyes, it was crying like when you’re watching a film and they’re rolling off your face. It was unbelievable. But it’s because of the fans - they’re special.”

He continued: “I never expected to have this relationship with Sunderland fans so soon. I was at Tottenham many years, and sometimes it does take time to actually get that relationship with the fans. I never thought I would go to another football club and have that again. So I came here and as I keep saying all I wanted to do was do well and score goals, and to help the team push on. Then I scored that goal against Newcastle and obviously I cried on the pitch. So yeah the feeling I got then was just unbelievable. But even before then - from day one to be honest - the fans have always been unbelievable with me. From when I scored my first goal to all the goals I’ve scored this season - just unbelievable. The fans definitely won us the game (against Chelsea). That day we were playing Chelsea at home and Newcastle were playing Aston Villa away. Most would have looked at that fixture and thought Newcastle are going to win and we’re going to drop points. At one stage it didn’t look like we were going to win but the noise and the atmosphere was just incredible, and when you have that as a player - even if you’re tired - it just drives you forward. The fans definitely won us that game, and getting three points on that day was special. That’s the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in. That’s beyond even Premier League standards. Obviously the Premier League is known for being the best in the world and having the best fans, but that day at the Stadium of Light was something else - it was electric. I had family in a box who were crying. It’s like sometimes when you go to a concert and you’re just like ‘wow’ as you get caught up in the moment. It’s just amazing. To be lucky enough to have been on the pitch and score, those are the moments you never forget.”

In other news, Emanuele Giaccherini is hoping to join Antonio Conte at Chelsea this summer, according to his agent Furio Valcareggi. Giaccherini won two Serie A titles and a Coppa Italia in two seasons under Conte at Juventus and has been pulling the strings for Conte's Italy team at Euro 2016 and scored a great goal for his country against Belgium in Lyon last week. "Giaccherini is a player who played 80 percent of the games for a Juventus that had [Paul] Pogba, [Andrea] Pirlo, [Arturo] Vidal and [Claudio] Marchisio in the midfield," said agent Furio Valcareggi. "Conte likes him a lot and Chelsea would be a dream. It's still too early to talk about his future. After the Euros, whoever wants to buy him will not have to pay a high price to Sunderland."

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THAT TIME I BUMPED INTO SUNDERLAND’S ARCH NEMESIS...
BY ANDREW ROBSON
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON

If you were asked to name Sunderland’s bogey player of the 21st century, ignoring players we’ve actively recruited, candidates are aplenty. Yaya Toure customarily scores world-class goals against us. Or at least he did prior to eating grass in Ivorian Mortal Kombat against Kone the Barbarian a few months back. Dishonorable mentions to Gabriel Agbonlahor and Shola Ameobi also. But I’d argue one player sits above the rest. That man is Tim Cahill; and, as fate would have it, I happened to run into him in a bar not too long ago. The Australian unequivocally leads the back for post-millennium Mackem dream-dashing. Two particularly painful memories stand out.

One. When Tommy Smith and recent darts sensation Kevin Kyle somehow inspired us to the 2004 FA Cup semi-final, we were handed the dream draw. All we had to do was see off Dennis Wise’s Milwall at Old Trafford and a first Cup Final since ‘92 was all ours.

We bossed it that day. John Oster caressed a free kick onto the underside of the bar in the opening minutes. I recall George McCartney, having a phenomenal season at left-back, shaving a layer or two off the far post. But late in the first half, a tea-coloured Australian midfielder swept in what would be an utterly undeserved winner. Cahill had surely cost us our best opportunity of making a major Cup Final in a generation.

Two. Fast-forward 2 years, Everton at home on New Year’s Day and a genuine relegation six-pointer. We’d been promoted, freeing Mick McCarthy to recruit invisible central midfield players alongside distinguished talents like Andy Gray and Anthony Le Tallec. And our French loanee, along with video-killed-the-video-star Liam Lawrence, both spurned excellent chances in another game that we completely dominated.

Everton, in deep trouble themselves, had shrewdly rescued Cahill from South London that summer. And, right on cue, a stoppage time corner from one Kevin Kilbane, himself a self-inflicted Sunderland bogey player in the early 2000s, landed straight on Cahill’s prolific bonce. New Year’s Day 2006 haunted with that horrible corner flag celebration and an ominous but eerily familiar sense of inevitable relegation, which we delivered in record-breaking fashion.

I have a strange knack for spotting footballers in bars. Just last December, I caught the eye of none other than Crystal Palace’s fourth choice striker Dwight Gayle across a packed East London bar. And a few years ago, whilst killing time in Kuala Lumpur airport, I clocked a rotund Premier League goal machine supping a crafty pint at the bar. None other than Merseyside’s Monopoly-man, Robbie Fowler. But this was different.

January 2013. Footloose and completely grudge-free, I ventured out for a few quiet midweek drinks in New York, where I’d moved a few months previously. In that short time, I’d quickly grasped that stepping out in the Big Apple can be quite different from your average night on the tiles in Sunderland, Manchester or London. A British accent, even a Durham pit village accent with six years of subtle southern dilution, can legitimately open some doors for you, just like a Richard Curtis movie.

One of those trans-Atlantic differences and a real danger in New York is that you can find plenty of bars that will open till 4am on any given night of the week. When the clock strikes 12, packs of Jersey-born Wall Street wolves gather outside these danger-bars looking to spend their soft-earned dollars on bottles of premium vodka they’re ill-equipped to drink. Yet a Mackem exile, buoyed with with three pints of conversation, can quickly befriend a bouncer and sneak in to the kinds of places where NYC-based Sunderland nemeses hang out, without the need to part with a month’s worth of Tesco shops for the privilege. As I smuggled myself inside, there was Tim Cahill.

Now, as a general rule, I’m not a huge fan of Australians. With the exception of Richie Benaud (god rest his soul), I’d genuinely struggle to name one I’d consider a good bloke. On top of that, I’d always felt that Wearside’s tormentor-in-chief seemed to give off an odious smugness. In his defence, this character trait isn’t exactly atypical amongst his antipodean brethren. Former leg-spinning waxwork Shane Warne, Billy Kennedy from Neighbours and Ian Thorpe, the only living human being with feet bigger than Nyron Nosworthy, all exhibit that similarly nauseous brand of Australian egotism.

Unperturbed, I composed myself to Jan Kirchhoff levels and made my approach. I wasn’t about to waste this opportunity to confront the architect of so much personal and collective pain. Cahill was typically bronzed, his deadly jet-black barnet shimmering in the light of the disco ball. He was flanked by a textbook herd of Yanks. Much like our Mackembauer, I glided my way through the baseball caps, successfully retaining possession of my bottle of Bud Light. Ending the Kirchhoff metaphor, I took a shot and offered my opening gambit. Expectations could not have been lower.

To my amazement, the reality was a revelation. How many people would respond to “you absolutely ruined my New Year’s Day a few years ago mate” with anything other than profanity, a finger or a cold shoulder? Put this kangaroo in the Richie Benaud column. Affable and noticeably humble, not usually qualities you’d associate with Ozzies, he chuckled at my Cahill-driven tales of red and white woe. He asked what had brought me to the States and offered me a drink from his inevitably spendy table.

Prolific as I am at running into random footballers, this encounter with our nemesis was without doubt the most pleasant, changing my opinion of him entirely. Wikipedia reveals he scored at better than 1 in 2 in internationals and around 1 in 4 in the Premier League, a phenomenal career return. We’ve not had a free-scoring midfielder with that kind of goal record, well, ever. Perhaps with the exception of a fleeting season from Don Hutchison at the turn of the millennium. I think he’d have fit right in at Sunderland. He definitely hates the Mags as well, straight from the horse’s mouth, pun intended.

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HILLSBOROUGH: THE TRUTH
BY SOBS
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON

Have you ever been to Hillsborough? Specifically, have you ever been in the Leppings Lane end and had to use that bloody tunnel? It you have, and there was anything like a decent crowd there, you’ll know that despite it being part of the 1970s “upgrade” of the ground, it was a horrible experience even if everything was going smoothly. When things didn’t go smoothly, as they most certainly didn’t in 1989, the combination of that tunnel and the fences erected to prevent trouble (allegedly) produced one of world sport’s biggest tragedies.

The immediate reaction was, obviously, of shock and horror, but amongst those who’d experienced that particular part of that particular ground it was coupled with a feeling of inevitability. It could so easily have been me, us, or any other ordinary follower of any other club. It could so easily have happened elsewhere, as inadequate, unsafe grounds were policed in a manner completely at odds with the interests of those attending.

Back in the 70s, the West Midlands police had a bit of a reputation for their heavy-handed dealings with football fans. By 1989, the miners’ strike had been and gone, and hardened the already condescending attitude of government, and those in their control, including the police, towards certain sections of the population. Sunderland fans in particular were subjected to some very questionable policing in South Yorkshire. Back then we knew it was wrong, but we’d been treated like criminals for the twenty years I’d been watching football by 1989, so we expected and sort of tolerated it. Hillsborough was the horrific, and entirely avoidable but inevitable, outcome of this attitude.

People will inevitably, and quite rightly, ask “what about Heysel?” Without doubt, hooliganism from both sides was the main contributor, but the ground was a crumbling wreck, not fit for purpose as well. When I visited it during Euro2000, in was completely unrecognisable as the same stadium, having been totally rebuilt with the safety of fans very much in mind.

The truth, the inquests concluded, 27 years after the event, is that the 96 Hillsborough fans were unlawfully killed. This is slightly at odds with “The Truth” printed in The Sun just after the event, whose version was that fans had picked the pockets of the dead and dying, urinated on the police, and attacked a policeman giving the kiss of life. Sorry for getting political, but this was the paper that had got the Tory government into power a decade earlier, and any doubts about its loyalties were dispelled by their part in the biggest cover-up in sport and probably judicial history.

Protecting their own, those very own who continue to bury their heads in the sand even after the verdict. Press secretary to Mrs Thatcher from 1979 to 1990, Bernard Ingham, has flatly refused to apologise. Twenty years ago, he responded to Hillsborough campaigners with “who if not the tanked up yobs…caused the disaster? To blame the police, even though they may have made mistakes, is contemptible.”

This would be the same police an officer of which, in response to a comment about how attitudes had changed a couple of years later, replied “We f***ed up at Hillsborough, we have a lot to make up for.” They knew it then, but the cover-up has meant that it’s taken a ridiculous length of time, more than a lifetime for seventy one Liverpool fans, for the truth to be allowed to emerge. The efforts of the Hillsborough campaign to expose this cover-up prompted our current Prime Minister to say in 2011 that their search for the truth was like “a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there.” After the verdict David Cameron paid “tribute to the extraordinary courage of the Hillsborough campaigners in their long search for the truth.”

That cover-up included twenty reports by police officers being altered (I believe the trendy word is “redacted”) to remove anything which could be taken as critical of policing at Hillsborough. It began with the match commander lying about a gate being open. Did the police begin the cover-up and then gain the backing of the government, because it was only football fans, or did the police tell the government they’d cocked up only to be told to bury it and blame the fans, the easy targets?

During those intervening years, with The Truth according to the Sun staining the characters of all football fans, match-goers had to constantly watch their backs, as turning up at a ground after a couple of pints automatically made you a tanked up yob with the potential to cause death and destruction. And they wonder why football fans feel they were treated badly. Especially the younger generation of match-goers, many of them weren’t even alive in 1989. They’ve grown up in the sanitised world of Sky TV football and the Premier League where everybody loves each other (except, of course, the teams Sky deem deadly rivals), and the police smile at fans and actually talk to them.

The jury had to answer fourteen questions about the cause of the 1989 disaster, and to only one of them (“was the supporters’ behaviour causing danger?”) was the answer “no.” Police planning error, police turnstile error, police commander opening gates error…thirteen ”yes” votes.

These are all questions that could and would have been answered in identical fashion 27 years ago, but the families of the 96 have had to fight the government every step of the way to this conclusion. During that time, it has emerged that at least one victim could still have been alive at 15:45. What’s certain is that 96 of them are still dead, and no amount of apologising will bring them back. The Suspended South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable David Crompton apologised "unreservedly" to the families and says his force accepts the jury's conclusion, but the passage of time means that some of the original campaigners are no longer here to see justice prevail.

What now? After the longest jury case in British legal history, during the latter stages of which the campaigners had to sit in strained silence as a conclusion approached, they were finally delivered the truth and the judge allowed them to shout with delight and punch the air without fear of “contempt of court”. The truth, that we all knew anyway, is now out there, and two criminal investigations continue. One is led by the police themselves, the other by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), and rumour has it that they may be concluded by Christmas. The suspects are both individuals and organisations, and it seems likely that someone might be convicted of something.

The truth? 96 people went to a football match and didn’t come back, and it could have been me and it could have been you. For 27 years, it was their fault. We, the fans, always knew it wasn’t, but now it’s official.

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SOBS ON THE EUROS
HOTTING UP

Well, it’s been and gone – the biggest International derby since 1996, and it went OK. Away from England v Wales, the super-efficient Germans came up against Polish solidarity and the outcome was the tournament’s first goalless draw. Two consecutive games without Mr Lewandowski scoring must be some sort of record. Across France, Norn Irn had to follow up their stage-struck opening performance with something different – and they did, with five changes. Naturally, most football fans side with the underdog, or in our case any team in red and white, so I wasn’t alone in wishing the Ulstermen well against Ukraine. They only went and did it, with a gutsy performance that gives them a real chance of progressing, and the shouts from the Welcome when the second went it were probably heard back at my house. Well done.

The main event saw many businesses closed for the afternoon, or even the full day, and big screens installed at those who chose to stay going. Of course, the best place to be, apart from Lens, was in a pub full of Englanders, which is where I found myself. It took all of seven minutes for the Green Tree to agree with my pre-match displeasure at the sight of Sterling taking to the field. Lallana’s run down the right was determined, the cross was perfect, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that Danny Graham would have put it away with his eyes shut. There were murmurings all around the bar that involved the word “Defoe” – and it wasn’t just the Sunderland fans. Sterling hit it too early, hit it wrong, and put the ball high and wide. He should have been hauled off right then, but Roy stuck with him as England dominated and Wales watched at Kane miss-hit a free kick from distance. They won a dead-ball of their own as half time approached, and Joe Hart allowed Bale to again take advantage of iffy keeping and score.

It’s easy to say we didn’t deserve to be behind, but if the opposition score and you don’t, that’s what will happen. Back in the TV studio, Shearer could hardly have been more damning of Sterling’s performance. Kane was perhaps a little unlucky to go off, as the service to him had been poor, but the change brought about by the appearance of Vardy and Sturridge was immediate. Suddenly, we had pace up front and two players who injected a spark into the game. Ten minutes in, the ball fell to Vardy off Williams’s head, and it was volleyed home without hesitation. Up went the arms in the tree as the air was punched in delight, and the team went for it. Rooney had pushed a bit further forward giving us a genuine three man attack, not that nonsense when two wide men are counted as forwards in today’s terminology, and saw a shot pushed round the post just before Vardy scored. Sturridge miss-hit a volley, then shot just over. Lallana made way for Rashford, who, after a couple of dodgy minutes, had Wales wondering what to do against yet another forward.

It looked like another frustrating draw as the 90 minute mark was passed, but it wasn’t to be. Vardy and Alli passed their way into the box, and when Sturridge found the ball at his feet he wriggled free and poked the ball into the corner to send the commentary box wild and the Green Tree into raptures. Our Ian’s mate Marley’s online bet for Sturridge to score came good, and silly little drinks were bought as the final whistle went and Wales collapsed to the turf. They needn’t despair, as all they need to do to progress is not to lose to Russia, while England need to do the same against Slovakia. Mind, they’ll need Bale to do a lot more than he did against England, with the goal and a header wide near the end being just about the sum total of his contribution. Ramsey was by far their best player, while their defence worked well to snuff out England for the first 45.

A good day at the office? In the end, yes, but the first half showed where things were wrong with England. At least Roy had the guts to change things – let’s face it, he had no choice – and swapped things around to good effect. It also showed that there’s no place in the side for Sterling, and that Townsend would have been a far better bet on the wing. I don’t fancy Raheem’s chances of getting a game under Pep at City, where passing quickly and accurately will be the minimum requirement next season. They’ll be lucky to suffer less than a £48million loss if, and probably when, they get shot of him. Slovakia should be facing a genuine two up front on Monday, and England will surely concentrate on getting the ball to them as quickly as possible. Goals win games, not relentlessly passing the ball around midfield, so let’s go for it, Roy.

When do the TV companies pick the first round of Premier League games?

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FRANCIS TODD MALONE BLOG...
FIXTURE REACTION

Can't complain too much about the fixtures. I like a tricky game to start (no form, might nick a point), then first up at the SoL a decent home match, Boro. Wouldn't be surprised to see at least one of those two on the box.

Certainly, we've got a few tricky away games before the clocks go back - but we've got some winnable home ones too. To a team who start as slowly as we have for the last 20+ years and really could do with a decent run of games to change that, we could have been dealt a far worse hand.

The really good news is there's no proper arse of a month. Previously we've had killer runs, which has put the pressure on when you're not exactly a specialist at seeing off the also-rans. Yep, my feeling is the fixture list for the 2016/17 campaign means we can break into the 50-point bracket, there I've said it.

Sam moaned last season that playing a round of Premier League games a few days after FA Cup third round weekend was a bad idea. I've a bit of sympathy with the League as the season needed a quick finish for the Euros and with European action and cup weeks, it's not easy cramming them in. Then there's the weather. A bout of really dodgy weather could cause proper carnage. Yes, yes, I know we've got undersoil heating and state of the art stuff but we had an August home game postponed due to a waterlogged pitch in 2012 - and there's always the danger that even if our surface can handle the action, safety reasons means matches are called off because fans can't get their toboggan out of the garage. Anyway, next season there's no midweek action after the FA Cup third round. 1-0 Sam.

However, there was a kickback. The computer likes to play tricks and it got its equaliser soon enough. With no derby anymore, I'd wager most of us looked at first game, last game - and Boxing Day as the three key fixtures at 9am yesterday. We're away in all of them, United and Chelsea the opponents. Bit rough that. At least we're not alone though. Stoke, Tottenham, West Brom and West Ham are all in the same boat on those dates, while five others get lucky with home games on all three. Burnley are one of those teams. I've had a couple of good nights out there so looked for that one too. Away again - but at least it's on New Year's Eve, so I might still get that decent night out

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EURO UPDATE...
BY SOBS

Today’s the day; apparently, of the biggest international derby game in twenty years as England take on Wales. In the last couple of day, we say the prancing show pony (aka Ronaldo the incredible sulk) take to the stage – and be firmly upstaged by Iceland, now everybody’s second team, I think. Despite going behind to a goal from Michael Jackson – sorry, Nani, the men from the competition’s smallest nation (less than a third of a million people, which is about 50,000 more than the City of Sunderland), all with fantastic names, fought back to deservedly equalise. Their fans produced the chant/clap of the tournament to date, with that synchronised, slow clap and shout “ooh” thing, which could well feature in the coming Prem season. Ronaldo accused them of having a “small mentality” (whatever that is) after slumping off in a huff after pointedly not shaking anyone’s hand. To be fair, he’d probably seen Pepe rolling around clutching his face after a particularly vicious handshake from Alfie Finnbogasson and kept himself out of harm’s way. As for Pepe, I’m with the Athletico Madrid manager – a retrospective ban based on video evidence is the least he deserves for his shameful playacting virtually every week. On the other hand, despite not condoning violence on the field, I dearly wish that an opponent becomes so incensed that he takes one for the football family and punches Pepe very hard on the nose.

Hungary played some nice stuff to see of their former empire-partners Austria, now without Hans Krankl to score the goals (I know he’s 63, but he’s the only Austrian footballer I have any memory of - apart from Macho, obviously), then yesterday Romania and Switzerland drew 1-1 in a game with lots of shots and some clever play, particularly from the Swiss in the last ten minutes. Russia seem to be doing their best to make their suspended disqualification unnecessary, losing to Slovakia, and France left it really late before Payet added to Griezmann’s almost as late header to see off the Albanians. 90 minutes and 90 + 6 minutes really is leaving it a bit late, and they can’t rely on waiting that long every time, especially when they were their only efforts on target.

As British fans have been gathering for today’s game, the English and Welsh seemed to get themselves together and show a united front against the Russians – but so far (thankfully) the Soviet Ultras have only shown up in small numbers, if at all. One or two were apparently seen making a hasty exit when some device that made a loud bang was hoyed at English supporters, but thankfully the Gendarmerie have been proactive rather than reactive – having learned a thing or two in Marseilles. Perhaps their better organisation has put the Russian Ultras off, or perhaps a quick call from the Kremlin told them “job done, get yerselves home before we get chucked out of the competition – we’ve got a world cup to plan” - or words to that effect.

Apart from all that international nonsense, the small matter of the fixture list appeared yesterday. I kept away from the phone/tablet/TV/laptop as I feared they’d explode, and, like exam results, they’d be the same in a couple of hours. Etihad first up, then the Boro at home, then a couple of lengthy treks to Spurs and Southampton just to ease us into the season. With the club having launched that clever thingy that plonks the fixtures into your online calendar, I only had to write them on the paper one on the kitchen wall. I’m not planning too far ahead, because, unlike exam results, they’ll change in a few days. Thanks to that aforementioned clever thingy that plonks them into your online calendar, the dates will be automatically changed so I only need to apply Tippex to the kitchen calendar.

In the meantime, we eagerly await some friendly games on foreign soil to add to the romance of the trip to Hartlepool and the scouting trip to Rotherham on behalf of our friends on the Tyne. Our Ian’s desperate to see us abroad, or nip over to the madhouse that is St Pauli in Hamburg. Perhaps a double header around the first weekend of Bundesliga 2 is a possibility.

As for today – God Save the Queen or Land of my Fathers? Well, as the land of the fathers of nine of the Welsh squad is actually England, which sort of puts the skids under Gareth “the divine man-bun” Bale’s claim that their lads are more patriotic than ours. England win, no problem.

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AMERICA'S PAOLO DI CANIO MOMENT
BY CHARLES LINEHAN
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON

I lay in bed the other night staring at the ceiling thinking the kind of sober thoughts I imagine many of my fellow Americans are thinking these days: Will the apocalypse involve zombies, like in The Walking Dead? Or will it be a more subtle kind of reckoning, like in The Leftovers? And exactly how small are Donald Trump's hands anyway?

These are the kinds of questions no American who is paying attention in these troubled times can avoid pondering in the dead hours between midnight and 5am, when there are no merciful distractions, no screaming children, no nagging bosses and no waiting tax returns to take our minds off the joke that our country has become. And yet, as cuckoo as the American Presidential campaign season has been, I couldn't help feeling I'd seen it all before. As sleep finally washed over me and my subconscious mind was freed to start making the kinds of random connections that occasionally result in passable journalism, it struck me: Donald Trump's inexorable run for the Presidency is America's Paolo Di Canio moment.
 
Think about it. If the American people are like the Sunderland fans, and the members of Congress are like the Sunderland players, then Donald Trump is our Paolo Di Canio. Which I guess makes God, in his eternal benevolence and occasional fallibility, our Ellis Short. Let me explain.

In 2008, Sunderland fans were fed up. Ours was a club with a proud history on the wane. Sunderland exceptionalism was a concept without much basis since before the Second World War. Sure, there were positive stretches. Well, a positive stretch, anyway. But a decade into the new millennium, more than a quarter-century after Bob Stokoe's '73 miracle run, the fans, particularly those paying the price of a season ticket, could be forgiven for their deteriorating patience. Off the pitch, rumors proliferated of a club drink culture and an anarchic dressing room atmosphere. On the pitch, the players' performances were erratic at best, displaying none of the heart and tenacity you see at the clubs that live at the top of the table. At one point, a player was filmed rolling around on a bed of cash in a local casino, effectively thumbing his nose at the supporters. Something had to change.

Hearing our prayers, Ellis Short delivered a little spark plug of a manager in the form of Paolo Di Canio. The outspoken Italian was well-regarded for his coaching ability. And his passion for the game and, seemingly, the club, reminded us of our own. Most importantly, PDC seemed to have heard our complaints. Instead of just paying lip service to what was needed to right the ship, he took on the player culture, instituting some sensible (as well as a few silly) new rules. In effect, Di Canio was saying to the players, "The fans are giving their hard earned cash to support us; we owe them."

Now to America. The reason conservatives like to reference American exceptionalism so often is because it hasn't been much on display lately, at least not from their perspective. I would point to the fact that we twice elected Barack Obama to our highest office by wide margins as evidence that American exceptionalism is still very much alive, and traditional conservative ideology is dead. But I digress.

It's 2016 and America's working and middle classes are hurting. There are no new jobs, and the old ones have a way of moving overseas or being filled by recent immigrants willing to work for less. At the same time, their kids are being shipped off to fight wars they don't believe in, and the legislators sent to Washington to do their bidding mistake a love of God and guns for work, all the while kowtowing to the lobbyists who infest our nation's capital like locusts. The discontent is palpable.

So God, having a sense of humor, sends us Donald Trump. Trump says a lot of the right things and taps into a well of anger that runs deeper in some Americans than a lot of us realized. Close your ears to half his message for a moment and you can almost kinda start to think he makes some sense.

Except Donald Trump is more like Paolo Di Canio than you might imagine. Beyond his up-with-the-working-man message, he's batshit crazy and he has a predilection for quoting the Fascist Mussolini. He's also a bigoted, racist, xenophobic, misogynist asshole, qualities which were not among PDC's shortcomings. And yet, when Di Canio finally crossed the line, Ellis Short pulled a timely deus ex machina and replaced him with Gus Poyet. The occasional misstep notwithstanding, Short truly seems to want the best for the club and the fans. Presumably God feels the same affection for the American people.

So as I waked from my dream, I felt a surge of hope. All is not lost. God has heard our prayers over on this side of the Atlantic, right? He will not permit this demagogue to win the Presidency, right?

America will not be relegated.

Right?

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2016/17 fixtures...
man city away first up

Well the fixtures are out, so despite it being mid June, I guess we can all start thinking about the new season already! We kick off our campaign away to Man City on August 13 and our first home game is against Boro at home a week later, which should be a feisty one, even though we'd probably prefer to avoid newly promoted teams so early in the season. The festive period brings us a trip to Old Trafford on Boxing Day and Liverpool at home on January 2. Hopefully we won't be fighting against the drop (again) this year, but if we are desperate for points our final run in is not too difficult, as we face Bournemouth (H), Hull (A), and then Swansea (H) but finish off with a difficult trip to Chelsea. Fixtures in full here

And for those hardy souls who follow the team home and away, here's are our coach prices and times for next season

Big Sam is up for it! "Fixture release day is always an exciting time for the fans as they get set for the new campaign. We have a tough start, facing Manchester City in Pep Guardiola's first game on the opening day of the season, but it's definitely a fixture we'll be looking forward to, you’ve got to relish these games. Meanwhile Middlesbrough in the first home game is a great fixture.. We know we need to start better than we did last season and everything we do in pre-season will be geared towards making that happen. There's only a couple of weeks to go until the players return for training and then the hard work will begin."

As well as bringing in new players to bolster the squad, Big Sam is also working to rid us of the deadwood that previous managers have built up. Santiago Vergini falls into that category and thankfully Argentine giants Boca Juniors are looking at the skilful centre half. Other players that he's working to rid us of are: Adam Matthews, Liam Bridcutt, Will Buckley, Charis Mavrias, and Jordi Gomez. Meanwhile, Mikael Mandron has agreed a two-year deal at National League outfit Eastleigh.

On the other side of the pond, DeAndre Yedlin is not having such a great time on international duty in the Copa America, after being sent off in the final group stage match against Paraguay. The USA and SAFC right back will now miss the game against Ecuador in the quarter finals. He had this to say: "You're always learning. You talk to Clint [Dempsey] and he's still learning. a player if you're not learning every day then you're not improving. Obviously, I'll learn from this one and move on to the next. But I think I've learned how to become a well-rounded player. Being with Sunderland, especially the defensive side, made me a more well-rounded player." Yedlin added. "And not so much on the field, off the field just growing as a man and growing as a person. I've had to live on my own and I didn't really know anybody over there, so you make new friends. It's something you have to go through but I'm glad I'm going through it at this stage because I am still young. I still have a lot of time to improve."

USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann added:"You cannot overreact after something goes wrong. The first yellow card he was too emotional about it. He was too upset about everything, himself, the call. That's when you have to be calm. And this will come over time. It's an age-related issue. You're just too pumped up in that moment and he will learn to breath a second, walk away from it, think about it a second, get back to your game and after a couple of minutes it's all good. This is Copa America, knockout stage. You're not getting any bigger than that."

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LE BRACE, STILL ACE?
BY SOBS

THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON

Who’s the gadgie in the shorts? You know the one, almost every club has one. The middle-aged bloke who insists on wearing his boots and shorts although said boots were hung up twenty-odd years ago. The one who sits on the bench and whispers sweet nothings into the managerial ear at crucial points in the game, Arsenal's Steve Bould being probably the most prominent of them. Ours is Paul Bracewell, who has more Sunderland connections than Monkwearmouth telephone exchange. How did he get there? What’s his story, football glory?

Technically, he’s a Scouser, hailing from Heswall on the Wirral, but his family moved to Shropshire when he was about ten, so I don’t know what that makes him. Salopian? Anyway, Stoke spotted him playing at County level when he was 15, as he did his best to avoid being kicked to bits by much bigger, rougher opponents. He’d racked up 141 appearances for Stoke, after his debut against Wolves aged 17, by the time he was 21, learning his trade alongside Howard Kendall and managed by Alan Durban, so it was no surprise when the tenacious midfielder re-joined Durban at Sunderland. Our manager rated Brace so highly that the Welshman sold Ally McCoist (aye, that one who went on to score 4,000 goals for Rangers) to raise the £250,000 required to prise him away from the Potteries in 1983.

Alongside fellow debutant Paul Atkinson, Brace’s first game in the stripes was a home draw with Norwich. In typical Sunderland fashion, Brace’s four goals in 38 league games that campaign weren't enough to keep Durban in a job, as the season was deemed a failure despite us finishing thirteenth. Imagine finishing thirteenth? Mid-table obscurity, and being regarded as a failure! In came Len Ashurst, who was, as we were soon to discover, mad. He didn’t fancy Brace, sold him to Everton for £425,000, and then guided us to an unsuccessful League Cup final and relegation. Now, that is a failure of a season.

Brace made his Everton debut in the Charity Shield at Wembley, against Liverpool, which isn’t a bad place to start, especially when you win thanks to an OG from Bruce Grobelaar. Over his five seasons at Goodison, Brace was an integral part of arguably the finest Everton team ever, alongside Reidy in the middle and with Trevor Steven and Kevin Sheedy completing the midfield. While there, he won five England caps, the League Championship, and the Cup Winners Cup. His 145 games came despite missing the best part of two seasons with an ankle injury, sustained at Sid James Park and involving Billy Whitehurst, on New Year’s Day 1986, that would plague the rest of his career on and off.

 In 1989, Denis Smith brought Brace back to Wearside, initially for a six-game loan so that Everton could assess his fitness. When the Toffees didn’t like what the doctors revealed about that ankle, the move was made permanent, and Brace went on to play a crucial part in our road to Wembley play-off defeat and promotion. He even scored in a 2-0 win at his old club, Stoke. Thanks must go to Swindon’s accountants for that play-off nonsense, but we did beat the Mags in the semi-final, in case you’d forgotten. The ankle problem which had influenced Everton’s decision to let him leave meant that he’d spend most Saturday evenings with a bag of ice on the offending joint. Unimaginatively, his team-mates allegedly nicknamed him the Ice Man, adding yet more fuel to the argument that footballers aren’t that clever. The fans continued to refer to him as Le Brace, presumably because he was cool and classy, and fans are much better with nicknames than players are.

Sadly, relegation followed (this is Sunderland we’re talking about), and at the end of the third season of his 138-game second spell, we offered him a one-year contract. With his 30th birthday yet to arrive, and having just collected his fourth FA Cup runners-up medal (ooh, unlucky) in 1992, Brace felt he deserved a longer one. It wasn’t forthcoming and he did a naughty thing by signing the two-year deal offered by them up the road, although it was reported that we got £250,000 for him. Three seasons there in the top flight, including the first two of the Premier League, were enough for any man to spend there, and he moved back to Roker in 1995, reuniting with his old Everton team-mate, our new manager Peter Reid.

The next three seasons were eventful, as we were promoted (yay!), relegated (boo!), and lost that mad play-off final against Charlton (boo!), but Brace was long gone by that memorable game. He’d assisted Reidy with managerial duties, but after just one game, as a sub, of the 97-98 campaign, he joined up with the Permed One at Fulham as a player/club-captain/coach/assistant-manager in September. We even got £75,000 for him! As he, like Keegan, still lived in the North East, there was ample opportunity for discussing football with Sunderland fans on the train back from the capital after games in The Smoke. I’m sure Keegan loved having his hair ruffled.

He took on the top job at The Cottage when Keegan went to manage England at the end of that season, and hung up the aforementioned boots in 1999 after helping Fulham to promotion. He signed Andy Melville from us when the Welshman’s contract was up, leading to a five-year spell there for Mary. Ambition on the banks of the Thames saw Brace sacked in favour of Jean Tigana in March 2000, which was followed by a short, and deserved, spell of relaxation. This ended with him taking on the Halifax job, and keeping them up by just the one point, but after he only won 11 of the 41 games he oversaw, he jacked in that one early in the 2001-2002 season, later saying that it had been his hardest job in football.

He then did what many footballers do, and worked in coaching. For over two years, he was an FA National Coach, working with England U-17 talent that included Wayne Rooney, Aaron Lennon, James Milner, and a grinning youth called Steven Taylor who, even then, had a penchant for sunbeds.
After quarter of a century in the professional game, Brace decided it was time for a change in footballing direction, and became director of Complete Leisure, which ran a football academy in the North East. This involved children aged five and over, right up to veteran level, and basically concentrated on grassroots football and community projects run by Sunderland and the Mags.

In 2013 he joined us for the fourth time, as development coach for the U18 and U21s, working on their players moving towards the first team. During the latter days of last season, he stepped in to help Dick Advocaat engineer yet another Great Escape, for which we forgave him his time on Tyneside and rewarded him with promotion to First Team Coach in the close season. On the arrival of Mr Allardyce, Brace moved up again as Big Sam made him Assistant Manager, and that’s where we find him now.

Paul Bracewell, 270 Sunderland appearances and 6 goals out of a career total of 719 appearances and 27 goals. Promotions, relegations, England caps, coaching badges, and all those runners-up medals. That’s a proper football man, hence the shorts.

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JUST ANOTHER EURO MONDAY...
BY SOBS

Another day, another bunch of matches ticked off. Due to fantastic planning on my part, the whole of Monday was available for the televisual delight that was the first Monday of the Euros. Cushions on the couch fluffed up, Czech republic and Spain at the ready, and they were off. Off being the operative word there. Ninety minutes plus of what the Spanish football public have to put up with every time their team turns out – fantastic midfield, from which Mata was excluded presumably because he scores goals now and then, but about as much cutting edge up front as Danny Graham and Jon Stead rolled into one. Call me hyper-critical, but it was a bit like watching Swansea three or so years ago – they can pass the ball all day long, and have 80% of the possession, but all you have to do is keep them at arm’s length (out of the box) and you’re OK. Well, maybe Spain have more beards than Swansea did, but their first instinct is to pass backwards, sideways, and any other way they can think of that doesn’t include the word “forward.”

Just when I’d decided that I was thoroughly sick of their inability to score, up popped a defender to do just that with only a couple of minutes remaining. Game over.

A quick shuffle of the cushions and up came Eire. While there had been no SAFC connection in the earlier game, John O’Shea was wearing the armband for the Republic and Seb, just past his 31st birthday, was on the right for the Swedes. This was more like a game of football – Brady and Hendrick looked the business in midfield, forever trying to get forward while O’Shea and his fellow defenders did a proper job on Zlatan (copyright). I’d be happy if Sam put in a bid for Hendrick, as he looks a bit too god for the Championship, and showed great energy as well as hitting the bar. Of course, JoS will still be having nightmares about the one that was just too far off his toe-end early on, but can be satisfied with his performance overall. Of the three Norwich players on the pitch, Hoolahan was probably the pick with a great goal. A bit of a strawky equaliser when Clark simply had to get in some sort of header got Sweden back into it, and on came everybody’s favourite bampot, James McClean – and yes, the Swedish fans knew their stuff and gave him the traditional welcoming boos. My telly showed a message that read “ a 3D signal has been detected  - put on the 3D glasses and select the 3D button.” So I did, felt a bit sick for five minutes, and reverted to good old 2D.

The St George’s flag with SAFC Ryhope was cleverly positioned in an area that could have been Swedish or Irish, the game was played in a decent spirit with Zlatan just managing not to blow his top at the lack of space afforded him by the Irish, and a draw was about right, if a little disappointing for the greens.

And so it was off to match three – sorry Springwatch, I can catch up in the morning. Sunderland connection? Giaccherini, who hasn’t kicked a ball for us in ages but has had a good season out on loan in his homeland. After a bright Belgium start, the Italians took hold of the game and the wee fella produced a good finish on the half hour to knock the stuffing out of the Belgians. They’re a bit like Man City, those Walloons and Flems – fantastically skilled players, but barely a hint of a formation. Maybe it was Fellaini’s funny hairdo (sorry, funnier hairdo) that put them off, but they seemed intent on running into opponents, and when Pelle finished them off in added time, they looked a sorry bunch. Perhaps Sam can find room in his heart for Giaccherini, but if not, then his price must have gone up by a few Euros.

Today sees Portugal v Iceland, and the two ends of what football is all about these days – the undoubted excellence of the prancing show-pony that is Ronaldo, and Pepe, the man whose disgraceful playacting in the Champions League final should have resulted in a lengthy ban. Get great odds on him falling down holding his face when the ref blows his whistle to start the game. Horrible little cheat. If we can tolerate that, we get to Wednesday morning and the fixtures, and worry about them while the Russian Ultras reload their weapons in readiness for Lille later on and Lens on Thursday. With the threat of expulsion from the tournament hanging over England’s heads, and further violence threatened to our fans by the Russians, these are a worrying couple of days

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SPAIN V CZECH REPUBLIC, 13TH JUNE 2016
BY IAN MOLE (LINES FROM LONDON)

There’s only one place to watch a Spanish match in London and that’s at Bradley’s Spanish Bar in Hanway Street W1, which just happens to be my favourite bar. Last time I watched a Spanish game here they got thumped 5-1 by Holland in the World Cup first round and I really doubt that they’ll manage to win the Euros three times in a row. Apart from being the underdogs, I’ve got a soft spot for the Czechs as I’ve become pally in the last year with a great band from Prague called Mydy Rabycad and was sure they’d be watching the game. Anyway, it was chucking it down as I got to the bar shortly before kick-off and maybe it was that or more likely the fact that the game was at 2 pm on a working day but there wasn’t much of a turn-out. I got a pint of Mahou lager in and took up a good viewing position next to a trio of American lads.

I was familiar with most of the Spanish starting eleven but of the Czechs I only knew Cech and Rosicky. It was good to see del Bosque’s characterful face again as I thought they’d got shot of him. The Czechs started out brightly, winning two corners and a free-kick in a dangerous spot within the first five minutes but they couldn’t capitalize on them and the game soon settled into a pattern of Spain dominating the attacking play, making lots of short passes around their opponents’ box, while the Czechs defended resolutely. Morata had a couple of decent scoring chances that he should have made more of but with a keeper of Cech’s quality only the best would do. Morata had taken out a linesman in the tenth minute and left him on the deck and the commentators joked that revenge would be taken. I found it rather a boring game as Spain were so dominant but it livened up a bit in the closing five minutes of the half with Iniesta, Silva and Alba all having decent efforts. Even the Czechs made a very rare foray forwards and Necid had a decent shot that De Gea held at the second attempt. He was probably nodding off back there. It remained goalless at the break and maybe the Spanish would come to regret not playing Costa or even Torres.  

The bar had livened up a little bit as the second-half got underway and we soon had a bit of drama on the pitch with Hubruk almost scoring an own goal. Things quickly settled down into the earlier pattern of play and it seemed very unlikely that the Czechs could hold out indefinitely but for a period of ten minutes or so around the hour-mark they started to have something of a purple patch culminating in a Selassie header that was cleared almost off the line. The Spaniards would have been mightily narked if they lost this one but stranger things have happened. Morata and Fabregas were substituted by Aduriz and Thiago and the former produced a scissors-kick that went narrowly wide. Spain kept racking up the corners but still they couldn’t make them count, while the minutes were ticking away. Then suddenly with about three minutes on the clock they finally took the lead when Iniesta crossed from the left and Pique headed it into the bottom right to give Cech no chance. The bar had been very quiet till that point but the very rock and roll young couple across the way from me suddenly revealed their Spanish roots. That goal had been a very long time coming but the match wasn’t quite over yet. Rosicky had been subbed straight after the goal and clearly wasn’t best pleased about that and then in the third minute of stoppage-time Dorida produced a great shot that de Gea managed to save well. It ended 1-0 and nobody could have argued with that. Spain were no great shakes though and I can’t see them doing much in this tournament.

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SOBS' EURO 2016 BLOG
DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE

As the dust settles on the opening weekend of the Euros, and we anxiously await the really important stuff – Wednesday’s announcement of the coming season’s fixtures – the eyes of the football world are all on the so-called English disease again. That’s the English disease shown by the frighteningly well-organised and well-armed Russian thugs who attacked the English, the hit-and-run French gangs who attacked the English, and those among the English who were happy to join in. Not the vast majority of English, who are now seemingly lumped in as guilty with the minority of Russians who broke through the stewards in the stadium after the game to attack them. Eye-witness accounts tell of the police turning up late to trouble in the town, chasing off the French instigators, and tear-gassing the English who had nowhere to go. Bags weren’t searched as fans entered the stadium – this is France, remember – and there were no police to help the stewards in the ground after the match. English disease my arse.

Of course, I wasn’t there, so I’m only going on what people have told me. Among the usual keyboard-warrior bravado online, boasting “if they want it we’ll give it to them”, there are several really well-written responses from people who were caught up in it. Check out Facebook for the stories from Sam Leach and Iain MacIntosh, and read about the experiences of people who were there.

Anyway, apart from all that, there was a football match. Opening day had passed with the hosts squeezing past Romania thanks to a couple of familiar Premier League goals – a Giroud header, courtesy of a typical big-tournament goalkeeping flap, and a Payet belter. Switzerland beat Albania, and Wales beat Slovakia to give England something to chase. The papers say that it was a 4-1-2-3 formation, but it wasn’t – it was 4-5-1, or more realistically 4-4-1, given the contribution of Sterling. To say that England controlled vast parts of the game is a bit of an understatement, as Rooney sat in the centre of midfield and sprayed passes about, and we managed thirteen attempts to Russia’s four – although we did concede a ridiculous fourteen corners. Half time was reached with no goals, and murmuring about what we would have done with a real goalscorer on the field to help Kane began. They grew louder as the second half progressed – Rashford and Sturridge were on the bench, as was Vardy, so the options were there – with Defoe’s name being mentioned regularly. We won plenty of corners – nine, if you’re asking – but deployed our six foot two, twenty-five goal centre forward to take them. That’s not clever, Roy.

Resignation that it just wasn’t going to happen was beginning to set in when Alli was fouled not far outside the box, and we wondered why on earth Dier, who’d had a fine game in the Kirchoff role, was standing over the ball. Boom, that’s why – a tremendous free-kick to the keeper’s right which goes into the lengthening list of contenders for goal of the tournament which meant that England had sixteen minutes to hang on in a game in which they should really have been comfortably ahead. Jack Wishire replaced Rooney soon after – a strange move when Sterling was still on the field. Just like he had in the game at Sunderland, Mr Sterling had shown tremendous ball-control but absolutely no sign of a football brain as he continues to morph into the next Shaun Wright-Phillips (but with a more flamboyant hairstyle and more tattoos). That he lasted 87 minutes was ridiculous, as his replacement, the 7 out of 10 every game Milner, produced more football in the five minutes he had on the field.

Just when we thought it was all over, Rose, who’d had an otherwise cracking game (we taught him all he knows, y’knaa) found himself jumping at the back post against a much bigger opponent, and the header looped across the goal and over Hart for an undeserved leveller. I say undeserved, but if you’re only a goal behind and you keep plugging away, you deserve what you get. The whistle went, which seemed to act as a cue to the Russian fans, who immediately stormed the England seats – but we’ve had enough of that already.

A draw is nowhere near the end of the world, as some glass-half-empty fans claim. They need to remember that whether the glass is half-full or half-empty, there is always the chance to fill it up again. That chance comes on Thursday afternoon against Gareth Bale – sorry, Wales. That will be eleven Premier League players against one from Real Madrid, half a dozen from the Prem, two or three reserves from the Prem, and bloke from Wolves. In theory, England should know all about most of the Welsh team and have enough about them to win – but football’s not like that, and the whole is quite often larger than the sum of the parts, which is why we love the game.

By the time that one starts, we’ll have had a day and a bit to plan next season in the real world, which will no doubt include our annual Monday night trek to Palace. Then they’ll announce the TV schedule, and we’ll have to alter our plans accordingly. In the meantime, we’ll hope for a more efficient performance in terms of goals and a draw between Russia and Slovakia so that we can hop to the top of the group table. C’mon England!

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UKRAINE V GERMANY, 12TH JUNE 2016
BY IAN MOLE (LINES FROM LONDON)

I got to the Ukrainian Social Club in Holland Park Avenue about twenty minutes before kick-off and purchased a largish bottle of 1715 Ukrainian beer for £3 before heading through to the large function room at the rear of the basement complex and finding a seat. I’d been there a few times before and had always just walked straight in without anybody challenging me, finding people there to be friendly and courteous. Tonight was no exception and there were about fifty people present, mainly sitting at folding tables, many of them bedecked in Ukrainian shirts and scarves while two of the numerous women present were wearing the traditional flowered garlands on their heads. As kick-off approached the number swelled to around a hundred and I felt obliged to stand with the rest of them as the national anthem played. Loads of them were singing along and had their hands on their hearts. To me their anthem sounded as dull and boring as ours.

Anyway, everyone expected world champions Germany to give Ukraine a good hiding so I was hoping for a shock. I teach English to overseas people for a living and have had a few very nice Ukrainians in my class recently so I was supporting Ukraine. The BBC commentary was being aired but the sound wasn’t that great, though the big screen compensated for that. Ukraine had the first good effort after five minutes when Kenoplyenko received a low cross from the right and blasted a great shot that Neuer in goal did well to turn out for a corner. Germany were having the bulk of possession but their long-distance passing left a lot to be desired. Kroos had swiped Kovalenko in the face and escaped punishment before Germany took the lead with a great set-piece in the nineteenth minute.

After Muller had been fouled near the right angle of the Ukraine box the free-kick was met by Mustafi amidst a number of defenders and headed home while goalie Pyatov barely moved. Silence broke out in the hall around me but Ukraine mounted a spirited fight-back and the rest of the half was most entertaining. Germany, with their very good close-passing, put on a lot of pressure for a while but then Khacheridi had a great header from a corner and forced Neuer into another very good save. Folks around me started chanting and it sounded like “OO-CRY-EEN-IA”. Khedira should have made it 2-0 on the half-hour after running on to a great long ball but he shot straight at Pyatov, who bundled it away. Germany were dominating possession but Ukraine always looked like they could pull something out of the bag and with eight minutes to the break it looked like they’d equalized as Boateng performed acrobatics under his own bar to hoof it clear and the goal-line technology showed that it wasn’t a goal. There were screams and shouts all around me as everyone leapt to their feet and I needed the replay to figure out what had happened. In the closing minutes Ukraine piled on the pressure and looked confident as they back-heeled it now and again. A garlanded Ukrainian woman was highlighted on the screen to much applause from those in the hall. It remained 0-1 at the break but I thought Ukraine were capable of getting one back.

Once I got to the bar for a half-time slurp and realized that the sound quality in the telly there was much better, although it was much smaller, I decided to watch the second-half there. The fact that I could stand next to the bar and get served very easily also helped to sway me. There was a good crowd of partisan fans there too.

The second-half was dominated by Germany and they produced a number of good efforts that were saved or went wide while Ukraine’s best effort was a free-kick from Rakitsky about twelve minutes in that Neuer again saved well. Ukraine substituted Kovalenko and Zozulya to try and spice up their attack but as the game went on Germany tired them out by making them run around to try and get the ball and with ten minutes left a Ukrainian guy left and made that sideways motion of the hands that means it’s all over. Ukraine weren’t quite finished though and a careless back-header by Mustafi in the closing minutes almost gifted them a goal. Neuer helped by seemingly barging the attacker over. Schweinsteiger had been waiting to come on for a while and when he did he made a real impact by receiving a great pass from Ozil in the second minute of stoppage-time and blasting it into the net to confirm Germany’s victory. As the whistle went nobody in the bar seemed too upset.

I reckoned Ukraine looked capable of beating both Poland and Northern Ireland so maybe they could still go through.

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EURO 2016 BLOG
BY FRANCIS TODD MALONE

Speaking up for England fans isn't usually my thing but after the events of the last few days in Marseille, I'm going to break the mould.

Sure, you might not find too many of us hanging off a street sign singing songs about the IRA, getting out of Europe, or German bombers. But personally I was more offended by the reaction of the outraged who took to social media and branded every travelling England fan a bottle and chair-hoying nut job, while ignoring the fact there may just have been something else going on the other side of the cameras.

Then came the developments at the final whistle at the Stade Velodrome. Until the end of the England v Russia game, the tournament organisers had shrugged their shoulders and said they couldn't do a lot about what had gone on around the streets of Marseille - but that changed after TV coverage focused on Russian fans breaking through flimsy segregation to confront England fans, few of whom were in the mood to offer much resistance.

No doubt some of the Twitter warriors would have advised our lot to simply walk away. As we all know, casually walking the other way when there are large numbers of people all around and chaos descending is not easy. Plenty of us will have seen moods go from happy to threatening in double-quick time over the years, with little warning, even if most disturbances are usually between individuals who are happy to get involved. Saturday night at the Velodrome did not look to be one of those days. I did spot a small Sunderland flag in the ground and hope the owner writes to ALS when he gets back and offers his version of what went on out there, as the TV pictures I saw did not show a glut of loons in that England section (loons don't choose to walk away from a scrap, scale a fence and take their chances with a drop of a good few feet the other side). All I saw were people who cared about their country and just wanted to see their team win. For all following England isn't my thing, even if my dream remains to watch Sunderland in Europe, I can see there's not a lot of difference between following club and country - mainly decent people and a few wrang'uns, thrown together by the same fixation.

As well as threatening the England and Russian Football Associations, UEFA would do well to check their security arrangements. The build-up to the tournament was full of talk about passports being confiscated, rigorous security checks and fans not being able to get anywhere near a turnstile if they haven't got a ticket and God help them if they're carrying anything other than a bottle of pop. Fast forward a day or two to firecrackers in the Russia section and more flares than a Bay City Rollers concert and it begs the question who on earth was doing the patting down outside? Did they have those joke foam hands on?

On the pitch, England probably should have won. I sympathise with those who got frustrated with seeing Harry Kane on constant dead ball duty, knowing the threat he poses centrally. There looked several other options ahead of Eric Dier - but when he took advantage of a free-kick in a decent area things looked good. But it was not to be, the usual underwhelming England start to a tournament was ensured when a late header found the far corner, meaning a failure to beat Wales on Thursday will really heap the pressure on. As for Wales, I won't slag the quality of their winner off, because at least they got one and showed more heart than England.

I've just seen Northern Ireland lose to Poland and although they weren't outclassed, the result was hard to argue with. The lack of quality in Michael O'Neill's squad is well known and they didn't threaten much. I've yet to be really impressed by any side...

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WHERE ARE THEY NOW
BY DAVID JOLLY
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON

Thanks to the breakthrough of academy product Jordan Pickford and youngster Duncan Watmore, who signed from Altrincham, there has been a lot of attention on Sunderland’s youngsters of late.

Watmore and Pickford along with Rees Greenwood and Josh Robson have all signed extended contacts. Young prospect George Honeyman, who featured on the bench against Manchester United, has recently said that under Sam Allardyce “there is a better pathway than there ever has been to the first team squad”.

One of Sunderland’s biggest academy success stories is Jordan Henderson, who was transferred to Liverpool for £16m and is their current club captain. But for every success story, there are many who didn’t make it and several “what if” stories.

Henderson played in Sunderland’s 2007-08 youth side who were knocked out in the FA Youth Cup semi-final by eventual winners, Manchester City. The lads in that side are now in their mid-20s and each have their stories, from a prison sentence for a bomb hoax, causing controversy by slating Sunderland fans on social media, gaining a degree at Sunderland University, and a certain midfielder joining rivals Newcastle United.

Players who were touted for big things, like Nathan Luscombe, can prove to be a warning to any young aspiring players, whereas Henderson is an inspiration for them all.

Here is my report on what happened next after the FA Youth Cup semi-final:

Dan Staples
FL appearances: 0
What has he done since?
The goalkeeper joined Wrexham but left soon afterwards due to homesickness. In January 2012 he was sentenced to six years in jail for a bomb hoax where he demanded £10,000 from Coral bookmakers in Annfield Plain. He now plays his football in the Northern League with Bedlington Terriers, having overcome a gambling addiction and a brain tumour scare.

Michael Kay
FL Appearances: 36
Sunderland Apps: 1
What has he done since?
Left Sunderland in 2011 for Tranmere Rovers in 2011, having had a loan spell there in the 2010-11 season. He joined newly-formed phoenix club Chester FC in 2013 but, as of December 2015, Kay is taking a break from football.

Michael Liddle
FL Appearances: 73
What has he done since?
He made five caps for Republic of Ireland U21s before leaving SAFC in 2012. Liddle joined League Two side Accrington Stanley and played there for two seasons before being released. He is currently a free agent.

Liam Noble
FL Appearances: 188
What has he done since?
Liam Noble caused controversy after leaving Sunderland in 2012. While at Carlisle, he tweeted that Sunderland were a ‘s*** club with s*** fans’ and was reprimanded by his club. He spent two years at Carlisle, where he won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy at Wembley. Noble now plays for Notts County, where he has made over 50 appearances.

Joe Cornforth
FL Appearances: 0
What has he done since?
Left Sunderland in 2011 for Rabat Ajax, of the Maltese Premier League, but he has been off the radar since around 2012.

Niall McCardle
FL Appearances: 0
What has he done since?
Captained the Sunderland University football team during his time there, until he graduated in 2012 with a degree in BSc Sport and Exercise Science. Signed for Irish team Malahide United back in August 2014. Previously with Whitley Bay, South Shields and Sunderland RCA.

Jordan Henderson
FL Appearances:  223
Sunderland Apps: 71
What has he done since?
Henderson is the success story of the 2007-08 youth team. He moved to Liverpool in 2011 for around £16m and has worked his way up to become the captain of the club. He is also a regular with the England national team and has earned 22 caps. Henderson won the League Cup in his first season at Liverpool and was back, as a fan, watching Sunderland’s League Cup final against Manchester City.

Jack Colback
FL Appearances: 219
Sunderland Apps: 114
What has he done since?
Colback spent a few seasons as a regular in the Sunderland midfield, where he played 115 times in the Premier League scoring 4 goals, including a goal against Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby in 2014. Colback then controversially moved to the Mags in 2014 on a free transfer, where he still remains, generally being a failure.

Conor Hourihane
FL Appearances: 198
What has he done since?
Hourihane left Sunderland for Ipswich Town in 2010 to join up with his former manager, Roy Keane. Conor spent one season with the Tractor Boys before moving to Plymouth Argyle where he played for three years before moving to Barnsley, in League One, for a fee of £250,000.

Martyn Waghorn
FL Appearances: 171
Sunderland Apps: 8
What has he done since?
South Shields born Waghorn left Sunderland in 2010 for Leicester City where he stayed until 2014 when he moved to Wigan Athletic. He is now with Rangers in the Scottish Championship after joining them in the summer.

Nathan Luscombe
FL Appearances: 26
Sunderland Apps: 1
What has he done since?
Seen as a potential star, Luscombe suffered a serious injury while playing for Sunderland. He left the club in 2011 and signed for Hartlepool United. Luscombe struggled with weight problems at Pools, where he made 26 appearances in two seasons. He was last playing for now defunct Celtic Nation in the Northern League in 2013 and is currently not involved in football.

David Brown 
FL Appearances: 0
What has he done since?
Brown left for Gateshead but saw little game time and was released soon after joining.

Martin Hunter
FL Appearances: 0
What has he done since?
Moved to the United States and played for the University of Memphis for a couple of years. Martin is now back in England and has played for a couple of Northern League sides including Hebburn Town and West Allotment Celtic. Hunter is currently working as a personal trainer.

Jordan Cook
FL Appearances: 99
Sunderland Apps: 3
What has he done since? 
Cook left Sunderland in 2012 for Charlton Athletic, after a previous loan spell with Carlisle United. Cook made just ten appearances with the Addicks before moving to Walsall in 2014. Cook is still with Walsall where he is chasing promotion to the Championship.

Andrew Galer
FL Appearances: 0
What has he done since?
Was released by Sunderland in 2010 and had trials with Gateshead, Falkirk and Hearts. Galer was last playing local football in the Sunderland Sunday League.

Gavin Scott
FL Appearances: 0
What has he done since?
Joined Consett after leaving Sunderland and is now working as Operations Manager at Stanley Travel.

Ryan Noble
FL Appearances: 28
Sunderland Apps: 6
What has he done since?
Scored a hatful of goals at U21 level for Sunderland but failed to make the grade at the Stadium of Light despite making five Premier League appearances for us. Noble left SAFC in 2013 for Burnley where he made just one appearance before moving to Gateshead. Now with Northern League side Whitley Bay and has previously been with Darlington, Esh Winning and Sunderland RCA.

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BETH MEAD: WHAT'S HER CRAIC
BY EVE SAYERS
THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON

Last season may have been another fight against the drop for the men’s side, but Sunderland Ladies are actually rather competent and have had a decent term. The lasses finished fourth and certainly showed them tipping them to be whipping dogs a thing or two. One stand-out performer for the Ladies was Beth Mead. The striker was the league’s top scorer with 12 goals and had an excellent first campaign in the Women’s Super League. For her efforts, Mead won the PFA’s Young Player of the Year award.

We got chatting to Beth and got the lowdown on her career.

Have you always been a striker?
I was a winger when I was younger, a number 7, but since about 14 I’ve been a number 9.

With 77 goals in 78 games, is there a particular player, male or female, that you've tried to emulate or simply learn from? Which player did you watch as a child and think "I want to do that"?
Wayne Rooney, because I’m a Man Utd fan, but I’ve been watching Jamie Vardy a lot this season because we have similar strengths and playing style.

Is there much interaction between the men and women players at Sunderland?
We train in the same place and they do ask us about our results and games. A lot of them have congratulated me after the PFA award.

Which player have you enjoyed playing alongside the most over the years at Sunderland? Are there any you were sorry to see go?
Steph Bannon, because we are really good mates on and off the pitch and I’ve played with her for a long time. She’s a quality defender and a good captain. Most of them really because we are a really tight knit group, but most Vicky Greenwell, she was a good character in the group.

You arrived at Sunderland as the women's game was really starting to take off, particularly at Sunderland. Has the controversial exclusion of the team from the FA WSL on favour of moneybags Man City in 2011 acted as a spur to Sunderland Ladies, made them think "right, we'll show them"?
Yeah, it was incredibly disappointing when that happened, but we knew where we belonged. So, so many people have worked incredibly hard to get us there and prove to people that we deserve to be at that level.

The club’s first season in the WSL was an impressive one, and at one point, the club were tipped for Champions League qualification. Were you and the lasses always confident of doing well and proving everyone wrong?
We had a lot of people tip us for relegation, which sticks in your mind. We got belief when we started winning and that gives you confidence to snowball results and points.
 
You finished fourth last season, what are your aspirations for the coming season? Realistic or otherwise? Do you set a goals target?
To do better. That’s always our goal. To improve on what we have already done and develop. Both for me and the team.
 
Winning the PFA is a huge honour, which you rightly deserve, how are you planning to top that?
I guess to go one better and win the Player rather than the Young Player. But really that would be nothing compared to winning the league or a trophy with Sunderland.
 
The North East is often described as a footballing-hotbed, do you hope that the success of the Ladies team will inspire more young girls to get into football?
Yeah, that’s exactly what we all want, as a club and individuals. There is a great opportunity now that we have a professional team in the region. Girls who are talented here can stay and don’t have to leave the region as they have in the past. Hopefully that encourages them to follow that dream if they have it.

Well done Beth. Maybe Mead and the rest of the lasses can teach the lads a thing or two!

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PLAYERS GOING, PLAYERS STAYING
GIACCHERINI & PVA CRAIC...

Emanuele Giaccherini’s agent reckons that the little Italian is set to join Torino for £2.5m. Furio Valcareggi said: “I can’t deny that I talked to Petrachi of Torino,” Valcareggi said. “Right now my client is only focused on the European Championships, but he’s pleased to be linked with a big club like the Granata. Sunderland want £2.5m, and we’re ready to knock on their door and negotiate his exit. With a nice project, Giaccherini would also be willing to negotiate on his salary.”

In other news, Patrick van Aanholt has been chatting about his news four-year deal at Sunderland. “I’m very happy to be part of the Sunderland family and I’m very happy to have signed a deal until 2020,” said van Aaanholt. “I think I had a good season and we stayed up so I’m looking forward to the new campaign. The club, the stadium and the fans [made me want to spend the next four years here], I like being here, I enjoy playing football for Sunderland and I want to stay here for a very long time. Two years ago I had no Premier League experience and that’s why I came here, so I think I’ve shown everyone what I’m capable here but now it’s time to develop it. Sam Allardyce gave me a chance; I didn’t start the season very well under Dick [Advocaat] but the new boss came in and gave me all the confidence in the world and I paid it back on the pitch. He’s worked with me in training and in games but it’s not just him and I’ve been working with all the staff so I’m very happy.”

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at last some news...
season ticket renewal drive

Having extended his contract at the Stadium of Light until 2019, Jermain Defoe has been saying loads of nice things about the club where he intends to end his career. “I’m delighted because as a player when you feel at home, it’s always nice to, for one, be blessed enough to have been offered a deal and when it’s finally done it’s a great feeling,” he said. “I might sign another one after that! The manager (Sam Allardyce) did an article in the papers towards the end of the season saying I’m 33 but a young 33. I’ve always looked after myself; I think it showed last season with my performances and the minutes I played. I feel strong and already I’m looking forward to next season. I’ve set myself challenges already and I’m just delighted to have committed myself to such a great football club. Last season was my first full season and it was a dream to have scored that many goals. Some good signings came in, we finished the season strongly and I’m looking forward to next season. The key thing for me was playing in a good team and I believe with this manager that we can have a good season next year. The first few games of next season are important, you need to get points and not leave it towards the end. Our form towards the end of last season was unbelievable; it was Champions League form, top four form. If you take that into next season, get points at the beginning and try and maintain it, then kick on, you never know what we can achieve. When you come into a football club people expect you to do well and it’s a lot of pressure, it’s never easy to hit the ground running. But I came back for pre-season so focused, I just wanted to do well and score goals and show the fans what I could do. It was a dream how it went, to get the fans’ Player of the Year, I was honoured. That appreciation is amazing, and hard to put into words. It’s a massive club with unbelievable fans. At Tottenham (Hotspur), I always enjoyed coming here to play, you always knew the atmosphere was going to be unbelievable. It’s a proper football stadium. A lot of people have come up to me and said, for the goals I’ve scored, that they love me like Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn. When that happens it’s a dream. When I got the call from Gus (Poyet, head coach when he joined in 2014), I thought ‘It’s a massive club, if I go there and score goals I know the fans will love me’. I spoke to Darren Bent, they loved him because he scored goals. To actually do it is great but you can’t take your foot off the gas, it’s something that I want to do more and more, score goals and push this club forward.”

In other news, Vito Mannone is expected to follow Patrick van Aanholt and Jermain Defoe and pen a contract extension too.

Meanwhile, Lee Cattermole has been saying loads of nice stuff about the club too. I guess this is the season ticket renewal PR drive. “The more time you spend at a club, you get more amongst it don’t you?” said Cattermole. “Especially with me being from up here as well, you live around it. At Norwich (in April) it was a very friendly atmosphere. When Fabio (Borini) did his slide in front of the fans, it was all old faces in the crowd. Whereas up here, they live for every pass. We need to make that work for us."

Catts then went onto chat about all the different managers he's played under at SAFC. "The thing that killed me was when Brucey was sacked (in 2011),” he admitted. “That really hurt me. I always thought, ‘I’m not ever going to be involved in something like that again’. Even though I have been, I’ve never been involved to a point where I thought I could take the blame. I felt that under (Martin) O’Neill I did everything I could have done, and the same with Gus (Poyet). Dick (Advocaat) was obviously a different situation, but Brucey was different. I had injuries as well – I had a serious stress fracture of my back I tried to play with for months. I was having ridiculous amounts of anti-inflammatories which no one ever knows. Things like that happen in your career. I was 20 or 21, and I had to grow up quickly. As you get older, you obviously mature more and get a better understanding of the game, and I give Gus a lot of credit for that,” he reflected. “He was questioning us all the time on the training ground about different situations. It makes you think even more, and you start watching more and seeing what he’s on about.”

Elsewhere, DeAndre Yedlin has thanked Sam Allardyce for developing him as a player while on loan at Sunderland last season. “I have to give a lot of credit to Big Sam." Yedlin said. “I don’t know what it was, but he made something click in my head. Maybe it’s his defensive approach to playing. Every Thursday every defender would do strictly defensive drills, no attacking at all. And we hated it, because it’s not the most fun thing to do, but at the end of the day it helps. And you could see towards the end of the season, the last 11, 12 games, we became a lot stronger as a defensive unit.”

In other news, French full-back Djibril Sidibe has issued a come and get me message to the clubs that are in for him, which seem to include Sunderland, Monaco, PSG and Watford! “Yes I have seen the speculation and my friends have been regularly sending me texts to tell me,” Sidibe said. “I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all and I faced the same situation when I left Troyes. There has been contact, I don’t deny that, but that’s all. My agent handles that, but I’m not involved in any of the talks yet. I have a contract with Lille.”

Finally, a bank account has been created for those who wish to donate to The Charlie Hurley Statue Fund. Nat West Bank. Sort code 600927. Account number 79605796. If possible please send an email to mcmetcalf@icloud.com outlining your donation. Cheques, payable to Charlie Hurley Statue Fund, and cash can also be handed in or posted to Martin O’Neill, Sweet Home Alabama, 2 Fawcett Street, Sunderland SR1 1SJ. Receipts for all donations of, at least, £5 will be given. Plans are also being developed for registered collectors as well as public collection points and anyone donating, at least, £5 will be given a receipt. An announcement on this will follow shortly. Anyone who would like to discuss ideas they may have for fund raising should contact Tracey Hawkins (secretary) on 07736 464023 and tah65@icloud.com, or 
Martin O’Neill on 07723 814983 and martinmoneill@gmail.com or Mark Metcalf (treasurer) on 07392 852561 & mcmetcalf@icloud.com @Charliehurleystatue

The next meeting of the Charlie Hurley Statue group will take place on Friday 17 June at 6.30pm at St Mary Church, 27 Bridge Street, Sunderland SR1 1TQ

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NEW DEAL FOR DEFOE...
TILL 2019!!

Jermain Defoe has signed a contract extension to keep him at the club until June 2019, by which time he will be 36! Sam Allardyce said: “Jermain is one of the greatest goal-scorers in the history of the Premier League and is a player that every manager would want to have in their team. He proved that beyond doubt last season by scoring 15 league goals, he is in fantastic physical condition and we are very pleased that we have been able to extend his stay with us.”

It seems that Big Sam is set to go back in for Swansea's Andre Ayew despite having a £10million rejected by Swansea for the player in the January transfer window. However, hearsay suggests that Ayew is happy to move on if a bid in the region of £15m was made.

Meanwhile, with the Euros about to start one of the Sunderland players over in France, John O’Shea, has been chatting about Ireland's game at the Stade de France where his country face Sweden on Monday. “The acid test is taking something from the game. But I’m making sure I get in the team, that’s my focus."

Ireland were beaten by, Spain and Italy in the Euros in Poland four years ago, but the Sunderland skipper is quite positive in his outlook for France: “It’s not about atonement, that’s done. After Poland, it was the next campaign, the World Cup. You have to move on. It probably lingered on a bit too much and affected the World Cup campaign. We had to dust ourselves down. The new management structure came in and after a few tough results we managed to dig deep and get ourselves to France. Now we want to really enjoy it. The only enjoyment you get is if you get to the knock-out stages. The days you remember most are the days that haven’t gone well, where you want to improve yourself. It’s not a case that you don’t look back at all. The bad times drive you on to be a better professional and to look at yourself even more. They’re the things that hurt you the most. You can't keep winning and it’s one of those where you have to use that negative thing to turn it into a positive. There are plenty of things that have gone on in the Stade de France that we’d have liked to have gone on our way. We have to use that. As a professional footballer, it’s why you’re in the game to get to these special moments. But you use those bad times as motivation so that they don’t happen again and to make sure there are good times -winning matches and getting to knock-out stages. Getting out of the group, that’s the big thing,” he said. “Get off to the best start possible. You need to take points from the first game; in particular, that’s the big one. You want a great performance, you want a couple of wins but ultimately you want to get out of the group. That’s what the manager is stressing, that we’re not going over here for just three games.”

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FAMOUS ON THE FULWELL: ALY DIXON
BY CHRIS THOMPSON

THE BEST OF ALS: A SELECTION OF THE BEST ARTICLES FROM LAST SEASON

When Sunderland lass and long-distance runner, Aly Dixon, headed south to compete in the world-famous London Marathon, she didn't expect to return to Wearside to a hero's welcome. Aly's phenomenal performance in the event culminated in her being the first Briton over the line, which means that she will be competing at the 2016 summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Inheriting the interest in running from her dad, Dixon's love for racing began when she was just 11 years old when she joined her first local running club and began to run at a more competitive level. 26 years later, and with almost a lifetime of hard work behind her, Aly has finally reach