For the quarter of a century (digest that at your will) that I’ve been writing assorted bollocks for ALS, I’ve always (well, most of the time) regarded myself as an aged voice of calm amongst the youthful exuberance of instant expression. I save the instant stuff for match reports written on a bus home immediately after an away game, or in the Roker End Cafe after a home game.
Immediate, angry/happy, but sort of instantaneous and therefore deserving of any sort of knee-jerk reaction that it received. It’s ‘cos I care, apparently. In the early days, when the date of any article started “19”, fanzines were very much in their youth and spelling/grammar pedants like myself were very much in the minority. I’ve always tried to be the one that countered knee-jerk (sorry, same genuflection-based reference twice in one paragraph) “sack the bugger” reactions with notes of positivity. I’ve tried to seek out and promote the plus side of whatever managerial change was being processed in any given week – and there have been plenty to promote (please note the use of the word “promote” in an ironic sense) and I’ve striven to find positive qualities/excuses in each managerial appointment.
Most of the time, I’ve been right – taking a deep breath before calling a new manager a waste of space was comparatively easy before mobile phones took over the world and there was no pre-requisite for common sense or reason in comments or opinions. I’ve always tried to promote the positive bits of the latest person who’s been daft enough to take a sip from the chalice that we supporters have always considered the cup of nectar, the glass of Double Maxim, the extra special Dandy and Burdock. Sadly, the last five (add numbers as appropriate to your mood) years have made this an almost impossible job/task. I don’t write the match summaries because I have to financially, but because I quite like flinging my immediate post-match opinions out there so that my Sunderland family, many of whom I’ve either never met or just bumped out on the way to the lavvies at Southend. Some appreciate my opinions, some don’t, which is exactly how it should be. Discussion is a beautiful thing.
I’ve tried to take the positives from the Donald/Methven take-over, as we all did a year and a bit ago, and deflect criticism of those with a degree in accountancy and public relations, and, ha’way, be fair, everything in the garden was rosier than a glass of that fizzy shite (photos to follow) that our lass thought would pass for non-alcoholic Christmas drinks a couple of days ago, and which I’m still putting on my Weetabix. However (in capital letters) this season has shown that last season was the biggest case of putting all of your poultry-based reproductive facilities in the same piece of woven basketwork and hoping for the best.
I take absolutely no pleasure whatsoever in writing this, because it is yet another negative piece about a club I love, but after following Sunderland the length and breadth of our glorious island nation, across Ireland and Europe, meeting some beautiful people, and having laughs and times that are beyond the imagination of the most radgy of comedy writers, I have to ask when the fun we’ve had becomes deserving of some serious thought from those who pull the strings. What’s it all about, Alfie? Who sits a few seats away, and is never short of an opinion, however mad. Which is part of my point, I suppose.
In saying that, I, as an older (thanks, really, I have footwear older than some attendees) fan have to wonder what can be done to attract the new generation to attend matches. We regularly, and quite righteously, extract the urine from North Easteners who bow to the wishes of their children and grand-children and deck them out in the latest £70 –a-shot Premier League Club Of Their Choice kits, but seriously, would you want to associate your bairns with our lot at the minute? As the those children have grown from tiddlyhood to kiddlyhood to spottyyouthhood, could you blame them for forsaking the Sunday morning hoofabout that we’ve become for a televisual view of old boy Jordan Henderson pinging seventy-yard passes onto the toe of the fastest Egyptian since King Tut’s whippet and watching, with amusement, as the keeper was left on his arse? No, you can’t, and I’m tired, bloody tired, of trying to persuade the local youth that two hours in SR5 (plus travelling time and using up all your pocket money) is a better option than shoplifting and drugs.
Still, we turn up. Whatever the exactitudes of the Boxing Day attendance. I couldn’t give a Joel Lynch backpass, there were loads of people there who still believed that something nice night happen. It was always what I said to my mam, if I don’t go, it might miss something good. It worked for the first few seasons, thanks Porter, Monty, Hughesy, Bobby and the rest and in fitful stops and starts since, but now we’ve got to a stage that has been considered, quite rightfully, unimaginable. I screamed my support for Donald and the new life he brought to the club. I shook Donald’s hand at Luton as he greeted the fans boarding the buses after the game, I exchanged witty banter with him and Charlie as they occupied the box behind my seat. I bought Charlie a pint, he bought me a pint, because he was one of us and he “got” football. He and Donald had dragged the club out the seemingly careless hands of Ellis Short, brought us back to life, and provided the fuse, if not the rocket, that would propel us back to the big time.
Sadly, the match to light that fuse either got lost or wet. The wicker basket I mentioned earlier let the majority of our eggs fall to the ground and break, or scared mother hen away. Charlie has departed, shares (but not too many, though) in pocket just in case, Stewart is left very uncomfortably holding the reins on his own, like a Santa that knows fine well the bairns know it’s Uncle Stewart and not the real thing, and that leaves the yolks very splatteringly all over our, the fans’, faces.
As I’ve said (and make no apology for saying), I don’t like change, apart from rare 50p coins, I’m sick and tired of it. I want something at good old SAFC that will work for a few seasons, nowt spectacular, just mid-table mediocrity. Preferably in a division a couple of levels above where we are, but we know that’s a bit of a problem at the minute. It’s a natural reaction to keep what you’ve got, but not when it’s catastrophically failing, and that’s where we are now. Last season in the Third Division was a bit of laugh, a novelty if you like, as we went to new places, met loads of people who were chuffed to bits to have us at their grounds, and we won a lot of games. Not as many as we drew, but that’s almost irrelevant now. The fact that our Ian got to Wembley twice but still thinks it just about his the most depressing season in of his young (ish) life speaks volumes.
This season, which we’re half-way through, we’re losing the games we moaned about drawing during our last campaign, and the football we’re playing is of a far worse quality than a year ago. Opposition fans are tired of us, as we’re no longer a novelty, and while we may outnumber them on many occasions, they’re starting to think of us as the ghost of Christmas past, but one they can afford to ignore. We might be big, but we’re no longer clever. Never have Sunderland been so low and so far from any palpable means of getting higher.
Haw’ay, man Stewart, dee the right thing and keep to you promise, because if I’m getting sick, there’s others feeling a lot less gruntled than me.