There have been numerous occasions this season when the phrase “typical Sunderland” has been uttered, usually with the odd expletive inserted at random, and with complete justification thanks to the number of times we’ve done something inexplicably daft. Take Norwich equalising in the last minute as our defence stood stock-still, Clarke-Salter getting sent off on his return from a red-card suspension as Coleman was trying to substitute him, or loanee Brendan Galloway being so inept that we sent him back early. Doing daft things in football almost always comes in conjunction with being a bit on the rubbish side, which is something that we’ve been pretty consistent at. Over recent seasons, the number of situations involving our club that have made the phrase “typical Sunderland” part of general football parlance have occurred with monotonous regularity. Other clubs have done daft things, but none, it seems, have encompassed such a wide and inclusive range s our good selves.
You know where this is going, don’t you? Aye, another ALS XI, this time of things that could be said to be Typical Sunderland. In all honestly, this could be a massive list, but I’ll restrict it to more recent events so that our younger readers might have enough of a recollection of them to avoid the need for research on their behalf.
Number 1 might as well be about goalkeepers, and this season provides the first of our Typical Sunderland moments. According to the club, we needed to sell Mannone to reduce our wage bill. Fair enough, but to receive only £2 million hardly dented the debt we were trying to pay off. Since Vito’s departure, we’ve signed three keepers nowhere near the Italian’s standard, and I refuse to believe that between them they earn less than him. Rumours of broken promises forcing him to desire a move are simply a back-up. Typical Sunderland.
Number 2. Four years ago, we were facing relegation, as Typical Sunderland moment in itself, and after nine games without a win, we faced trips to Man City and Chelsea within days of each other. IN a re-arranged game, the original having succumbed to gales, City took a very early lead, but Connor Wickham scored twice in ten second half minutes to put us in the driving seat, only for Vito’s last-minute fumble to gift City a point. Three days later, Eto’o put Chelsea ahead only for Wickham to quickly draw us level. Borini’s cool-as-you-like penalty in the second half won it, and the Greatest Escape was on. We duly won the next three games, including our first victory at Old Trafford since the 1960s, to ensure our safety – then lost at home to Swansea. Typical Sunderland.
Number 3. While we’re on season 2013-14, why not forget the League Cup final, and have a look at our exploits in the other Cup competition? We’d already beaten Carlisle, Kidderminster, and Southampton, so a run was most definitely underway, when we were drawn away at Hull in the quarter final. Being firmly of the opinion that success breeds success, most supporters were up for a second trip to Wembley, and Hull were having as bad a time in the league as we were. The look on our collective faces when the team ran out summed up our feelings – Ustarsi in goal, Dossena and Vergini in defence, and Scocco up front. Despite Ustarsi saving a first half penalty, three second half goals, including one from David Meyler (Typical Sunderland) sent us tumbling out of the competition. Big smiles for former manager Steve Bruce, and the phrase “if only we hadn’t played that weakened side at Hull” entered our vocabulary. Typical Sunderland.
Number 4. While we’re on the subject of former players scoring against us, we only have to move forward one FA Cup campaign for it to be Typical Sunderland once again. Having disposed of Leeds and Fulham, we were drawn away at Bradford, two divisions below us, but crucially featuring two former Sunderland players in Billy Knott (one appearance off the bench) and Jon Stead (two goals in fifty games. Southend and Everton. I was there. I’ve got the T-shirt). O’Shea scored an OG on only three minutes (Typical Sunderland), Billy Jones looked like he had his shorts on inside-out, and, inevitably, Stead got the second and has since gone on to be a giant- (I use the term loosely in this instance) killing specialist with goals against Chelsea, among others. Poor Lad couldn’t be faulted for effort with us but has scored 104 goals since he left. Typical Sunderland.
Number 5. Remember that Fulham replay mentioned in Number 4? We had only five subs that night, because Jack Rodwell wasn’t fit enough to take his place on the bench, and Connor Wickham hurt himself in the warm-up with Steven Fletcher moving up from the bench to replace him. That’s Typical Sunderland enough in itself, but that’s not the subject here. One of our scorers, who’d also played at Bradford, was Spaniard Ricky Alvarez. He’d arrived on loan with an option to buy for a certain amount written into his loan agreement, which was overseen by our Chief Executive, a certain Ms Byrne. Injuries restricted Ricky’s appearances for us to nine substitute appearances and eight starts, in which he was subbed eight times. Again, Typical Sunderland, but, yet again, that’s not the point here. We avoided relegation and thus triggered the “buy” condition and owed 10.5 million Euros to Inter Milan, according to the Court of Arbitration for Sport - but we decided we didn’t want him. Ricky didn’t sign a new contract, so was effectively a free agent and duly signed for Lazio. Our appeal against the Court of Arbitration’s decision was rejected by FIFA, and we were quids out. Typical Sunderland.
Number 6. Also playing at Fulham was Santiago Vergini, who arrived in January 2014, and for the purposes of this exercise, I’m lumping him in with two other players. Cabral and Valentin Roberge arrive the year before and were perfect examples of us signing players we knew nothing about. While Vergini managed 51 games, Roberge managed thirteen appearances, scoring once, and Cabral played a solitary game before we sussed him out, and let him go on loan to Genoa. Since leaving permanently in 2015, he’s managed just over 20 first-team games and will be best remembered for his time on Wearside being spent lurking in nightclub doorways smoking tabs, and being accused of something deeply unpleasant by a woman of dodgy morals – of which he was acquitted. Roberge can now be seen with “Robbie” on his back turning out for Apollon Limassol in European competition. Roberge, Vergini, Cabral – they sounded so cosmopolitan, exotic, and cool, so much so that we had a song about one of them, but turned out to be Typical Sunderland.
Number 7. While we have the dubious honour of beating our own record for the lowest number of points in the Premier League (thank you Derby County for taking that one away), we also hold another record, and Santi Vergini had a hand in it. October 2014, at St Mary’s Southampton. We’d made a solid enough start when the home side played a ball towards the edge of our box in the 12th minute. Without hesitation, or apparently a second thought, Santi Volleyed superbly past the astonished Mannone. An own goal against which all own goals since have been judged. Quite what he was thinking has yet to be established, despite numerous sessions with renowned sports hypnotist Yuri N’Throom. Having let in another two before the break, we brought on Liam Bridcutt for Wes Brown, and he didn’t take long to join in the fun, weaving his way goalwards in our own box before tickling it past a bemused Manonne. Another pair of Saints goals followed, before Mannone had to think up another emotion, probably befuddlement, as Patrick van Aanholt got the final touch for the eighth. Three own goals? Typical Sunderland.
Number 8. Speaking of record low points achieved in the Premier League, the first time we gained that dubious honour was 2002-3 with 19. On February 1st, Charlton came to the SoL, and not only did we provide a premonition of what was to come at Southampton, we did it in seven minutes. Stephen Wright had already stuck out a knee to turn a loose ball following a corner beyond Tommy Sorensen when, only three minutes later, a Sorensen save hit Michael Proctor and bounced past the keeper. Four minute after that, another corner hit Proctor and went in. All in front of the North Stand, who at least got a nice view of SuperKev’s 81st minute penalty. Typical Sunderland.
Number 9. Three years after that nonsense, we were on our way to bettering (because worsening isn’t a real word) that 19-point haul with a meagre 15. We’d won twice away, one of which was thanks to an Own Goal at West Brom (from a former Mag, Steve Watson, which was nice) and the other at Boro, thanks to Tommy Miller and Julio, but not once at home when we faced Fulham in the last week of the season. Antony le Tallec scored a rare goal, and Chris Brown got the second in a 2-1 victory over Chris Coleman’s side. Our solitary home win isn’t the point, though, it’s the timing of it. The original fixture was abandoned on Grand National Day, April 8th, because of snow, with Fulham a goal ahead. Like the game at Man City which was called off because of the wind (see Number 2 above), who knows what would have happened had the original games been either played or completed. Typical Sunderland.
Number 10. Emmanuel Eboue had enjoyed a successful seven-year spell at Arsenal before four years at Galatasaray. In the summer of 2016, he came to us for a trial – even at 33, an experienced International at right-back wouldn’t have gone amiss. However, no sooner had we decided to take him on, than he received a one-year ban from FIFA for not paying his agent and departed without kicking a ball in anger. Mebbe we dodged a bullet there. The next we heard was in the Sunday papers last December, when he revealed that he was bankrupt and homeless thanks to his investments being both dodgy and in the control of his missus, who he’d fallen out with. Thankfully, Galatasaray offered him a job coaching the under 14s, so let’s hope that works out for him. The whole “Sunderland career ended by FIFA ban without making an appearance” is Typical Sunderland.
Number 11. Cast your mind back to May 11th, 1997. Typical Sunderland, we were near the foot of the table, but a win at Selhurst Park against Wimbledon in the season’s final fixture would have saved us. We filled three sides of the ground (not including the one I was in, which is Typical Sunderland in itself), and, as it was the last day, two things happened. A Lads’ Magazine sent a lovely lady to each ground to “invade” the pitch, leaving most of her clothes in the changing room, and all the games kicked off at the same time….except Coventry, who’d managed to get to Spurs late, despite us having made it on time by using the same M1 and having to travel twenty-odd miles further across London. Makes you wonder. There’s a rumour that Vinny Jones came in to our dressing room before the game and said something along the lines of “don’t make it too obvious, boys, but this one’s yours.” Shades of Anfield in the 80s, we might be rubbish but other clubs genuinely like us. Or they did. Suffice to say we could still be playing now and wouldn’t have scored, as Paul Stewart missed a simple header and even supersub Micky Bridges couldn’t find a way through. Jason Euell looked positively apologetic as he scored the only goal, and Wimbledon barely celebrated. Of course, Coventry managed a surprise (not to us, it wasn’t) win at Spurs and we were down. Typical Sunderland. The mood outside the ground was lightened somewhat by a Sunderland fan who liberated a police motorcycle as its rider was otherwise occupied by some over-enthusiastic shoppers at a petrol station, roared off down the road, and was arrested when he fell off, only to escape and make it back to Wearside still cuffed.