The Superbowl half time interval is a celebration of American superstardom whether that be Katy Perry dancing alongside dolphins or Justin Timberlake ripping open Janet Jackson’s top to reveal a curious star shaped piercing. They certainly know how to do the razzmatazz in the states. The half time entertainment has become a thing of legend, often attracting people who are not even fans of the oval pigskin. In England we are of course more reserved. No top ripping for us perhaps a man walking onto the pitch in a suit, waving at fans while they all try to hear the tannoy and figure out who it actually is that is coming on to turn the handle on a hexagonal box to draw out the half time jackpot for one lucky fan who is probably in the toilet oblivious to the fact they have won.
Half time entertainment has been a bit of a mixed bag at Sunderland. We even, at one stage, tried to invoke the Superbowl spirit by inviting some cheerleaders on to the pitch. The efforts to pit one stand against another in a sing off fell on largely deaf ears who were more interested in their pies and digesting the details of the first half. At Roker Park we had the enjoyment of watching the scoreboard operator manually put a number in to a lettered scoreboard with all the pace of a Gareth Hall trackback when we knew that number would confirm the mags were losing. The deliberate delay in getting the number up was accompanied by an inevitable “wooooooooooaaaaaaaaah… YES!”. I maintain that this is where X Factor judges learned about the art of suspense.
Many different forms of half-time entertainment have tried and failed to get our attention. This is perhaps even more true at the Stadium of Light now that you can get a pint which necessitates the need for a rush to the bar or a need to jettison those already consumed. Crossbar challenges have been met with muted enthusiasm, especially when you get a mag doing a Shearer celebration. Penalty shootouts between home and away are old hat. This season the club have become more inventive. Martin Longstaff aka The Lake Poets serenaded us against Bradford at home whilst Frankie without his heartstings has summoned up the spirit of Tony Davison’s Samson to pour scorn on away fans gracing our pitch, but more on that later.
The need for invention in keeping the troops entertained was perhaps more prevalent at Roker Park and who could forget a keep-fit class doing their moves to the music from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly? Well, Sobs could of course because he disappeared to the Wolsley. There are memories of a friendly against Jack Charlton’s XI which has some still cringing. For me personally the most terrifying half time was when I looked up from my programme having been engrossed in an interview with Gary Owers to see a man in a balaclava running across the pitch towards the Fulwell End. As he reached the halfway line he reached into his pocket and drew a pistol. He pointed it at the Fulwell End and gunshots pierced the half time murmur. I ducked (because I have Matrix like skills which allow me to dodge bullets) whilst everyone around me carried on talking about the first half. Their madness shocked me further and then I saw a German Shepherd bounding across the pitch and taking the masked gunman down. Relief. And then some more dogs came out and started running up ramps and through tunnels. It appears I had missed the announcement about the Police Dog Display Team.
My fear that day must have paled in comparison to the fella who stole a tank from Otterburn barracks in the 70’s and escaped from the army. Knowing he was a massive lads fan they come to Roker Park and went to his usual spot in the Clock Stand Paddocks to haul him back. A certain member of the ALS team assumed this was all part of the half time entertainment, and who could blame him? Things were often that random at Roker Park.
The club’s social media team have been nothing short of inspired this season. Some love it, some hate it. Personally, I think it is a stripping away of the corporate veneer and allows the club to talk in the way that fans do and to behave in the way that entertains fans. On the face of things if someone said to you “Right, what we want you to do is run around the touchline for half the pitch then when you get to the halfway line run to the ball and dribble it in” that doesn’t sound all that entertaining but that is to completely ignore that period of time when people unaccustomed to an audience and (sorry lads) exercise have to run in front of supporters baying for entertainment. It’s like gladiators in front of a crowd who just want to see someone fall over. I hesitate to call it a stroke of genius but its simplicity makes it just that. In the first week an involuntary stumble brought the house down. Then we had a son win the race and put the ball on the spot for his dad to take the kick and then... oh then. A pure act of evil. Beaten all ends up by a Plymouth fan more suitably attired for the occasion but making a valiant effort to keep pace it was at the halfway line the realisation of defeat dawned on Russell Price. In front of his home fans, the club where he used to sell the fanzine, he saw a spirited away fan stealing the march. In that blink of realisation the foot reached out and the Plymouth fan tumbled. Russell did what all good strikers should do and in the absence of a whistle ran through while Frankie held up his hands in the face of the protests of the Plymouth fan. I asked Russell if it was all pre-planned? He looks at me with surprise “NO! Before we started I said to take it easy and the Plymouth fan said not to worry because he’d had five pints and a couple of pies, I thought “Well I’ve had five pints as well and I look like I’ve had 20 pints” “ You could see the impact of Russell’s attempts to keep up with the hustle of the Plymouth fan but in fairness it looked like he was catching him as Frankie kicked the ball in for the home run. Russell had to slow down just in order to make sure he could make the heel tap.It was clearly nothing to do with pace, Russell had embraced League One spirit; shithouse tactics and the crowd roared. Since then Russell has been inundated with interest from media, see what a bit of nastiness can do for you. Thank you
Sunderland, in the words of that Weller Fella, That’s Entertainment.