Jake: looking back

John McCormick writes: Nine years ago years ago I was in Sunderland and wondering what the future held. In particular, what the next season would bring. All three of the North East’s teams were in the relegation mix. We had two games to play, at Portsmouth and the the last of the season against Chelsea – sitting in the top three after a long unbroken run of wins. The others had only one. ‘Boro couldn’t catch us (nor could WBA) but they could overtake Newcastle, who in their turn could overtake us. Hull, too, were below us, by only one point. The extra game gave us control of our destiny but if we didn’t win it and the last day’s results went against us we would go down.

Here’s what Pete Sixsmith had to say  about it on 17th May 2009, the day before our game at Portsmouth, with M Salut providing the introduction. He titled the piece “Bordering on insanity”

Stranger things have happened in football than both Hull and the Mags winning next week and us not. So can we for once forget resting incautious hopes on combinations of last-day results going our way? Think back over Sunderland’s history and you’ll quickly see why the question is asked. The Lads owe it to us to beat Pompey tomorrow and achieve safety on their own merits. Pete Sixsmith found a way to cope with the tension …

What do you do at this stage of the season when we are playing on the Monday and there are three important games taking place on the Saturday? One friend took off to Bath for a University reunion, others began a three day booze-a-thon in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, while Jonah stayed at home to bite his finger nails to the knuckle.

I did a spot of groundhopping and went to Kelso in the Scottish Borders for a bottom four clash in the East of Scotland League Division One between Kelso United and Ormiston. No public transport, no Jonah, just me, the Mazda and some music and the wonderful scenery of deepest Northumberland. Turn left after Wooler and you could be back in another age as you pass through tiny villages with red phone boxes, surrounded by those gentle green Cheviot hills. One narrow valley turns into another, until Kelso and its ruined Abbey are there, spread out before you.

For those who haven’t been, it’s a lovely town. It has a huge, cobbled central square with streets called Horsemarket and Woodmarket leading off it. There are some impressive 18th Century buildings, a small but perfectly formed bookshop, the aforementioned ruined Abbey and a man in the Tourist Information Office who had no idea where the football ground was and when I told him I was a Sunderland supporter he said he thought that Roy Keane was doing a decent job. Hmmm.

A walk around the cobbled streets was rewarded with a CD of Sweeny’s Men, a book about the Act of Union of 1707 and a very good lunch in a pub called The Cobbles. For those of us who forever associate Scotch Eggs with Alan Partridge and gassy breath, the chef blasted that one out of the water, by mixing his sausage meat with smoked haddock and black pudding and serving it with chips the width of Charlie Hurley’s thighs. Washed down with a pint of dark, sweet No.3 Ale from Stewarts of Loanhead, it was a lunch fit to grace the match at Woodside Park.

Finding the stadium proved to be fairly easy. Kelso is a small town and once I had located the fire station (our Roy Keane admiring friend thought it might be near there), I was able to pull into the car park. Woodside consisted of a changing bloc/clubhouse and a rope down either side of the playing area, so stadium is a bit of a misnomer. Plenty of car parking, low ticket prices (£0) and a team in black and white stripes getting thumped at home. Who needs the Premier League!

The Kelso colours were a problem. I had already bumped into a shirt wearing Mag in the Post Office and to see 11 of them emerging from the dressing rooms was a real bummer and made me favour a win for Ormiston – who were resplendent in a Hearts look-alike maroon strip.

There are some things that are certain in the lower echelons of Scottish football. There will be a lot of swearing. There will be a tricky winger, usually chunky, occasionally red haired, who will be known as “Wee man”. There will be a stocky midfield player who tries to kick anything within 5 yards of himself and that includes the referee and any unfortunate spectators. There will be a large, immobile centre forward who is probably thinking if Kevin Kyle can make a lot of money out of the game, why can’t I? And the referee will be dressed in some fluorescent colour that can be seen from the next town.

All of these applied here. The swearing was constant and loud, particularly from the Kelso keeper. Wee Man scored the first goal for Ormiston, after tying his full back (affectionately known as Foxy by his mates) up in knots. The stocky midfield player appeared an hour into the game and was booked in the 65th minute for his third foul. The Kelso centre forward ( Spider,continuing the creature theme) would drop to the floor holding his head in his hands as he missed yet another header, a la KK. The referee wore bright yellow and looked like a banana. And he was an Italian – from Livingston, not Lecce. He had a decent game without the histrionics of Collina and coped well without linesmen.

Hearts won 3-1. A fight broke out as the players left the field. My conversation with a Kelso official (pleased with himself for taking an excellent redundancy from BT just before they announced 15,000 jobs to go) drew out the fact that one of the spectators was a Sunderland fan and was known by his fellow Kelsonians as Stokoe. My BT companion apologised for playing in black and white stripes and said he thought we would stay up – which is more than the astrologer hired by Guardian Sport did!

Back in the car, I did not turn on the radio until 5.00. The news from Boro was good, it could have been worse from The Reebok, but I let out an almighty whoop when the result from SJP was read out. It made for a pleasant journey home through Jedburgh and Redesdale and would have been better if I could have found a Mag in a shirt to shout at as I passed through Tow Law and Howden-le-Wear. Chuckled to hear Shearer talking about Howard Webb through gritted teeth; wasn’t he watching Taylor’s dive in February?

Now, all we have to do is win on Monday. In 45 years as a red and white, there have not been many times when we have got it right and won a game we have to win. Lose at the barn known as Fratton Park and we face a horrible, horrible day on Sunday. Win and Sunday could be one of the most pleasurable days of our lives.

Ha’way Lads – don’t mess it up!!!!


Epilogue

And we didn’t, sort of, although we tried our hardest. We lost both of our games but so did the Mags, a 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa, thanks to a Damien Duff own goal. Hull and Middlesbrough also lost and Boro and Newcastle went down with bottom club WBA. We finished 16th

 

 

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

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