Stephen Elliott's bowel movements are not what they should be - news from Canada/US
Well I know this is kind of late but I do have a great excuse for not getting this report out earlier – I couldn’t be arsed.
I’ve done this pre-season thing a few times now. I’ve got to say it’s great to do. It gets you to go off to parts of the world you probably wouldn’t visit otherwise (at least as a tourist). I couldn’t get away from work in time to get to the Victoria game. My son and I were landing in Seattle just a few hours before the lads were playing across Puget Sound on Victoria Island. Anyway, that was a “warm up” game so it doesn’t count. Next day we picked up the rental RV (or “motorhome” if you prefer) and headed north across the border. Crossing into Canada the Canadian border police seemed very concerned that we were trying to bring in guns (we weren’t) whereas crossing back the other way the US border police seemed very concerned that were we were trying to bring in drugs (we weren’t). If you fancy a new life of illicit cross-border trade, I reckon there could be an easy opening in running drugs into Canada and guns into the US.
Vancouver is just wonderful: a really gorgeous place and absolutely delightful people. The only problem is that, as with the US, they have a dark ages approach to alcohol. Don’t let the bairns know about it and there’ll be no problems. Yeah right, that’ll work – suppression and denial is the way forward. Join the 21st century chaps. My son is only 14 and so we couldn’t get into a lot of bars. Fortunately we did end up at a good bar with a pavement drinking area (apparently bairns don’t get corrupted seeing alcohol in the fresh air) that was occupied by a friendly group of SAFC supporters from Hebburn.
The Swanguard stadium was what I guess you’d call quaint: only one real stand with a marvellous view across the mountains. There were a good crowd of SAFC supporters (as there was at all the games) in the sell-out crowd at the game, including a lot of familiar faces from the regular away supporting troops (you do get to recognise a lot of faces even if you don’t always know the names). There were also lots of supporters from other European clubs with their shirts (including a few mags, which was nice in a “let’s be nice to each other on holiday” sort of way). Sadly the largest number (other than SAFC shirts) were Man U tops. Even as a self-confessed Man U liker I can’t help but think “tosser” when I see someone in a Man U top – anyone else wearing a top I assume at least has some allegiance to the club but I can’t shake off that prejudice.
The game itself was truly dreadful from our point of view. We looked awful and were lucky not to get beat by more. Kelvin Davis had a really good first half and kept us in the game. Poor Ben Alnwick was left to let in the three goals but wasn’t really to blame. Piper had a good run out, which was probably the main positive. We hadn’t seen him since the first half against Preston when, in what was possibly the worst 45 minutes of the season, he still managed to look woeful. So it was nice to see him looking fit and healthy and running well with the ball. I am still keeping my groundless faith levels set at maximum as far as Piper is concerned so I’m hoping for good things from him this season. I was also looking forward to seeing Tommy Miller but barely noticed him in his 45 minute run out. Like Piper (though for different reasons – Piper not risked on Astroturf; Miller slight nigggle) that was the last we were to see of him. Nosworthy looked busy when he was out right and Stead put in a lot of work.
Other than that, this match is best consigned to the history books.
Next day we went killer whale watching in the Puget Sound and saw 25 of the feckers – they performed a lot better than the lads had.
The following Wednesday afternoon saw us in “Pioneer Square”, the old town area of Seattle just north of Qwest Field, the gigantic American football ground where the Seattle Sounders “soccer”(sic) team also play. Again we had a nice pavement bar and a “Microbrew” beer (Mack and Jacks), which was bliddy good and fairly close to an English bitter (or at least as close as you’re going to get). Half way through we had to go to the ground as our lass had at last finished work and had just arrived hot foot from the airport after the 10+ hour flight. Being civilised types we headed straight back up to Pioneer Square and continued on where we had left off with a good crowd of SAFC supporters making it feel like you were at a “normal” away match.
This game was much better. Being played on Astroturf (the sandy version that I understand is the better one) it wasn’t really like a competitive game. The lads had been instructed not to get themselves injured so it meant no silly tackling and no lunges in the penalty area. So what we got was an extended passing practice. It may seem odd to travel 5,000 miles to see what you could watch down at Whitburn (not that I’ve ever been down the Whitburn training complex) but I was perfectly happy with it. The thing that stood out for me in this game was Carl Robinson. It is probably damning him with faint praise but this was just about the best I’ve ever seen him in an SAFC shirt. He looked every inch the midfield maestro and was making himself available for everything. He was also doing a good job as captain and I would not be unhappy if he got the captain’s armband on a permanent basis (assuming he will be a fixture in the team, which, if not certain, at least looks very likely).
Technically we “won” this game with a great passing move that came to Lawrence on the left side of the box. Lawrence mis-hit it and both in real life and on the big screen replay I was certain that it hit the underside of the bar and came out. For some reason the ref decided it was a goal – hopefully that is not our share of luck over with for the season. Anyway a win was good as my son had bought a Seattle Sounders top and he’s happy wearing a top of a club we’ve beaten.
Saturday comes and we find ourselves in Portland. The bars round the ground are all “no minors” so we end up drinking over in town where our lass, my son and me are the only SAFC supporters, which detracts from the usual pre-match social a bit. The PGE stadium is a baseball stadium and has different Astroturf to that used for American football. It really isn’t even vaguely suitable for footy. This is a pity as Portland was otherwise much more like an English football match. There was a good crowd of over 15,000. That really is good for “soccer” in the US – but then Portland doesn’t have either a good American football or baseball team so “soccer” has a bit more of a chance. The Portland “Timbers Army” are a great crowd and make proper football noise and chanting – including being ridiculously unfair to opposition players (which is the way it should be – I hate this fair play to the opposition crap). They also don’t do the ridiculous tannoy running commentary, cheer leading and firing tee-shirts into the crowd while the game is on. At both Vancouver and Seattle that had driven me mad – it might be necessary in American football or baseball but, like Portland, they should have the confidence to do “soccer” the way it is done around the world.
I actually enjoyed the first half of the Portland game. Again however it had to be a Whitburn-style training session. Even more so given the weird astroturf, which meant the ball ran incredibly quickly. Mick took the opportunity to test the lads’ ability to adapt to changing personnel and formations, making numerous rolling substitutions and switching rapidly between 4-3-3, 4-5-1 and 4-4-2. One, what looked like an enforced, change worried me as Stephen Elliott stood on the ball and fell over. He was then substituted and headed off the pitch. We were sitting directly over the tunnel so as he went down I shouted out “what’s wrong Stephen?” (it is the sign of the sad obsessive to refer to players with whom they have no personal relationship by their first names). You realise how young these lads are in such circumstances – when some old authoritive looking chap (that’ll be me) asks them a question, they instinctively answer. So he told me “I need to go the toilet”. Judging by the time he was down there, he was clearly going for a big job and not a little job. Now I find this disappointing. A professional athlete, with over a week to adjust to the time difference, should not need to go and do a poo 15 minutes into the match. Someone amongst the backroom staff needs to take this matter in hand.
The second half petered out. The lads looked like they just didn’t want to get injured and I think Mick thought he’d got what he’d wanted (most of which was the training and the team building away from the actual games in any case I think).
So what did we learn from all of this? Well, Kelvin Davis is going to be superb. He combines the best bits of Poom and Myrhe’s games and you can easily see why he was Championship goaly of the season. Nosworthy inspires a lot of confidence in the other lads – they are always looking for him as an outlet and he tackles back and across very well. I was impressed with him at right back and he is going to be stiff competition for Wrighty. However, if Breen, Cadlwell, Collins N, Collins D, McCartney and Wright are all injured and Nosworthy plays at centre back be afraid, be very afraid. He is a different player there and is woeful. At least Mick knows that for certain now. Robinson I think is going to surprise a few of us in the Prem and may well make the step up that a lot of us worried he wouldn’t be capable of. Piper is looking encouragingly fit and could be a real asset. Stead already looks like a Premiership player but hasn’t really formed much understanding with Brown, Elliott or Murphy – but then these matches weren’t well structured to show us much as to how we’d operate up front. Murphy and Woods both looked like first team players, which is good. Mick seemed to be raving about Woods in particular, but I can’t say I would get that excited yet. The young lads Christensen and, in particular, Smith looked out of their depth to me to be honest and I’d be surprised if either of them feature at all in the season – but then they only came out because Breen and McCartney picked up injuries. The rest of the players had a good run out against fit lads who were prepared to be physical so I hope they all got some benefit out of it.
So Wednesday afternoon came again and we were walking back down Seattle waterfront killing time until our plane was due. I phoned my brother who was on his way home from Hull to be told we had been beaten 1-0 and were dreadful. Ah well, we blamed Vancouver on jet lag so we can use the same excuse again. We got home Thursday to find our camping site confirmation for a long week-end north of Amsterdam and our tickets for the AZ Alkmaar game. Let’s hope by that stage “ah well, it’s only pre-season” is not being replaced by “oh my god, next week the season starts”.