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Boring, boring Sunderland

Could we really be the most boring team in the history of the Premier League?

Well, after a half century of being little more than cannon-fodder in football's top division I'd take that back-handed compliment in a heartbeat.

Because what boring really means in the mouths and minds of other fans and media is that we don't roll over and have our bellies tickled while they stick three or four past us and then pat us on the head later on Match Of The Day about our open brand of football being a delight to watch.

Then, when we are invariably relegated, they can cry crocodile tears such as they did for "poor" Blackpool and quickly look around for the next hopeless case worthy of their passing sympathy - when Swansea go down in the next season or two the tears and gnashing of teeth will be sickening. It will last all of, oh maybe, five minutes.

No, more than anyone else it seems, we've been there. Look up relegation in the dictionary and there's likely a photo of our club crest.

So, for now, boring is fine by me. Because we are building the foundations of what we haven't been in a lifetime - a fixture in the top flight of English football. And given the financial payback that comes with continuous membership of that elite the gap between them and the yo-yo clubs grows wider and wider every season.

Which takes me back to the most despised team in the history of English football - the Leeds United mob of 1963-74.

All of football hated them, but we hated them most of all.

They were cheating, boring, nasty, time-wasting, diving Dirty Leeds. We called them virtually every name we could conjur up. Except one. We never called them losers.

Because deep down we wished we'd had their success. We'd come up together in '64, having clawed at each other like demons throughout that still memorable promotion season (anyone who saw the two games we played against each other would have seen the closest thing to warfare ever played out on a football pitch).

But that next season, back where we thought we always belonged, we took one route and Leeds took another.

We started as we'd go on - with a cavalier attitude that meant we started with a 15 year old in goal. A gloriously entertaining 3-3 tie with Leicester City in the opening game would have pundits drooling if they'd been around on TV back then. In truth it was amateur hour and we soon lost the momentum that could have established us, once again, as a leading side.

Instead it was Dirty Leeds who did that by playing dour, defensive football, with a killer instinct in every aspect of their play. The odium they inspired from eveyone else in the game bound them - it was them against the world, and that brought them closer together than ever. It was the Leeds way or the highway, as Brian Clough would one day discover.

Now we are far from being Dirty Leeds and, thankfully, MON is not Don Revie. But there is a lesson to understand and our manager has been around long enough to have learned it well.

While doctors are first told 'do no harm' then football teams must first vow 'don't get beat'. From that all else springs.

Dirty Leeds did eventually turn into an exciting side but it took many years and lots of 0-0 and 0-1 results on grounds up and down the land.

So to hell with how many shots we have taken or not taken and to hell, also, with what other fans may think or say. If we have to grind it out then we grind it out. If our more skillful players are off-form then they can at least track back and stop the other team from playing. If we only have one shot in a match then make that one shot count.

And if you still want entertainment then look for a DVD of the play-off final against Charlton.

Or better still for contrast, 1-0 against Leeds at the same ground. We learned the Leeds lesson ten years too late but when Richie Pitt set the tone with a tackle that would have him sent off twice by any ref today we finally had realised what it took to win.

And winning is never, ever boring.

Sharkey's Shadow
(Our Canadian Correspondent)

October 29, 2012

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