Part of the ‘job’ contributing to RTG involves keeping the news pages updated as far as having a life and my real job will allow, so you get a decent ‘feel’ (oo-er missus) for the transfer news and speculation at any given time. So being out of the country on summer holibobs means I lose that awareness briefly (unless I can be arsed to find a cybercafe which I usually can’t. So I went off to Ireland the other week fully expecting to spend the week largely unaware of new rumours and not particularly expecting much in the way of actual moves given the transfer market apathy to date. Not that I was singling out Ireland as an incommunicado backwater, but with no ready web access and no Sky access in the cottage we’d hired I was ready for an SAFC-stress-free week.
But it turned out to be much harder to avoid references to Sunderland than I thought. For starters our cottage was in County Kildare – I found out pretty early on that Kildare is the new home county of former SAFC crowd favourite Niall Quinn. Not surprising, really; Quinny loves his golf and racing, and the county is home to two world famous racecourses – the Curragh and Punchestown, and there’s a racecourse in Naas as well, and he’s reportedly a member of Tulfarris Golf Club just over the border in Co Wicklow (incidentally I read somewhere that Ireland has over 2,000 golf courses. I mean – 2,000!!!) Even the name of the local supermarket was a reminder – Superquinn.
The “Quinny Connection” didn’t stop there though. The day after we arrived was important in local GAA-supporting circles – it was the Leinster Senior Football Championship final between Kildare and Laois. Absolutely everywhere we went locally, people had Kildare flags, bunting, banners or posters on display, in houses, cars and shops – almost absolute and obsessive support. Everything stopped when the game started, streets emptied, bars filled. Laois looked like they were going to romp it, but Kildare fought back and lost only narrowly. Anyway the upshot is that I bought the Irish Independent newspaper the following day and guess who writes a weekly column, which that day he devoted to reporting on the Kildare-Laois game? ‘Our’ Quinny. Absolutely marvellous to read his views on his beloved GAA.
But the “Quinny Connection” continued. Idly channel-hopping one day I caught an ad break on RTE, there was an ad for washing powder – typical enough stuff, lady of the house keeping female nipper occupied supervising her baking efforts, junior nipper doing a spot of colouring-in at the kitchen table. Aaaaaw. Then it occurred to me that “mum” in this scenario looked a lot like Niall’s missus, the ever-patient Gillian I remembered from the pics in his autobiography. Could well be, I thought – she was a model before she was Mrs Quinn, could’ve branched out into advertising… “Aisling you’ll get more on you than on those cakes”, says ‘mum’ – and “Michael look at the pen marks all over you” Hmm, Quinny’s nippers are called Aisling and Michael… Coincidence? Nope. The Family Quinn – minus dad – are the new ‘faces’ of a particular brand of washing powder in the Emerald Isle.
The Irish connection in general continued: Tuesday nights on RTE there’s a programme called “The Restaurant” where a celeb is let loose in the kitchen (a 12 hour shift, no less) of a posh restaurant to concoct their own three-course menu, help and supervise the other cooking personnel, then that night’s customers and three leading food critics get to run the rule over the results, before they’re told who the mystery chef is. I watched this particular episode because the ‘celeb’ was to be none other than Jason McAteer. He said his initial plan was to “get all the punters trollied on wine then serve kebabs” but eventually designed a very varied menu:
STARTERS: Fishcakes with green pea puree OR langoustines with scrambled egg OR beetroot and coconut soup.
MAIN COURSE: Chicken & asparagus stuffing OR smoked haddock paupiettes with new potatoes, rocket and olive oil.
DESSERT: Banana & Vanilla cheesecake OR treacle sponge & butterscotch sauce OR apple crumble.
Not bad for someone who said he had a black belt in cooking – “one chop and yer dead!” Trigger and his team reworked some of the dishes slightly as the evening went on in reaction to diners’ comments relayed to the kitchen on hidden cameras. – McAteer seeming to have a lot of input to decisions, right down to the seasoning. The one-time thorn in Roy Keane’s side reacted to one diner’s remarks by wielding a kitchen blowtorch and threatening to singe her eyebrows… Another diner, asked to guess who the celeb chef could be – said she thought it was probably a rugby player with a very girly menu, and one of the food writers said they thought Jase’s presentation of the haddock paupiettes in tinfoil amounted to “haddock abuse”. The end verdict, though, was more positive: “They’re in the category of some of the better fishcakes I’ve had in my life” and “As far as chicken goes, this is as good as it gets” and he got four stars out of five for his efforts – the highest in the series at the time. Macca’s final reaction? “I’m made up – it was a lot of hard work and it’s nice to be rewarded for it.”
And as the week went on, there was less of a drought than I thought for footy news: Breen and Healy committing in principle to SAFC popped up on day one, along with the possibility of no tribunal for Bellion, and the Irish Independent estimating that Sunderland are “€100m in debt” (ie about £70m sterling). Then whispers that a rumoured McCarthy target, David Connolly, wasn’t going to sign for Reading after all – could we nick him? Errr, no as it turned out. Damian Duff to Chelsea was BIG news in the Republic, being an Irish lad as he is – at £17m it became the third most expensive transfer involving a UK or Irish player, after Rio Ferdinand’s two moves at £30m and £18m respectively. The long-expected news of Gavin McCann to Aston Villa was announced, followed by the equally unsurprising news of Tommy Sorensen’s talks with the same club, and the now news of Kevin Phillips’s looming transfer to Southampton where he started as boot cleaner to some bloke who plays up the road and missed a crucial penalty against us. What does surprise me though is the amount of vitriol towards the likes of some of the wantaway players. Okay Phillips wasn’t a shining star last season but he’s given SAFC arguably the best years of his career to date and hung around on the false promise of big name signings in the offing, which never arrived. He’s given Sunderland loyalty when the board at least didn’t deserve it for lapsed promises. A footballer’s career is a short one and they need to make their living while they can; ambition is aiming for the top rung of the ladder while you’re young and fit enough – we should be saying “thanks for everything and good luck”, not abusing him for simply showing ambition. Similarly with Mickey Gray – okay, the times when he was a wizard on the wing and firing in crosses didn’t save us from relegation this time – just as SKP’s 100+ goals didn’t – and like SKP he hasn’t been a shining star lately, but he’s no more culpable than many of the other squad members. He was good enough for England and put in many good performances for us, and stayed loyal to his home club when he probably could’ve moved away for more money. And what does he get? Vitriolic personal abuse, his promiscuity questioned, accusations of alcoholism. Do you think he actually wanted to play badly? Wanted us to get relegated? Wanted to get dropped by the club he adores and supports, himself? I’m not excusing some of his performances last season but I think the abuse dished out to some players really is OTT on occasion.
Admittedly last season was a disaster waiting to happen, it was hell for all of us and we all have our own views on who’s responsible. I know we all have a right to whinge but ultimately, it’ll achieve little other than just depressing us – I’m not sure Bob Murray’s listening, for a start. Whining on with “…but it shouldn’t be like this” and “we deserve better” – yes it’s true enough but it probably won’t change anything. Our role as supporters is to support – to get behind the lads for 90 minutes on a Saturday, not abusing and booing and writing them off before they’ve kicked a ball. I’m not getting into who’s a “true” supporter on the basis of how many and which matches they go to and who’s not – if you’re there, go to support not to belittle. Booing and abusing players doesn’t encourage them to do better.
Someone said to me last season, “Bet you wish you didn’t support them now”. Not the case. I frequently wish they wouldn’t lose as often, and would score a damn sight more goals – but I’ve never wished I wasn’t a Sunderland supporter.
Haway the lads.