The coming months see the release of the final Star Wars and Matrix films, with many fans moaning both before and after watching the action unfold how they aren’t a patch on the originals. I remember, as a young boy in the late-Seventies, watching Star Wars with wonder and amazement. I remember the same feelings after The Matrix. Sequels, generally, don’t live up to the original, especially when the original was a piece of artistry, not previously witnessed by its generation of viewers. In the case of Star Wars, the original trilogy, whilst never matching the original film, at least stands as a piece of movie history in its entirety. The second trilogy, of the time before Star Wars, is, naturally, compared to both the original film and the first trilogy. Similarly, the Matrix Reloaded and soon-to-be-released Matrix Revolutions, will be compared unfavourably to The Matrix. Maybe, though, if each film were viewed independently, in its own right, with no knowledge of what went before, they would be better received. As it is, they are derided before we pay the money to watch, whilst we sit watching and when we review the film with friends and work colleagues.
Which leads me to the third part of the title – Sunderland strikers. For a while, now, I have written and re-written an article on Kevin Kyle. For those of you who know me, you will be aware of my views on our current leading scorer. You will know which side of the Donkey / SupaKev line I stand. For those of you who don’t, let me just re-iterate – sequels rarely live up to the original. Especially when the original is a legend to a generation. When you have loved Star Wars, Attack of the Clones is a poor follow-up; when you marvelled at The Matrix, Reloaded leaves you disappointed; when you have idolised Kevin Phillips, well, Kevin Kyle just doesn’t come close. When he scored at Bramall Lane, it just didn’t seem right that he was afforded the title vacated by SKP.
But is he supposed to? Is Reloaded or Return of the Jedi meant to be better than – or even equal to – the original? Well, frankly, no. They are different films around the same basic story. Kyle is another player who happens to lead the Sunderland front line. Do we compare Poom to Sorensen, or Breen to Craddock with as much gusto as Kyle to Phillips? Maybe not, so maybe Kyle is unfortunate to be a striker. Even more, unfortunate that he happens to follow the greatest striker Sunderland have produced in recent history.
So, let’s try to forget the original. Reloaded stands out, as Revolutions promises to do, as a cinematic piece of high octane, action sequences. In itself, it breaks ground in special effects and chase sequences. If you had no knowledge of the original, you may have left marvelling at some of the stunts and shots in Reloaded. Does Kyle? Does the Scottish international, who won more caps than Sunderland starts last year? In isolation, Kyle is a hard, old-style centre forward, who leaves centre-halves knowing they were in a battle for 90 minutes. He is a forward who leads the line, a target-man, a bruiser. Is he prolific, in an age where a run of 3 or 4 games without a goal is termed a drought? Well, no, he isn’t. He took many, many games and lots and lots of chances before he hit the net. But then he scored 6 in 6. Since then, he’s again had numerous chances, but added only one goal to his tally. You may argue Niall Quinn (maybe a more suitable comparison than the prolific Phillips) was never a regular scorer and he created chances for his partner. Does Kyle do this? Does Marcus Stewart benefit from the big striker? Certainly more than Proctor did in the first few games of the season, but that may be more in the fact that the experienced ex-Tractor Boy reads the game better than the young Proctor and knows where the ball will land. Yet, Stewart, too, has scored most of his goals in a mini-run, and not in a consistent way that is reminiscent of the original SupaKev. Kyle does not create in the same way as Quinn did for Phillips. Maybe it’s not fair to compare the wily old Irishman with the young, bludgeoning Scot. Age and experience counts for a lot – Stewart over Proctor, for example. Maybe Kyle will develop into the next Niall Quinn, who knows. But here I am, falling back into comparisons.
At a time when Sunderland desperately needed heart, players who would stand up to be counted, a team spirit that was reminiscent of the early Peter Reid era, members who would epitomise the fabled Kevin Ball “bleed Red&White” attitude, Kevin Kyle stepped forward. Whatever you say about his abilities, his scoring record, and his qualities as a striker to follow Quinn or Phillips, the lad is all heart and passion. What has changed the minds of many is not his improvement in terms of footballing ability, but his desire to play for this club and move it forward again, after so many months of going backwards. It is in these noble qualities that Kevin Kyle should be viewed in isolation, away from comparisons with previous players. He may not be the prolific striker who will shoot us back to the Premiership. He may not be the next Niall Quinn. He may not even be very good, once defenders find him out as the season progresses, but for all that, he is delivering what was most lacking at SAFC – heart, passion & commitment. By-words that have long been associated with fans, and something lost by recent players, more interested in the number of noughts on their annual wage. Whether we go up or not, whether Kyle becomes Scotland’s, or Sunderland’s, long-term centre-forward solution, the here & now shows that Kevin Kyle has already delivered more than anyone could ever have imagined from this tall, burly young man. And for that, he deserves our praise and thanks. (Let’s just hope he proves me wrong and does turn out to be the next Quinny!)