Something’s missing, isn’t it? After all the sustained excitement of, for me, the most enjoyable season since 1973 those Saturday afternoons are going to feel suddenly empty. I always hated summer terms at school because we stopped playing football and started to do stuff like trying to throw a discus around or play cricket, which I found either largely impossible or very tedious. There’s no World Cup or European Nations Championship to fill the gap this time round so what soccer islands are available to guide us back to the next football continent?
Well, the Premiership hasn’t actually finished of course and there’s a modicum of interest there for me with the third relegation slot still to be decided. West Ham have hit a very good run just at the right time and might even get a draw at Old Trafford on Sunday but it’s probably academic as Wigan, who’ve gone rapidly in the opposite direction, have to win at Sheffield United to stay up. Anything’s possible, as we all know, but Sheffield have been pretty strong at home and a draw would be good enough for them. There would be a touch of irony if Sheffield United with our ex-striker Jon Stead (not that he ever struck much for us) swap places with us. Sheffield would be easier for the majority of our fans to get to next season than Wigan while personally I’ve been rooting for as many London teams as possible to stay up so I can travel to the games from my home here in the Metropalypse.
Next up, starting today 12th May, are the Championship play-offs. The way Derby collapsed at Selhurst Park and started bickering among them-selves I can’t see them getting through. I’d like Wolves, with all their Sunderland connections, to get third slot but Southampton and particularly West Brom are probably stronger. I’m not too bothered what happens really.
The F.A. Cup Final next Saturday doesn’t appeal much either. The bit I always liked about the final was the gladiatorial entrance of the two teams from the Wembley tunnel. It always seemed to be downhill all the way after that, except when we were playing of course….well, if we exclude 1992.
The Champions League Final on 23rd May will keep the kettle boiling a bit and for me it’ll be far more interesting than the domestic final. Of course I want Liverpool to win but I like A.C. Milan too. A pal of mine, Alfredo, is a life-long fan of theirs and this season he’s become a long-distance fan of Sunderland – he managed to watch the Burnley match live on T.V. in Rome – and I’ve developed a reciprocal warmth towards A.C. I thought it was interesting that before the recent Man United v A.C. game all the talk seemed to be about what would happen with all those Liverpool and Manchester fans in Athens while the small matter of getting past A.C. was put on the back burner. I just hope it doesn’t go to penalties so we’re not treated to the sight of goalies walking half way off their lines before the kicks are taken and thereby making it much easier to save. Why does the fourth official stand on the line if he doesn’t flag for such breaking of the rules? For the truly devout England fan you can groove to England B v Albania at Turf Moor on 25th May. Michael Owen is due to play then so it’ll provide interest for our nearest and dearest but I think I’ll pass on that one; I don’t know about you.
The Championship play-off final at Wembley is on May 28th and so we’ll make it almost into June on this occasional fare. After that though it starts looking thin and apart from a friendly, England v Brazil at Wembley on 1st June, and a European qualifier, Estonia v England on 6th June, there’s virtually nothing on the football horizon till the SAFC pre-season tour of Ireland hoves into view at the end of July. In the meantime serious football addicts will have to boil up old copies of the Football Echo and consume the resultant liquid in order to stave off their withdrawal or of course endlessly watch the SAFC DVD of our 2006/7 season.
For me I’m looking forward to the new Sunderland signings that we know are inevitable and already the rumours are flying thick and fast with every day bringing endless speculation. Hang on a minute…Southampton 1 Derby 1….