Last week saw United win both games on their tour of New Zealand but just as was said after the Oldham pre-season defeat, these results don’t really matter and it is more about fitness, formations, trying stuff out and heading towards readiness for the proper stuff starting. Frankly, given we have managers approaching each other as Pardew is said to have done to his Wellington counterpart to agree to no hard tackling, I often feel the organisers of these games have a bit of a neck to even charge an entry fee.
Obviously, both games were horribly over-shadowed by the absence of John Alder and Liam Sweeney who should have been at those games but as you all know, weren’t. I felt the tributes paid to John and Liam out in New Zealand were immaculate and we should all be grateful to everyone involved for getting the tone so right. Back home at SJP, there was a very moving tribute last week where once again we witnessed the best of humanity responding to the worst of it. If there is one thing to come from this tragedy, and this will provide little comfort to the bereaved, then the North East, which we all love so much, has shown a great solidarity. I can’t imagine what was in the minds of Liam Sweeney’s father and brother as they travelled out to Amsterdam to attempt to resolve the grim repatriation of their loved one’s remains but every right-thinking person will be wishing them every kindness. It is right we stand together and the appropriate tributes to John and Liam are made. Decency demands it.
There was an inevitability about a young man facing Police action for some brainless and tasteless comments on social media. He will have to live with the stain of a stupid misjudgement but he has the excuse of the impetuosity of youth. I am aware of others who have used the terrible deaths of two of our own to make completely uncalled for jibes at others they “enjoy” pursuing a tedious vendetta with but these pariahs appal the vast majority and simply expose their crass and self-destructive bitterness. Their only purpose is to underline the decency of the overwhelming majority of supporters of whatever colour stripe.
Given the outstanding behaviour of Sunderland supporters in their response to this tragedy, some have wondered if we will ever feel the same passions going into derby matches as we have in years gone by. I think we will. I think it might actually be better. I do not see any reason why games between the two clubs should not be played with the same intensity as they traditionally have. Given Pardew has managed to create a club record of having lost three derbies on the spin, I can honestly say, there isn’t a game next season on the fixture card I want to win more than the derby. I’m sure I’ll have the same stomach churning angst on the morning of the games I’ve had for every one I’ve attended since 1976 and I’m sure I’ll have the shakes at the prospect of a fourth consecutive loss. Like many of you reading this, I’m 100% confident I’ll be pumped up as I click through the turnstiles and desperate for a win, demanding every one of our players gives absolutely everything for our just and righteous cause. The Sunderland fans I know, I have no doubt will be absolutely the same and determined to see their recent dominance in this fixture continued.
What I am hopeful will develop however is a diminution of the spite however. Calling people “scum” and “filth” doesn’t sit well with me. I’d hope also the Sunderland fans can stop hurling coins and missiles from the top deck of the Leazes onto those below them in December and I’d hope our lot would do the same in the reverse fixture. I’d hope we will continue to take the piss relentlessly out of each other’s woeful football clubs and whenever their next football crisis befalls them and us ours, I’d expect us to be guffawing in the usual fashion.
Let’s face it neither club will get near silverware next season.
Some have said they would regret it if our derby ended up like the Merseyside dispute but I think they have a misconception of the intensity of that fixture. Having attended a couple, albeit many years ago, I can confirm there is no lack of passion on and off the park as well as a fair bit of needle in the stands. The NE derby doesn’t have the same degree of families supporting different clubs etc. but in the post-modern era more of us cross paths with each other and get along fine. Our derby isn’t disfigured by any sectarian divide as per Glasgow being more rooted in community identity and civic pride.
Personally, I’d like to see the derbies go in a different direction in the stands from a competition to see who can spit more spite at each other to one where we can compete with the kind of flag and scarf displays many of us admire from the continent. Supporters and clubs have to co-operate with each other on this one and maybe it’s an opportunity for Supporters Liaison Officers to challenge the cynicism there is about their roles (particularly at Newcastle United) and start working together to achieve something positive.
Maybe I’m expecting too much?
I read a line last week that amused me, “there are lies, damned lies and pre-season friendlies”. As I’ve said previously, results are pretty meaningless but nevertheless it’s been good to see a couple of the new players and younger ones getting a stretch of their legs. De Jong looks pretty accomplished and Riviere has a bit of pace at least. I’ve enjoyed seeing Perez and Aarons too. However, I’m not going to be convinced about anything until I’ve seen them after 4 or 5 proper games.
I have done the digital equivalent of cutting out and keeping Alan Pardew’s patter about the Champions League. What utter tosh the man talks at times. If he thinks he has a squad to compete for a CL place then there is more to worry about than I thought. Similarly, if our pre-season investment for the new season has been concluded (little more than recycling the Cabaye/Debuchy money in honesty) and we are entering a new season with Cisse, Riviere, Goufrann, Armstrong and Perez as our attacking resources then we will struggle for goals.
We desperately need to sign at least one striker and when I see the likes of Lukaku and Bony apparently available I wonder where we are. Some fans believe the sale of Andy Carroll was “good business”. Maybe it was but I want to see United’s assets on the pitch rather than a spreadsheet and believe that having brought in big money from the sales of Carroll, Ba and even Best, we should be able to sign good quality strikers with some pedigree and potential.
Given also the lack of activity in the previous two windows, the new TV deal and the sales of Debuchy and Cabaye, we should have plenty money to invest in proper strikers rather than punts on the likes of Riviere and Perez. If as expected we get shot of Mbwia, HBA and hopefully Obertan, wages shouldn’t be an issue and we will need a powerful, dominant central defender. There currently isn’t a central defender in the squad who I have 100% confidence in for a variety of reasons. I say that despite my man crush on Capitano Colo who I think we all realise has seen better days and is perhaps distracted by off the field issues.
The club could quite easily sign three more players – two strikers and a central defender on the money that must be there without the charge of financial recklessness. If the club wants to improve upon last season’s finish of tenth, it has to invest. It might also need a new manager but that is another matter.
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More pre-season larks to come with visits variously to Sheffield and Schalke on the radar.
Those of you heading to our pre-season friendlies will doubtless clock some of the lads and lasses who have jumped in and bought our brilliant Kelly and Peacock Bucket hats. We still have a few available, so get yourself one while we have them. Just click here.
Have a great week.
Keep On, Keepin’ On …