Tuktuk Day Fourteen

Well, after our literary diversion yesterday, it’s now back to the Frozen North. As far as the English Leagues are concerned there is not much further North than Sunderland and Newcastle. So, today it’s off for a chat with a friend of more than 20 years, David Blight who is a lifelong Sunderland AFC fan.

David was one of the first ever supporters of the Shirt project. He hosted Bjorn back in 2009, came to see him in Spain a few months later and then hosted me for a whole week in 2010 after I had been knocked off my bike. Loyalty does not get better or stronger! Thanks, amigo.

We are always talking about football and the life of a Gillingham fan has not been much different from that of a Sunderland fan although we are “usually” further down the pyramid.

Every season starts with “HOPE” (and sometimes “Great Hope”) but by Christmas reality has kicked in and by Easter it is already thoughts of NEXT season, “Yes, that will be ours.” Rinse and repeat. We have both had Wembley days destroyed by Manchester City after looking pretty and financial issues are never far away!

I asked him for his thoughts about Sunderland since the Shirt project started and he was kind enough to outline them. Thanks again, amigo!

Thoughts of a Sunderland Supporter: 2010 to current Day

D Blight / 18.01.24

You have to be thick-skinned to be a life-long Sunderland supporter…no more than in the period from 2010 to present day, which has been characterised by failure and disappointment, rather than any real success.

Successive relegations in 2017 and 2018 have undoubtedly been the ‘low points’…followed by four seasons in the doldrums that is League 1, before finally successfully negotiating a return to the Championship via a play-off final win a Wembley in 2022 (a rare thing in itself for SAFC!) then over-achieving last season to almost repeat the feat again – losing out in their play-off semi-final to the eventual winners and now Premier League club (eh?) Luton Town.

It’s not that there haven’t been any ‘highs’ since 2010…you just have to search to find them! One was undoubtedly the Football League Cup Final in 2014, where we ‘dared to dream’…when Fabio Borini gave Sunderland the lead against the mighty Manchester City in the 10th minute (and nearly made it 2-0 before half-time, but for a brilliant stop by Costel Pantilimon)  It wasn’t to be however, inspired by Yaya Toure, City took control of the game in the second half and ran out eventual 3-1 winners. Speak to any Sunderland supporter who was there that day (myself included) and all they will want to talk about is the unforgettable ‘day out’ we all had, ‘cheesy chips’ and the fact we out-sang the City fans.  The result no longer matters. 

A ’honourable mention’ must go to ‘six in a row’ i.e. the six consecutive ‘derby’ victories we enjoyed (3 at home; 3 away) against bitter rivals Newcastle Utd between April 2013 and October 2015.  Never to be forgotten…and probably never matched (one recent FA Cup victory to ‘the Toon’ ain’t gonna change that!)  The goal that stands out in that sequence of results (apart from that man Borini’s 84th minute winner in the 2-1 home victory in October 2013) has got to be the Jermain’s Defoe’s volley right on the stroke of half-time in April 2015 that reduced him to tears (of joy!) and gave Sunderland all three points. The ground absolutely erupted!  This is worth viewing: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/av/football/64953001

So what of the future? There’s always ‘hope’ (Sunderland supporters are big on ‘hope’!) In Kyril we trust… and Tony Mowbray will be long remembered for the style of football he instilled in our young team (indeed, the youngest squad in the Championship, for the second year running)  Many were sorry to see him go (me included) and ‘the jury’s still out’ on Michael Beale…but ‘where there’s hope’…

So, that’s a great overview of the last fifteen years. I also asked him for his first memory. It was Sunderland 3- 0 Chelsea in the mid 60s. That’s LOYALTY! “Sixty years of pain” ….for both of us! At least his team has played Manchester United. Oddity – my beloved Gillingham have NEVER once played United in a competitive match. We have lost to Liverpool, humiliated Manchester City and Arsenal. We have drawn against Everton when probably the better team, beaten West Ham and Leeds United (and even beaten Sunderland) but never played United. Next season?

A great Netflix series

I HOPE you are all enjoying the tour of the UK and I that you will consider a donation however small to support FC Deportivo Galicia and/or Prostate Cancer UK If everybody chipped in £1 I would easily hit my target of £10,000 and life would be easier in West London whilst the charity continued their great work.

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