Apples & Pears & Celery Soup
'Ten lads wearing red...one lad wearing green, up for the cup in London town and thinking of the team...` so goes the 1973 ditty featured on the classic album - Mackem Music. The thing is I was in London town, thinking of the team, mixing it in the pubs around Baker Street, pity then the colour was blue and it was the Chelsea natives I had chosen to drink with who were up for the cup, whilst Sunderland had West Ham away further down the road to look forward to in a nice relaxed finish to our season.
And so we enjoyed the hilarious sight of the Chelsea hoards engaging in banter with the open top bus tourists, in showering them with sticks of celery tops, as the happy snappers dared to capture the moment on camera. Not so funny then when the sticks started flying in our direction in the exchange of banter between lost mackems and cocky cockneys, yet it all ended in laughter and not tears.
Enough was enough though and I could not stomach anymore Stamford Bridge lyrics and opted for an early voyage to Upton Park to see if I could locate Ian Beale`s cafe, or Arthur Fowler`s allotment. The locals were unsure of my teasing probes, struggling to speak the national tongue, never mind exchange in bouts of football crack! We called the search off and headed straight for the away section and a pint and a mull over that day`s national runners and more importantly the team news.
I was not surprised to see Steve Bruce stick with the team that ravaged Spurs a week earlier at the SOL. I was though perplexed at why he continued to choose Kieran Richardson at left back and Anton Ferdinand in defence on the right, when on loan Alan Hutton warmed the bench. I am of the ilk that if you`re fit enough for the bench, then you`re fit enough to play full stop. The manager can always take off the players shy off match practice later in the game, when victory has been ensured. My other concern being that another expensive bench warmer was had in the form of striker - Kenwyne Jones; it must surely be a matter of time before the Trinidadian becomes frustrated at wants out...especially so seeing his place filled by the lesser Frazier Campbell.
Our seats were front row. Front row at Upton Park means seats perched slightly under, yes under pitch level and when the fact that SAS like security stewards emerge from out the east end woodwork in sporadic attacks of hooligan paranoia, thus blocking whatever view can be had from this bleak vantage point, one could be forgiven for feeling they`d had their eyes taken out for paying good money to the tune of 35 notes for the pleasure of seeing Charlie two zero and his mates patrol the corner flag.
Fortunate then that I`d overheard a conversation between an elderly fan who was unable to clamber up the flights of stairs to his back row spot and that he would willingly swap with anyone from the front row. I only too happily obliged and took in the game from loftier heights. I needn`t have bothered, the match having bore draw written all over it until Sunderland`s centre halves conspired to hand Ilan a second goal in successive games and 1-0 it remained.
Our early optimism had evaporated as yet another dire away performance was had, just when will Sunderland transfer their unstoppable home form onto the road? One week they are world class the next they are Bernt Haas. The celery pieces lodged in our hair had long turned to mushy soup in the glorious London sunshine, still we wiped it from our barnets and trudged away into the sunset, on a day in which the bookies took a hammering on the national, Sunderland`s chances of a first away win since the opening day were always going to be a non starter.