Nihao Lads and Lasses! Since we last spoke I have travelled more than 3000km across China – smashing through the Chinese countryside, stopping at many service stations – which I wish were like Woodall or Tranwell – Costa Coffee and Ginsters pasties….. but actually they’re little shacks which sell squid legs, Live crabs and half baked chicken egg/foetuses, and the bogs look like they’ve not been cleaned since Sunderland last won – coincidentally, said bogs don’t have doors so you can see Joe Bloggs taking a crap, whilst smoking a fag and chatting to his mate in cubicle 2. You can imagine the smell is pretty vomit inducing, but the poor drains throughout China mean that that odour seems to follow you wherever you go.
From Wuhan, it was onto Wu Xi, Changzhou, then 6 hours to ZhouShan on a broken down bus which was full of complimentary mosquitoes to really give you a good bite. Then 4 hours back down to Shanghai – the closest we’ve come to Western civilisation since we left Heathrow 5 weeks ago – however, they were still spitting and gobbing up a canny bit in the queue for the Cashpoint – It reminded me very much of about 3am on a Sunday morning after having a skinful in town. Actually…. I take that back – even the dodgiest characters hanging around Sunderland’s city centre at that time of night have much better manners than this lot.
Being in China, I often find the time difference of 7 hours quite a challenge – I’m still living my life on North East time – basing my day on when I can Skype people – head to work, and then come back and keep up to date with whats going on in the western world. A lot of websites and podcasts are blocked here, and the Broadband speed in any hotel is extremely slow – Video streaming is an absolute no-no for the most part, but radio streaming in certain circumstances can be pretty fruitful – and I’ve managed to tune into Total Sport on a good few occasions – albeit at 12.30 am. I find I listen alot to Wise Men Say and Into the Light (that is genuine, not a plug at all!) and weirdly find Gareth, Stephen and Proctors voices very comforting out here. There are barely any westerners, never mind any North East accents. I work with lads from all over the UK and Ireland, so when I found the Chinese version of Stottie cakes in a supermarket, it was a pleasant surprise, but it was just as alien to the lads from down south than the rest of the Chinese produce! (And just so you know, their bread is incredibly sweetened and it was the equivalent of a Stottie Brioche – and there was no way I was going to find Ham and Pease Pudding to fill it!)
I’ve seen a lot of noodles pass my mouth this week – weak, lifeless and limp with the very occasional spice – very similar to how some of our performances have been since the beginning of the season. And Saturday night, after playing the prestigous Shanghai SHOAC Concert Hall in downtown Shanghai Pudong, I tucked into some of said noodles, switched on my IPad and Mac on in my hotel room – Final Score on one, Nick Barnes and Gary Bennett on the other. I managed to catch the game from 20 minutes onwards, and I must say how impressed I was with the overall effort and performance of the first half. A delight for Steven Fletcher to get himself back on the scoresheet with a decent set piece, and then Jeremain Lens sent the SOL into ecstasy, and Big Dick into tears. But as soon as I built my hopes up, as usual, the Lads managed to concede a goal from Jenkinson, just before half time, which made me feel that the inevitable was on the way.
I was pleased with the effort of the lads, and I thought the referee, although justified in the Lens sending off, clearly has an issue with officiating our games. When the inevitable second went in, and when the full time whistle went, it felt more like we’d been beaten – it was a tough one to take after dominating in the first part of the game. My hat goes off to Fletch in the first half, the hard work of Jones and Yedlin on the wings and a much more structured and positive side in general. Its another point, and it takes us above the neighbours for now at least – We still wait for the first win of the season – The last time we won, I was at the SOL, and I didn’t see a live loss last season in the home and away games I went to which included Palace Away, Fulham Away, Man Utd at home and more. I only hope that the lads aren’t waiting for me to get their winning boots back on, as I’m not back in the UK until Mid-November…
My way of accessing social media this week was sorely hampered by poor internet connections across China’s East Coast, and so the first I heard of a potential departure of Big Dick was during a Saturday morning FaceTime with my Dad – I managed to log onto the SMB boards and saw rumours spreading quickly. At the time of writing, it has been 90 minutes since the club announced his departure. Being this far away, and now with a better internet connection after flying down south to Xiamen on China’s equivalent of Ryanair, I’ve found myself glued to RTG, Twitter (when its on!) and SAFC.com – its completely taken over my Sunday of travel.
I have no ill will towards Dick at all. I think he has been incredibly gracious and determined to the cause throughout his tenure. Whether he has had all his promises from the start of season fulfilled remains to be seen, and I will always be grateful for his ability to keep us up last season – the club clearly got right under his skin and the bond he had with the fans was something special – you just need to look at the money raised for Mrs. Advocaat’s flower fund to see that we shared a good relationship with him – and although some may question his tactics, no-one can ever question his commitment to the cause. I will miss his presence, and I always thought he could have had a spot on the board and moved upstairs when the time was right – a great experienced football man to advice Ellis in future.
But who next? Which manager would want to come to a club who has had 15 managers/head coaches in 13 years? Who would like to work with a Director of Football? Will we still have a Director of Football by the time this is published?
We go into the international break with a chance to kick start the season – a new set of eyes on the goal of survival in the premier league. A chance for every player to wipe the slate clean and start putting in the performances we KNOW they can produce. They are all now up to Match speed, and now a build up of Cohesion, passion, spirit and confidence can be created by a new man at the helm – We need strength, experience and a love for the club that is infectious and spreads throughout the squad.
Our season is nowhere near over – in fact, I think its just about to begin.
This weekend celebrated the national day of China – bizarrely a 3 day festival. Fireworks are exploding outside my window right now – and I look forward to seeing the club in 2 weeks time exploding into a brand new era for Sunderland AFC, and an opportunity to get right out of that zone we seem to be magnetically attracted to.
Keep the Faith
Join us at Port of Call in Sunderland on Wednesday 14th October for a live show in order to raise funds for Pop Recs Ltd. We’ll be joined by former SAFC men David Preece and Michael Proctor, as well as ALS editor in chief Martyn McFadden. Tickets just £4. Raffle. All proceeds go to Pop Recs Ltd. 7pm start. You can buy tickets here. Feel free to share the event on Facebook, you’ll find it here. You can find Pop Recs Ltd Kickstarter page here.