As the dreaded international break has fallen on us again, we’re left to reflect on just how boring it is.
Even worse when you still can’t escape it when you’re in the third division, it feels right to explore that oh-so familiar, hideous feeling of being totally and utterly underwhelmed by the sport we all tolerate for one reason or another.
I don’t mean the outstretched arms of footballing death of seeing Darren Bent score for Burton, or the somewhat hilarious sight of David Vaughan’s hilarious flailing leg sending his own team out of the cup. No, I’m looking at the moments of Sunderland’s recent history that have made you stare blanking and let out an “ah, yes…well”.
For me, the earliest example of this in the past 20 years was when Bob Murray bit the bullet and sacked Reidy. We spent what felt like months speculating over who could be the man to replace him, and it looked like it was going to be Mick McCarthy, which at the time, felt very exciting.
It turned out, instead of either having someone exotic or even remotely interesting lined up, we actually only took one full week to announce our new man… Howard Wilkinson.
If there was a collective sound that came out of Sunderland that confusing day in October 2002 (and it didn’t turn the air blue), it was either “what?”, “who?” or even “is he still alive?”. The exciting legacy of Peter Reid dissolved immediately and in plodded a man who hadn’t managed (successfully) in the top flight – or at all at club level – for 6 years.
We don’t need to go over in detail, because his reign went way beyond underwhelming, but at the time of appointing him, it might well have been the most deflating choice we could have made. On the subject of managers though, I mean…Simon Grayson?
When it comes to signings, there’s been an absolute boatload that fall into this category, but Nacho Scocco is a frontrunner here; I vividly remember an interview with a South American football expert who claimed Sunderland had made the signing of the January window in 2014, and everyone loves an exciting Argentinian. Instead we got literally…just a player.
We’d have gotten the same result if we’d signed a Championship try-hard called Ian Smith. Definitely not anything close to good, but not awful either, he churned out six incredibly average and forgettable league appearances then left with a slightly miffed shrug.
If we look at results or form (without getting too dramatic about our current slump), look no further than the end of the 2018/19 season. You could argue the season as a whole was underwhelming, but nothing summed it up more than having two games in hand on the automatic spots with under a month of the season to go, barely having lost all season and completely bottling it.
Those results weren’t necessarily what qualifies though, instead, it was following up two noteworthy displays against Portsmouth with the most bland display imaginable at Wembley. To cap it all off, my own personal experience of the post-match fun of that day involved being surrounded by Charlton fans on the tube who were looking forward to returning to, and I quote, “the glory days, like with Luke Young”. There cannot be anything more underwhelming than that.
All of that’s without even mentioning when we saw the end of the deal to serve Kronenbourg at that ground only to have it replaced by Coors.