Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Walking in a Sunder, Sunder, Sunderland!

Looking for an English Premiership team to root for? Looking for an underdog story? Looking to root for a team to avoid relegation into the depths of English Championship football? Or just bored and fancy a new project?

Come root for Sunderland so! You can tick all the above boxes in one go.

Kenwye Jones - he can be your hero too!

Sunderland, for those of you that don’t know, are one of those Premiership teams that have no hope of winning the title ahead of the ‘Big Four’ (Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea) and instead try to avoid relegation every season. Relegation is a fascinating concept that, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t exist in any sports in the States. Let me break it down for you like a fraction. There are four main divisions, or conferences, in football in England. The Premiership and then the Championship divisions one through three.

If you finish in the bottom three of those, you are ‘relegated’ into the division below! The knock on effect for clubs is horrendous, particularly financially. Being outside the lucrative Premiership is the biggest fear for all of those clubs, like Sunderland, that are constantly on the bubble, year to year.

Relegation can be entertaining, and it gives teams in the lower divisions the hope that they too could some day play in the Premiership. In this day and age however, where money talks, relegation might be an outdated and unfair concept. The rich get richer and the poor get relegated, that’s how the Premiership rolls. There is very little light at the end of the tunnel for anyone but the big four.

As an aside, imagine if there was relegation in US Sports. It is a very good thing there isn’t. The big clubs would get all the attention and the little guys would never have their day. The glaring ‘spotlight’ style of US sports coverage in today’s market would mix with the extra focus on ‘big’ clubs to the point where teams in danger of relegation would simply disappear, almost without notice.

Meanwhile…

Sunderland, who’s manager/coach just quit, are stuck down in and around the relegation area, with close to half the Premiership season completed. They have the always busy, cluttered Christmas Schedule ahead, a portion of the season that can make or break a teams chances of survival. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Sunderland’s Christmas program could make or break their season. Consider the matches they have lined up;

  • Saturday, 13 December 2008 - Sunderland v West Brom, 15:00
  • Saturday, 20 December 2008 - Hull v Sunderland, 15:00
  • Friday, 26 December 2008 - Sunderland v Blackburn, 15:00
  • Sunday, 28 December 2008 - Everton v Sunderland, 14:00

You could say if they don’t pick up seven points out of that lot (two wins and a draw equals seven points in the Premiership) well then, they don’t deserve to be anywhere but the lower divisions anyway.

On top of that, the next nine games Sunderland plays are all void of one thing, any of the ‘Big Four’ clubs. They don’t face Arsenal, Man U, the ‘Pool or Chelski for another ten games. Basically the future is right here, right now for Sunderland. Turn the season around in the next ten games or go play in a lower division.

Having been to Sunderland, you can’t help but hope the above doesn’t happen. The region needs its football team. It’s a friendly town, but a depressed area, complete with a now extinct shipping industry, a high unemployment rate and a ferociously cruel winter, with icy cold winds whipping in off the sea. The passion of the fans at Sunderland’s games is a thing to see. They desperately want their team to win.

Combine that with the fact that they are really up against it playing in the Premiership, and if you have any affinity for the underdog, Sunderland has to be the team for you.

When you consider the fact that Sunderland don’t play one of the ‘Big Four’ for the next nine games it makes former manager Roy Keane’s sudden departure even more unusual. If he had the testicular fortitude for a ‘scrap’, a fight, he would have had nine games to get Sunderland in fighting shape before they had to face the big guns again.

Reports are starting to drip out from the Stadium of light that all was not well in the camp prior to Keane’s departure. A year ago a young Irish player came out and said Keane was an ogre to work for, and his idea of a team-talk at half time was to throw chairs and tea-cups around and rant like a crazy man. Keane and the rest of the media painted the player as an outspoken, marginalized bench player. Since then, however, two other former players have come forward and said Keane was an absolute tyrant and none of the players enjoyed working for him.

This could mean that the lads you make up the squad may now feel relieved and play free flowing football as they fight their way out of relegation trouble. The way they battled to eventually lose only 1-0 at Old Trafford last weekend would support this theory.

Make no mistake about it, Sunderland are in a dogfight now, for their Premiership future, and for the region as a whole.

Watching Tottenham bang in a couple of easy goals in Monday night’s win over west Ham, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, ‘Why can’t Sunderland score that easily?!’. That’s part of the beauty of rooting for an underdog in the Premiership however. Every goal is pure Gold Dust, celebrated wildly by 40,000 people in a stadium and an entire local populace.

A Sunderland goal - a rare but enjoyable experience!

Bandwagon fans are all the rage right now, so why not become a bandwagon fan with a difference. Root for a great club with a massive, passionate following, a club with a tangible soul, to survive this Premiership season without being relegated. Make it a part of your New Years resolutions!

Howay the lads.

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Irish National baseball team

Irish National baseball team
Team Ireland at the European Championships, Croatia, 2000.

A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports

A nice little mention for this blog on Fox Sports

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