Friday, 29 July 2011

Pre-Season Tour of Germany 2011

Sorry for neglecting you lot and this blog for a while, but I do have a genuine reason. I've been in Germany for 10 days supporting the lads in their games against Arminia Bielefeld, Hannover 96 and Borussia Monchengladbach. Anyway, here's a few images from the trip, I'll not bore you with too much text as there's nothing worse than other people telling you about their holiday!

At the Bielfelder Alm before kick off of the first game v Arminia Bielefeld. Sessegnon grabbed a late equaliser to prevent us from losing embarrassingly to the 3rd division outfit. Final score; 1-1.

We based ourselves in Dusseldorf, above is me and two of the other lads at the River Rhein.

Also in Dusseldorf was the 24 hour bar, this picture was taken at the time we left, 7am. Daylight!

We also went to a couple of other grounds whilst there, there's me at Bay Arena - Leverkusen's ground.

We also became regulars at the off license, 1.30 euro for a pint sized bottle is not to be turned down! 

Although I became slightly suspicious of it when they gave me a free shot of this... I drank it though, was nice!

Andy fell in the bushes.

During the match at Hameln v Hannover 96. We lost the game 3-1.
Me and my dad flying the flag in Germany for Chester-le-Street.

Lads in the bar at Hameln.

He couldn't resist licking the breast of a statue.

We called in at Borussia Dortmund's ground and snuck past the security guard.

Andy made a friend in the form of a Polish tramp.

Leaving our mark in the Irish Bar. FTM

My dad ended up adopting a dog for an hour. Some woman came in and handed him the lead and said she'd be 30 seconds. It was an hour later she turned up to collect Henry.

Borussia Park. Borussia Monchengladbach 0-0 Sunderland.

On the way back to Dusseldorf square after going to Fortuna Dusseldorf's ground for their match against Bochum, we got there at half time and they wanted 20 euro to get in. We hit the bars instead.

Err, erm, don't ask.

Monday, 11 July 2011

On this day

11th of July isn't a particularly significant date in the grand scheme of things; 1991 saw Labour MP Terry Fields jailed for 60 days for refusing to pay his poll tax, and in 1979 the space laboratory Skylab I, plunged back to earth. None of those are relevant to Sunderland at all, but 21 years ago today was, what happened then? Kevin Ball signed for Sunderland of course!

Bally lifts the D1 Trophy
'Bally' traveled from the South Coast to join Sunderland from Portsmouth in 1990 for a fee of £350,000. He was signed by Denis Smith as a centre half, but throughout his career on Wearside, Ball filled in at centre midfield and it was there where he excelled, making that his more permanent position along the way. He was predominantly known for his tough tackling style of play, which accompanied his determined and no-nonsense attitude perfectly. Bally's Sunderland career lasted a lengthy 9 years, where he racked up 388 appearances for the lads, contributing 27 goals in the process. In his first two years at the club, Ball lined up alongside Gary Bennett in the heart of Sunderland's defence in the 1992 FA Cup final against Liverpool, which we unfortunately lost 2-0, the difference in class showed as Micky Thomas and Ian Rush delivered the goods to see off a hapless Sunderland side.

Ball enjoyed a tremendously successful tenure on Wearside, captaining the side after the departure of Paul Bracewell and winning the Player of the Year award in the 1996/1997 season. Prior to that, he helped Sunderland back to the Premier League by winning the Division 1 title in 1995/1996, a feat that he reproduced 2 years later, as he lifted the trophy in 1999 as Sunderland ended the season on a record total of 105 points, losing just 3 times that season.

Following promotion to the Premier League, a 34 year old Kevin Ball was deemed surplus to requirements by then manager Peter Reid, and he was allowed to move on in search for first team football, and he did so, arriving at Craven Cottage to play for Fulham who had just been promoted to the First Division under Kevin Keegan. He spent just a year in London however, before moving on to Burnley where he ended his career after a 2 year stint at Turfe Moore.

Kevin Ball as a coach.
Kevin Ball, a fans' favourite wherever he's played his football, is a Sunderland legend. His style of play is appreciated by fans of all North East clubs, and he was a perfect match for us at the time. Ball returned to the club to take up the role of Assistant Academy Manager, working alongside Ged McNamee. Following the sacking of Mick McCarthy in 2006, Ball was temporarily promoted to Caretaker Manager of the first team for the remaining 10 games. He then reverted back to the academy role that he occupies to this day. Upon returning to his more familiar role, Ball and McNamee guided Sunderland's youth team to a league title win in 2008, as well as this, Ball has helped produce some of the academy's biggest names such as Grant Leadbitter, Martyn Waghorn, Jordan Henderson and Jack Colback. Although the latter is the only remaining player at the club, Leadbitter and Waghorn are both playing at a respectable level in the form of the Championship, whilst Henderson now plays at Liverpool following his £20m move.

I'll leave you with this; Is Kevin Ball the only man capable of hitting his own cross-bar from 35 yards with a sliding tackle?

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Another welcome addition, John O'Shea.

John O'Shea: Sunderland Player
John O'Shea followed Wes Brown through the doors of the Academy of Light, as he passed a medical and agreed a 4 year deal with Sunderland. The Irishman will help bolster Steve Bruce's defence, as we try to replace Nedum Onuoha and John Mensah who won't be returning to Sunderland after their loan spells ended. Finally it looks like Bruce is signing permanently, and isn't relying on the loan market as much, which could have cost us more than it looks to have done so far. O'Shea, 30, told that "Sunderland were the only place he was going to come to", which is soothing to hear from somebody of his calibre.

O'Shea will of course add a wealth of experience as well as his footballing ability, and his versatility will more than likely come in handy if last season was anything to go by, with players having to play out of their preferred positions due to injuries. O'Shea has won 11 major honours in his time at United, ironically the same amount as Wes Brown who made the same move earlier today. As well as earning several medals at club level, 'Sheasy' has represented his country on 70 occasions, making his debut against Croatia at the age of 20.

Should he be named captain? I think he's better captain material than our current skipper Lee Cattermole, who spends more time watching from the stands than on the pitch. O'Shea is a consistent performer and a reliable player, he leads by example and has experience of being a captain before, stepping in for Robbie Keane of Ireland on occasions, and he's even led Manchester United out before too. The reason I'd have him in line for the captaincy ahead of Brown is the fact he'll more than likely play more, Brown has a track record of injuries and it may be so that that continues, although hopefully not.

Wes Brown: Welcome to Sunderland.

Wes Brown: Done deal.
Sunderland have today completed the signing of Wes Brown from Manchester United, the 31 year old experienced defender has signed a 4 year deal at the club, which will keep him here until 2015 if he honours it. Although there are a few raised eyebrows at the length of the contract given to Brown, I personally think it's a good move by Bruce. Besides, if reports are to be believed and the transfer fee was only £1m, then we can afford to take a risk by giving him a longer contract than expected.

With the departure of fans' favourite Bolo Zenden, who was the Club Captain last season, Brown will add experience to the squad that we're desperately lacking, he's been there, done that, got the winners medal. Brown boasts an astonishing 5 and 2 Premier League and Champions League winners medal respectively, as well as winning the FA Cup and League Cup with United on 2 occasions, bringing his total major honours to 11 with an additional 4 Charity Shield Medals. The rest of our squad put together don't have anywhere near half of that.

On a more lighthearted note, I can't wait to sing his song!

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Keiren Westwood: A Coventry fan's view

Westwood in action for Republic of Ireland

1) Keiren finally completed his move to Wearside on Friday, what can Sunderland fans expect from him - what are his main attributes?
You can expect a player who gives 100% every time, he is extremely brave and his ability to pull off a save out of a bleak situation is the main reason we have survived in the championship for so long.

2) Westwood has represented Ireland 7 times, from what you’ve seen, do you believe he is the man to take over from Shay Given?
Definitely, I can see him being involved with the international setup for years to come, he reminds me a lot of Shay Given as well.

3) Do you believe he has what it takes to be number one keeper at a Premier League club?
Yeah, I think being behind a better defence will make him a better keeper, he will flourish against some of the top strikers as well. Be interesting to see what happens when Craig Gordon comes back from injury.

4) What’s your favourite save of Westwood’s whilst at Coventry?
Against Birmingham City a few years ago at St Andrews, ball is crossed in, Birmingham City player heads it from about 3 yards out, Westwood flicks a wrist out and palms it over the crossbar, brilliant save and we went on to win.

5) What’s the general reaction amongst Coventry fans following Keiren’s move to Wearside?
We're sad to see him go but we realised early on in the season that he was unlikely to stay. 90% of us were expecting Westwood to go to a Premier League club (thankfully it wasn't Villa!). We are very excited to see how he does in the Premier League.

6) Coventry have signed Chris Dunn and ex-Sunderland goalkeeper Joe Murphy on free transfers, do you expect the latter to take over from Westwood in goal?
Yeah, Murphy will be first choice and Dunn his understudy, very happy with signing them.

7) According to your manager Andy Thorn, a Premier League club were interested in the services of Chris Dunn, what do you know about him and are you pleased with the signing?
The Northampton fans haven't been too complementary about him, apparently his distribution and kicking is a bit poor although both Oggy and Thorn think that he can match the levels that Westwood played to so that's good enough for me.

8) What sort of season do you expect Sunderland to have next season?
A very good one, been impressed with the signings you've made, I think Wickham is going to be a revelation for you. Wouldn't surprise me if you qualified for the Europa league, maybe a league cup win?

9) What are your aims for next season, where do you predict you’ll finish?
Really could go either way, we do need to make some more signings, I'm happy with the manager we've got so time will tell. Heart says top 10, head says just hovering above relegation zone.

10) Finally, what position do you most need to strengthen now that the goalkeeper situation is sorted, and who, realistically, would you like to sign?
After Marlon's departure we definitely need another striker, Platt and Eastwood aren't good enough to be first choice, would love to see us sign Le Fondre, more likely to be Kevin Phillips though.

I'd like to thank Mark for this interview, you can follow him on twitter at @CovFan