Monday, September 11, 2006

A Sport Infested Week

In writing about my sport infested week, I won’t concentrate upon match reports. Instead I will seek to reflect upon the events’ atmospheres and implications. But first I need to give a brief synopsis of what I have been absorbed in.

On Saturday, 26 August I went to the Rugby League Cup Final at Twickenham.
On the following Bank Holiday Monday I sat and watched my soccer team on TV, finally winning a game. I support Sunderland. That evening, Roy Keane signed as our Manager and in the next 24 hours I read his recent biography by Frank Worrell. By that time Keane was left with only two days to sign up fresh players before the transfer dead line. He achieved the signings of a six pack in a last minute rush.

Finally, on Saturday 2 September I went to see my local team, Sheffield FC slog out a goalless draw in an FA Cup Preliminary Round Tie against fellow Northern Counties East Team; Retford United.


It was a great day out at the Rugby League Cup Final. We went to a pub initially to soak up some atmosphere and beer. Outside there was a mass overflow of a friendly gathering of the tribes. Those wearing the shirts of the finalists were outnumbered by groups from far and wide. We had Hull FC mothers and sisters, Wigan home and away strips and soccer shirts, including those from Huddersfield Town whose Rugby League equivalents were one of the contestants.

Others clans were dressed as little Green Giants, Zapata Mexicans and Tyrolean Dancers. My contribution was limited to purchasing a Huddersfield Giants cap, although I had never seen them play before. But they were the underdogs and were to be beaten 42-12.

It is my son, Stephen (the inventor of this blog) who organises me to see occasional Rugby games. This is the fourth ground that I have visited. First, we went to Brentford to see London Bronchos play. When the club was transformed into Harlequins RL, I was then taken to see them play on the ground that is still dominated by the Rugby Union team who originally owned that sole identification. We have also watched Great Britain get slaughtered by New Zealand at QPR’s ground.

Rebecca, my daughter in law often manages to make these trips as my wife (and this time my daughter Joanne) baby sit with young Joseph. . Steve, my son’s friend from Holland came over to see his team, Huddersfield Giants.

In spite of a crowd of 65,000, Steve and I bumped into Barry Sherman who is Huddersfield’s M.P. and a former colleague of mine. Stephen had gone for the beers and Rebecca for some food. There was only one political matter which arose. I am soon to visit Ruskin College to meet fellow ex-students and the Principal. As Barry is Chair of the Commons Select Committee on Education, I will keep him informed about the funding problems they face.

A civilised feature of Rugby is that you can take your pint with you whilst watching the match. We were sat near the back of the middle level of seats, opposite the 30 yards line and had a fine view - even of the replays on the large TV screen. Huddersfield set off in great style and took a well deserved early lead. They did not fall behind until a few minutes before half-time, but in the second half St Helens took over.

There is a bigger tendency in Rugby than in soccer for a dominant team to crash home its advantage. When England defeated Albania 5-0 they had 80% of the possession and their goalkeeper only touched the ball once. St Helen’s, however, had as big a margin scoring 7 tries to Huddersfield’s 2; but in terms of territory it was something of a 60-40 game. It is just that an attacking side has a significantly longer scoring line to raid..

The festive nature of the day was illustrated by the “neutral” who sat near me. She shouted for whoever was attacking , starting out with Huddersfield and ending up with St. Helens.

Sunderland Irish

Out shopping before the Sunderland v West Brom match was shown on the telly, I picked up a cheap copy of “Roy Keane: Red Man Walking” (Mainstream Publishing, 2006) by Frank Worrell. Its published price is £11.99, but the stickers showed it had gone down to £6.99 then to the £4.99 I paid. Why such a fall in value for a new book?

Well, apart from the fact that it is padded out with drab match reporting, it had fallen between two markets.

Keane’s career at Manchester United ended in November 2005 and he then signed for Celtic. The book was, therefore, targeted in part at a Glasgow market. So the blurb says “Will the relationship (with Gordon Strachen, the Celtic Manager) end in tears…?”

Just after the book appeared, Keane’s short lived Celtic career ended in injury and he had disappeared from the radar screen. But whilst I was reading the book, he was back as Sunderland’s Manager. A new blurb can now say “Will the relationship (with Neill Quinn, Sunderland’s Chairman ) end in tears…?” For in “Neill Quinn: The Autobiography” (Headline 2002) Quinn’s bitter conclusion about Roy Keane leaving the Irish Squad in the 2002 World Cup is “We all talk about how we’d do anything to play for our country, for the honour, the privilege and the glory, we’d die for the green jersey. Well, we wouldn’t, not all of us. We know that now.” (p.175.)

Here is a writer who certainly knows how to meet a deadline. Keane appears on over 50 of the 300 pages of Quinn’s book, just after that world cup fraca . Then he pulls Keane out of his hat when all seemed lost at Sunderland and suddenly they are getting more publicity than Chelsea and Rooney rolled into one. Both Quinn and Keane know that there is no such thing as bad publicity for the beautiful game.

Keane’s signing of six players in a day are all of people he has worked with at Manchester United, Celtic and Ireland. So he hasn’t put the frighteners on everyone!

We beat West Brom 2-0 with most of the old guard and played well. But Keane and the long suffering Sunderland supporters know that one swallow doesn’t make a summer. But we are now dreaming that our new Irish Eyes (and ownership) will soon be smiling.

From the Sublime…

Twickenham and Sunderland meant that I missed two homes games at Sheffield FC and my season ticket went to waste. The game I saw them play was a cup tie, so it was pay time at the gate. I was wearing my Huddersfield Giants hat and my Sheffield FC shirt, plus my red and black striped Sheffield tie which makes me look like Dennis the Menace.

The crowd looked to be the biggest of the season, but did not match the number that was outside that pub at Twickenham. Yet at my local “Stadium of Bright”, numbers could have been deceptive as it was raining strongly throughout the match and we were crammed into the limited covered areas.

It was a grim 0-0 draw with numbers of near misses, but few shots on target. It was a contrast to my earlier fun.

Worse still, the pub owned by the Club hasn’t yet installed the promised Guinness tap. How can we drink to Sunderland Irish without it? For we Black Cats are also now looking for some wonderful drab goalless draws to show that our long run of defeats are finally over.

Howay the lads; be they Huddersfield Giants, Sheffield FC or Sunderland Irish.


Kerron said...

Hi Harry, just wanted to say I am loving the blog.

Saw you on Friday, but ashamed to say I didn't come over and say hello. My loss. :-/

Just to let you know you are in my sidebar. Keep up the good work.

And remember Wigan are infinitely better than Huddersfield Giants...just not this season! ;-)

Harry Barnes said...

Hi Kerron,
Thank you for the sidebar reference. I have done the same for you. But I am only 70th in that Labour List and you are top. I, therefore, benefit the most.
I can't find a copy of that photo you refered to, but I hold a copy of the Derbyshire Times article it appeared in back in 1987 when I was first elected. I will send a copy to you by snail mail, via Andy.