Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nottingham Forest 0 Sunderland 1

Joey Barton speaks out: "The first day's the toughest, no doubt about it. They march you in, hand you your uniform and force you to pose for the photographer while loads of fat, tattooed, skinheads shout at you. That's when you know it's for real. A whole life blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it. That's when it hits home. That's when you realise you've signed for Newcastle United."

Sally Gunnell (not much to look at but a bloody good runner) has her MOT tomorrow. I drop her off at the garage and walk up the road to Sainsbury’s to meet White Van Man. He’s in the shop rummaging around the reduced section in hope of a cheap pork pie or slight seconds sausage roll.

We drive down Tollerton Lane, past both the Chinese and Indian restaurants. Nottingham Airport is to our right hand side. There are signs for Cotgrave. There is a huge Geordie/Mackem population in the village. They came down here in the 1960s to work at Cotgrave Colliery.

White Van Man is bobbing and weaving his way through the rush-hour traffic down the A52. I exit his car outside the main ticket office. He works match days at Nottingham Forest. I too, will be soon, as a scout for the Academy.

The girl in the office is efficient and friendly. She manages to squeeze me in Main Stand Block E. I pay £36 for three tickets.

I take a stroll around the back of the Main Stand and take a few photos. I walk back out onto Pavilion Road, past the recently refurbished Nottingham Forest Supporters’ Club. I cross over the Radcliffe Road, jaywalking between the traffic. Sunderland fans swarm outside the ghastly “world renowned” Trent Bridge Inn. They bask in the evening sunshine, downing cold pints of lagers.

I turn left down Bridgford Road and head away from the ground. A guy stands at a bus stop; he’s wearing a Stranglers t-shirt with a rat on it. I’m next to the cricket ground, it’s nearing close of play. We are playing Durham. They have made 266. I peer through the wrought iron gates, England exile Stephen Harmison is steaming in. Notts are one for none.

I carry on walking, past the overpriced and overrated Fire n Ice bar and all its pretences. My heart beats faster as I near my favourite pub: the Stratford Haven. A miserable lemon-sucking barman pulls me a fine pint of Slater’s Queen Bee Bitter. It’s £2.60 and is brewed in Staffordshire.

It’s a sultry summer’s evening and I‘m standing in the yard at the back. Three guys next to me are talking about God.(not Keano) The place is mobbed with Mackems.

I’m feeling thirsty and return to the bar to order another. Barthez saunters through the door and kindly shouts them up. We are joined by The Repairs Manager. We briefly talk shop and I get another round in.

We arrive at the ground as the teams are running out. I manage to snaffle up the last available programme for £2.

Sunderland is in north-east England and has a population of 180,000. The River Wear runs through the centre of the city. It’s well known for its history of ship building and coal mining. The car manufacturer Nissan is a major employer in the area.

Famous people from Sunderland include: BBC news reporter Kate Adie, actor and one of me and Mrs P’s favourites from the excellent light comedy series New Tricks, which we watch together on the settee on Monday nights, with a pot of tea for two and the biscuit tin: James Bolam,, the composer Edward Gregson, former Liverpool manager Bob Paisley, ex England cricketer Bob Willis and indie band The Futureheads.

I visited 106 football grounds in five days, a few years ago, to raise money for charity. I wrote to every club for gifts. Sunderland FC were fantastic, which is more than can be said for that black and white lot just down the road.

I’m thinking of a friend now who took his own life a few years ago. He and his family took me up to Tanfield Lea back in 1978. We caught the bus to Roker Park twice. I saw Sunderland beat Notts County on the Good Friday and lose to Blackburn on the Easter Monday. I remember Jim Holton, Shaun Elliott and Gary Rowell. I’d never experienced an atmosphere like it before. The Roker Roar was magical and left a lasting impression on me.

The prodigal son has returned and is lording it in the Directors’ Box. He signs autographs. He seems relaxed.

Roy Keane is a bigger legend in the city of Nottingham than Robin Hood. He was wild in his youth and disrespectful, particularly on nights out. It’s all water under the Trent Bridge now. His autobiography is excellently penned by Eamon Dunphy.

My father was a news reporter for the Daily Mirror. He was once sent out to Jersey after news broke that Clough had sent Keane packing following a remark he had made to a waitress in a hotel the players were staying in.

His assistant is his best friend Tony Loughlan, they were together at Forest. He rescued him from the relative obscurity as coach of Leicester City Academy U14s.

Forest begin the game in the ascendancy. Guy Moussi, 23, has recently signed from French League 2 side Angers. He looks the real deal. Barthez comments that he is a black Johnny Metgod.

Forest enjoy a good spell of pressure. England U18 international James Reid slams a shot over the bar. New signing Robert Earnshaw darts in front of Nyron Nosworthy and heads over, he also fires a 25 yard free-kick above the upright.

Barthez has noted that former Manchester United midfielder Kieron Richardson is in the Black Cats’ starting line-up. He certainly doesn’t snap and snarl like his cousin Charley did on Big Brother 8.

Senegal bad boy El-Hadj Diouf is Sunderland’s star man. We’re sat in the relative safety of Row M, knowing that even he can’t spit that far. He is worth the gate admission alone. Either foot will do. He twists and turns Forest inside out. They can not get near him. What a class act.

Ex-Waterford striker Daryl Murphy leaves Kelvin Wilson for dead but can only fire wide. Forest ‘keeper Paul Smith turns a Danny Higginbottom header away following a wicked free-kick from former crowd favourite Andy Reid.

I nip to the loo at the break as that Queen Bee Bitter has a wicked sting to its tail. I bump into Homebird’s missus; she works for the BBC and is with a cameraman covering the game. We exchange pleasantries.

The Forest DJ plays Justin Timberlake and the excellent Kasabian at the break. Glad to see he can still spin a tune. He’s one of the best DJs on the football circuit.

Moussi fires agonisingly wide from 25 yards, the shot appears to take a slight deflection.

Annoying substitutions disrupt the flow of the game in the second period. Andy Reid is running the show for the visitors. His passing is precise and swift. Forest get caught short at the back. Former Arsenal trainee Anthony Stokes finds acres of space on the left and pulls a ball back for Richardson to thump home.

It could have been more as Sunderland finish strongly and with only ten men. Keane explains later he wanted to see how his side perfomed one light as it seems to happen quite a bit in the Premier League games. No surprise there then.

The final whistle has blown; there are positives on both sides. Worryingly for Forest Tyson’s guitar strings have snapped again. They miss the quality and final ball of Kris Commons. Where will all the goals come from this season?

Nottingham Forest 0 Sunderland 1

Attendance: 12,573 (2,273 marvellous Mackems)

Man of the Match: El-Hadj Diouf

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