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Tea and Crumpets with the Roker Report

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charge of the light brigade

Realising belatedly that the new season was quite nearly upon us, Tea and Crumpets panicked, packed our bags, and rushed off in the general direction of Sunderland in order to get the local take on the club, their squad, and what we could expect to see come matchday. Luckily for us, we found a willing conversation partner in the Roker Report's Simon Walsh. Relieved, we sat down and began our chat at the Stadium of Light's Durham Suite accompanied by duck liver pate with onion chutney. Before we could move on to the main course, though, Simon informed us that the game was in fact at Anfield this week. But as it would have seemed rude to barge off suddenly we decided to soldier gamely on…

As a club, Sunderland and its supporters seem to have gone out of their way to embrace an imagery of bad luck. After all, who calls themselves the Light Brigade? As in the Charge of the Light Brigade? A cavalry assault that came about due to miscommunication at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War and achieved nothing more than seeing nearly everybody involved in the charge become quite thoroughly dead in a decisive Russian victory. Why on earth would it seem a good idea to through nickname inextricably link the club to such futility, failure, and unavoidable death? Is there a local legend that the commander Lord Cardigan's manservant, a young lad from Sunderland, brought a black cat along to the war and that it somehow played an integral role in causing the miscommunication that doomed the Light Brigade? And even then, why would anybody claiming to be a supporter want to reinforce the connection with bad luck?

In fact a Black Cat lived at Roker Park during the sixties, and it was eventually adopted into club symbolism. When we moved to the Stadium of Light, a vote was held on what the new nickname for the club should be, and The Black Cats won over the quite frankly ridiculous options of "The Sols," "The Miners," and of course "The Light Brigade."

Perhaps it reinforces a feeling of bad luck, however we've never really been particularly unlucky that I recall. We're always just "quite good" or "complete shite." You make your own luck.

mike ashley laughing terrible
Life got you down? At least
Mike Ashley isn't your owner.

Well, when it does come to luck, your lot have had a rather better time of it with Texas businessmen than Liverpool has. Is Elias Short really the responsible owner he comes across as to those looking on from afar? Or are summer acquisitions such as John O'Shea and Wes Brown from Manchester United, Blackpool's player of the season David Vaughan, and teenage phenom Connor Wickham little more than shiny baubles representing what is in reality a fairly low net spend while the club rots away out of sight, the fans getting by on the thin gruel that at least he isn't quite as bad as Newcastle's Mike Ashley?

Ellis Short is shrouded in mystery. We see him at games, he definitely exists, but he's not one for talking much. This leads the fans to be split: some say "fantastic, that's what an owner should be doing," and others suggest he's going to get bored soon. I reckon he's a sensible bloke though. He's quiet, and has a haircut you could set your watch by. He looks the type that despite being a billionaire still drives a Volvo.

So, he does seem kind of responsible. We've not had a massive NET spend as you touch on, but I'd rather we did that than spunk our fortunes away on one hit wonder's such as the Charlie Adams of the world—at least Vaughan cost nothing.

As for Mike Ashley, lets just hope he keeps doing what he's doing.

Right. On to the main issue, then: What the hell is a Tombola?

Well by definition, a Tombola is a bit like a raffle where you definitely win something. You tend to find them at school fayres, and anything involving some bloody charity.

As for Tombola who sponsor us, they're one of the approximately 8bn online bingo websites in the world, and you're not guaranteed to win every time. Quite frankly they should be sued for false advertising. I'm now homeless.

That sounds like some of the bad luck we talked about earlier. But moving on to the man at times accused of having a swollen cranium—or Steve Bruce to the rest of us. A man fond of beach balls and going out of his way to enrage Liverpool supporters by publicly blaming Rafa Benitez for Roy Hodgson's many failings as though it was his duty as a key member of the English managers who don't like modern football and just wish it was still 1966 club. Like stylistic compatriot Sam Allardyce, is he entirely convinced that not only is hoofing winning, but that if he's lucky he can use Sunderland as a stepping stone along the way to fulfilling his dream of installing route one football at the Bernabéau? Or does he perhaps have the flexibility to evolve along with an improving squad, secure another top-half finish, and maybe even nab a European berth while remaining happy roaming the technical area at the Stadium of Light?

steve bruce celebrate
Likes football. Still a Manc.

Bruce might not always make the right decisions—this summer's one being "lets not sign anybody for the left even though we've got no left backs or left wingers"—but gawd bless him he's trying. He definitely doesn't want to play the long ball, and we're seeing a bit of a shift in that this season—Asamoah Gyan's not the greatest in the air, and he'll be supported by fellow silky-skilled midget Stephane Sessegnon most the time.

It's not exactly "pass and move to the Liverpool groove" but it will do for now. I like him in charge, and I do trust him. Certainly a better option than wheeling out some club legend every time the going gets tough to distract the mouth-breathers.

Anybody who's licked a dodgy, made in China lead baby pacifier or explored the wonders of flambé while driving a Ford Pinto has cursed the reality of acceptable rates of failure in industry and manufacturing. But at the same time it's an unavoidable fact of life. Sometimes that new tempered glass bowl you bought will shatter the first time you put it down. Sometimes that new memory module will have a faulty sector that leads to all your important files becoming corrupted. And in every case, somebody somewhere was paid a lot of money to crunch the numbers and figure out that it would be cheaper that way. Mostly because perfection is ridiculously expensive, and most of the time even getting close to perfection is ridiculously expensive.

For the most part, too, the basic concept of an acceptable rate of failure can be extended to life in general: It costs a certain amount in time, money, and effort to get 90% of the way to "perfect." Then it takes that same amount of money and effort again to get to 95%, then to 97%, then to 98%, and so on. Which basically means that in any endeavour, be it paying kids in the third world to make shoes or paying a contractor to do finishing work, there comes a point when it makes more sense to shrug and say that things, imperfect though they may be, are good enough. If you're talking electronics you might have to replace a few more defective units for screaming customers, but in the end the cost will be less than ensuring fewer units are defective. And if you're making cars occasionally it might mean that one will fail spectacularly, killing its occupants and anybody nearby, but even then any potential payout in the courts will cost less than ensuring the failure never took place. In any case, how many red cards is Lee Cattermole likely to receive this season, and do Sunderland fans view his at times reckless tackling as a kind of acceptable rate of failure given what he does bring to the side? Also, what exactly does he bring to a side?

mike ashley laughing terrible
Lee Cattermole in his natural habitat.

Oh Lee and your unfair reputation. Sure he gets sent off a few times, but anyone who's watched those will see around 50% of the time his reputation has gone before him, meaning it's a booking or sending off. If Cattermole played for a bigger club, and he most likely will one day, he wouldn't have got half the cards.

He breaks up play very well, and is the captain of the team, so he's going to play. Much more troublesome than his apparent bad behaviour is his inability to stay fit for an entire season.

World War Two saw the death of Sunderland as a serious title threat, not to mention roughly sixty million people. So, what went wrong? And does Liverpool really have to fear that Asamoah Gyan, the man who'd rather further his music career as "Baby Jet" than perfect his penalty technique, will be the man to put Sunderland back on the road to the top of the top flight come Saturday?

Indeed we kind of gave up on winning titles around that point, but at least we have been brave enough take that on on the chin as opposed to relentlessly telling everyone in earshot "this is our year"—take note Liverpool fans. Our title winning days are over. That's fine. Perhaps you should try it, it's good for the soul.

I think he can cause problems for Liverpool though. Asamoah Gyan is hard as hell. United, Tottenham, Arsenal. Watch his lips and he will spell, because he doesn't just play he can rap as well.

I'm sure come Saturday we'll see him do his thing and the crowd go bananas.

Well I certainly hope not. For all sorts of reasons. Still, we'll leave that for Saturday and the first match of the season. In the meantime, a big thank you again to Simon Walsh of the Roker Report for sitting down for a chat with us. I think it's safe to say we all learned something valuable from the conversation. Mostly that you're better off leading a cavalry charge against the Russians then dealing with Sunderland's shirt sponsor. And probably also other stuff. But mostly that.