Video Assistant Referees: Good or Bad?

Footballing decisions are often dictated not by fact, but interpretation. Nevertheless, could Video Assistant Referees be a force for good in the fight to make elite football truly fair?

Background

The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) reviews decisions made by the head referee, with the use of video footage and a headset for communication. VAR’s are not, at present, part of the Laws of the Game but their use is currently being trialled by the International Football Association Board in several different competitions, including the Confederations Cup and various youth tournaments.

There are four types of call that can be reviewed:

  • Goals and potential rule violations during the build up;
  • Penalty decisions;
  • Red card decisions (note that second yellow cards are not reviewable);
  • Mistaken identity in the awarding of a red or yellow card.

Interpretation & Debate

Fans across the globe have all witnessed the same scene; the centre back is the last line of defence, he throws himself into a tackle as the pacey forward rushes towards goal, both fall to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs, the ball is lost and the attack is halted. The decision not to award the foul and allow play to continue is controversial, splitting fans and pundits alike despite dozens of cameras having instantly replayed the incident from varying angles and in slow motion. Footballing decisions are often dictated not by fact, but interpretation.

I believe that debate regarding key decisions is essential in forming part of the beauty and appeal of football. J.B Priestley agreed in his book The Good Companions (1929).

Priestley wrote:

To say that these men paid their shillings to watch twenty-two hirelings kick a ball is merely to say that a violin is wood and catgut, that Hamlet is so much paper and ink. For a shilling the Bruddersford United AFC offered you Conflict and Art; it turned you into a critic happy in your judgement of fine points, ready in a second to estimate the worth of a well-judged pass, a run down the touchline, a lightening shot, a clearance by your back or goalkeeper…Moreover it (football) offered you more than a shilling’s worth of material for talk during the rest of the week. A man who had missed the last home match of ‘t’United’ had to enter social life on tiptoe in Bruddersford.

VAR’s have at times seemingly worked well. In an U20s match between Argentina and England for example, an elbow missed by the on-field referee was spotted and dealt with within a few minutes using the VAR.

Yet debate still raged around whether the act was punishable by a red card – had the Argentine player deliberately committed the foul? Was there intent? These are questions that are extremely difficult to answer even with the benefit of multiple angles and replays.

Similarly, the VAR system provided a farcical moment to forget after scenes in Cameroon’s Confederations Cup clash with Germany. The Africa Cup of Nations holders were trailing 1-0 against the World Cup winners when Mabouka caught Emre Can with a high studs-up challenge. Referee Wilmas Roldan initially brandished a yellow card before VAR was used to reassess the incident.

The punishment was upgraded to a red card on review but Roldan mistakenly showed this to Mabouka’s team-mate, Sebastien Siani.

Cameroon’s players were understandably irate and protested their case to the Columbian referee, who eventually sent off Mabouka following a second look at the video replay.

Germany v Cameroon: Group B - FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017
Cameroon protest a case of mistaken identity – Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Although the VAR helped to eventually identify the correct offender, debate still continued as to whether the offence was even punishable by red card.

VARs have the potential to correct incorrect decisions. But, they also have the potential to make incorrect calls, much like a regular referee. VARs in their current format are fundamentally flawed. Football is a game of opinion and interpretation after all.


Refereeing Authority & Continuity 

One major concern is that the on-field referee would be continuously undermined. To be a referee you need to be authoritarian, which allows for conviction in the decisions you make. But with two referees, authority and conviction have the potential to be critically compromised.

To fix this it is essential that the on-field referee and the VAR remain part of a continuous and unified team; working on multiple matches together, therefore allowing communication lines, understanding and a strong relationship to develop.

The relationship between referees and linesmen has developed as footballing history has progressed. Examples of miscommunication in referring decisions on the biggest stage are ten a penny – in the 1974 World Cup Final the English referee, Jack Taylor, was assigned two linesmen who didn’t speak the same language as each other or Taylor!

Similarly, in the 1966 World Cup Final a linesman from the USSR had an infamous conversation, in god knows what language, with a referee hailing from Switzerland. In modern day football referees and linesmen operate as a collective; referees operate with the same linesmen, allowing relationships and understanding to build.

This path must be followed when looking at VAR’s. Just as it is beneficial for the same referee to operate with the same linesman, it is also essential that the same VAR operates within the same team.

Could a VAR have solved this oldest of footballing debates? – mirror.co.uk

It may be an idea to ensure referees are fully equipped with the latest communications hardware as to employ a little more transparency and clarity to players and fans alike; much like the system in Rugby Union. For the Rugby Union TMO (Television match official) system to be successful in Football, players and managers would have to endeavour to treat referees with greater respect, allowing referees to make decisive decisions without being coerced.


Rhythm & Flow

The flow of the game is essential to the beauty of football. The most successful teams display a fluid, rhythmic pattern of play – think Barcelona under Guardiola and the AC Milan team of 2003-2008.

Often VAR-lead decisions can take up to five minutes in which players can do little else but stand around and fans wait. This can take away from the normal rhythm of the game, not to mention detracting from the excitement and drama. Uncertainty when deciding whether a goal should or should not stand even takes away from the purist footballing emotion – the goal celebration.

Just how retrospective a decision will the VAR consider? Thirty seconds? A minute? How long is too long and will this effect the flow of the game in a negative manor? I suspect it will.

Many have argued for the implementation of the challenge system, as seen in tennis, as a potential way forward for the VAR system, a system which allows players three challenges per set.

I find this potentially worrying. Challenges could be used as a resource to help to disrupt the oppositions flow; all coaches want to be victorious and it is difficult not to see the likes of Mourinho using challenges to disrupt the games rhythm. Managers already utilise substitutions in a similar way, another time-wasting resource is not necessary.

The dynamism of the game is one of the primary reasons as to why football is so adored by millions the world over, from China to Brazil. If the introduction of VARs causes the parameters to shift drastically then a vital part of the games aesthetic and raw emotion could be lost forever.


Conclusions?

Among the greatest aspects of the beautiful game is that football is governed by the same set of universal rules; from the Willow Pond FC to Manchester United. If technology evolves it leaves a huge gap between grass roots and the games upper echelons, both financially and culturally.

Besides, why does football need to be clearcut at all times? Why now all of a sudden when Rugby Union has had its TMO system since 2001? What has motivated FIFAs introduction of VARs? The rhetoric surrounding VARs rarely centres around reaching clarity for fans; rather, a decision being ‘worth hundreds of millions’ – a sad indication of where the beautiful game finds itself in the 21st Century.

Even FIFA big-wig Massimo Busacca has recognised flaws in the VAR system, stating that…

In general we have really good results but for sure… many aspects should be improved,

It is essential that Busacca and FIFA treat the VAR system with the utmost care as to ensure that theatre, beauty, and flow remain key cornerstones of our much loved game. VARs currently create more problems than they solve but they could become a useful tool, given time to develop into a smoother operation. A serious culture change in the way football treats and scrutinises its referees – both on and off the field – may also be key to any potential success.

Opinion: After one year as Sunderland CEO, has Martin Bain been a success or a disaster?

July 1st marks a year since Martin Bain officially assumed his duties as Chief Executive at Sunderland AFC, replacing the disgraced Margret Byrne. Has Bain been a good, strong and stable puppeteer? Or, like his predecessor, has Bain reduced Sunderland to a circus with weak and wobbly leadership?

In reality, Bain had already begun to make his presence known at the club in the weeks leading up to his ‘official’ appointment – with the Scot having a hand in brokering a couple of Sunderland’s outgoing transfers. Deals which in hindsight seem disastrous.

Bain adopted a relatively low profile upon his move to Wearside; initially remaining silent, choosing not to release a statement to the Mackem public.

The Scot was confronted with a less than smooth transition from his former role at Maccabi Tel Aviv, quickly finding himself unable to persuade Sam Allardyce to remain at the Stadium of Light. Sam’s move to England was unavoidable and rendered Bain powerless, a problem he could do little to rectify considering Sam was always nailed on to leave for England once the Football Association had registered their interest.

Bain’s first month was spent haggling over compensation with the FA before eventually reaching a fee of around £3m which allowed Allardyce the chance to leave the club – around £1m more than the FA had initially been willing to pay. A decent deal, which Bain deserves a modicum of credit for brokering.
England Training Session
The Allardyce fiasco was handled relatively well by Martin Bain. – Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images

 

Chairman, Ellis Short, instructed the Scot with the task of cutting Sunderland’s debt whilst simultaneously improving relations with supporters and the media. A task in which the elusive Margaret Byrne had proved an enormous disappointment.

Encouragingly, the former Rangers man managed to instil a sense fan engagement and interaction between club and local community during his time at Maccabi Tel Aviv where supporters were encouraged to “buy into the badge”.

The same can not be said about his time in the North-East.

In February, whilst survival in the Premier League very much a possibility, Bain announced redundancies amongst staff at the club in order to cut costs. Large numbers of staff were generously offered the option to take voluntary redundancies via email – not exactly an astute move on Bain’s part.

The announcing of staff redundancies came in the same week as Bain sent Sunderland’s players off on a all expenses paid trip to New York. This undoubtedly cost a club in financial peril a fair wack whilst eventually doing nothing to improve Sunderland’s on-field performances. Another unwise move.

readytogo.net

Bain fostered ill-feeling and a defeatist attitude with the timing of the redundancy announcement. And while the club has a deep rooted connection with its fans; instead of utilising and nurturing this relationship, it certainly feels as though there has been a complete disregard for it, leaving many hardcore fans feeling increasingly isolated.

So much for the mantra of improving fan relations. What makes the trip even worse is the fact that Sunderland managed only one Premier League win following the ill-fated jolly over the Atlantic.

Furthermore, Sunderland’s Chief Executive also deserves criticism for sticking with an unbearably pervious managerial custodian. David Moyes was reportedly persuaded to stay by Bain on several occasions when in reality he was doing absolutely nothing to better the club.

Farcical, especially when considering the way in which Moyes’ side did everything in their power in order to achieve relegation to the Championship. Even more frustrating when Moyes was allowed to resign following the season’s end.

If Bain had acted decisively and ditched the under-performing Moyes mid-season – when it was evident to every footballing mind on the planet that he wasn’t up for the job – then the club would have undoubtedly had a better chance of survival.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Pre-Season Friendly
Two down, one perhaps to go in the coming weeks? 
Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

To be fair, Bain managed to negotiate decent profits when the likes of Jordan Pickford and Patrick Van Aanholt were moved on; however, this skill is the least Sunderland should expect from a Chief Executive. But how much credit can we actually afford Bain, though? Especially given the fact that Pickford is widely acknowledged as a future star, and PVA is a Dutch international. Even Bain’s positive dealings are fraught with an undertone of mediocrity.

Take into account the fact that Bain was also recently unable to woo Derek McInnes to Sunderland. The failure to secure a manager, before the appointment of Simon Grayson, was in part down to the speculation regarding new ownership; however, the fact that Bain was unable to appoint a manager who had displayed limited success at Aberdeen is a worrying sign.

Although I am fully supportive of Simon Grayson – who must be given a chance – his appointment can hardly be deemed as a coup. Bain has appeared unimaginative in his quest for fresh management at the Stadium of Light. Historians of the club are no doubt unaware that Sunderland AFC was founded in 1879 by a Scot, James Allan. Martin Bain seemingly wished to take the Scottish connection to new levels after appointing Walter Smith to assist him in his search for a new gaffer.

Smith hasn’t worked in football management for six years since leaving Rangers. Redundancies and relegation are still very raw amongst fans, so having a footballing dinosaur as Bain’s “unofficial adviser” will do little to reassure anyone connected with the club. It is very difficult to see Smith’s appointment as anything other than “jobs for the boys” and blatant cronyism.

Such shortsightedness has the potential to further harm the club in an irrecoverable manner.

40th Anniversary Memorial of Ibrox Disaster Held In Glasgow
Walter Smith (front left) and Martin Bain (front, second from right). – PHoto by Martin Shields – pool/Getty Images

Yes – Bain is acting on Short’s orders. And yes – Bain has managed to negotiate a smattering of decent transfers. However, the way in which Bain has mercilessly and culled ground level Sunderland staff without remorse has left a massive stain on his tenure thus far.

Add to this the unwavering support of Moyes, his hesitancy over the appointment of a new manager in addition to the continuous stream of PR disasters, and you will find that many fans will be praying Bain does not reach his second year anniversary.

I, for one, had sincerely hoped that if the reported German consortium managed to complete their takeover, that Martin Bain would be one of the first out of the door. But that hope appears to be lost. The club cannot afford to repeat mistakes made in recent years, and it’s fair to say that Martin Bain has been guilty of making multiple mistakes of his own.

Len Shackleton: ‘The Joker of Roker’

Shack learned his trade at Arsenal & Bradford, became a footballer at Newcastle, but it was Sunderland that got under his skin – Shack loved Wearside.

Shack – thedaisycutter.com

Leonard Francis ‘Len’ Shackleton was born in 1922 and came from very modest beginnings. The 1920s are sometimes referred to as the ‘roaring twenties’ over in the United States. However, back in Britain, the 1920s were defined by depression, deflation and a steady decline in the great Britain’s former economic pre-eminence.

By the time Shack was beginning to play football, Britain’s economy was struggling. This was particularly apparent in the coal industry. The declining industry led to lower wages and increasingly bitter trades disputes causing a general strike in 1926. Miners went on strike to gain better pay and conditions and were joined by other trade unions. However, the general strike was only partial and led to the defeat of the miners. During the general strike, the middle class enthusiastically filled in for jobs helping to break the strike and increase a sense of class and social division.

Shackleton would eventually come to be among these miners when he first came to the North-East, working as a Labourer in Hazelrigg Colliery – ‘the clown prince’ knew what it was to be a working-class man in the North-East, and it was this as well as flamboyant playing style that endeared him to the predominantly working class community in Sunderland.

Like most kids in his generation, Len’s parents felt this economic instability in Britain. His parents couldn’t even afford to buy him a proper football kit. Shack commented upon being unable to afford ‘real football boots’ his Uncle John ‘bought some studs and hammered them into an old pair of shoes.’ This gesture would stay with Shack and gave him a deep love and appreciation of football and a drive to do well.

The Joker of Roker – thedaisycutter.com

Shackleton could play at both the inside and outside forward positions. He scored 134 goals in 427 league and cup appearances in just over 11 seasons in the Football League, and before that scored 171 goals in league and cup 209 appearances during wartime football. His individualistic style was a joy to watch and his gift at controlling a football made him one of the most technically gifted footballers of his generation.

After a brief youth spell with Arsenal, he re-joined his former youth team Bradford Park Avenue in 1940, only to have his footballing career interrupted by the Second World War. Following Allied victory. Shackleton signed for Newcastle United for a record fee of £13,000 in the October of 1946.

Yes, you read correctly. The Len Shackleton, Our hero, Shack, donned the black & white stripes. Of course, the Wear-Tyne rivalry was not as nearly as bitter as it has become in modern times. Nevertheless, Shackleton was on course to become a Geordie Messiah by scoring six goals against Newport County upon his arrival at the club.

The greatest of all Geordie legends, Jackie Milburn, described:

On his debut against Newport County he scored six goals, a Division Two record, and put the last one in off his backside. Ever the showman, Shack always preferred to get applause for some daft trick rather than scoring a straight-forward goal.

Shack was no ordinary player, and the fact that a man as respected as Jackie Milburn was thought to single him out for praise tells you just how magnificent he was with a ball at his feet.

Milburn also quipped:

Len Shackleton was a master craftsman and thanks to him I got among the goals. I clicked with him because I expected the unorthodox. If he ran one way, I ran the other, and sure enough the ball always found me. On the other hand, Len’s quick-witted humour often caused me to laugh outright and lose control of the ball.

There you have it – by Milburn’s reckoning, Shack was equal to him. His quality was indisputable.

As much as I respect the words of such a talented footballer, it would be loathe of me to allow a Geordie the last word on Shackleton. But fear not – the praise for Shackleton was universal.

The legendary Stoke City and Blackpool outside-right Stanley Matthews was widely regarded to be the best British football player of his generation – his words carry much weight and his opinion of footballing matters of the day was undisputable. Matthews stated that Shack was‘unpredictable, brilliantly inconsistent, flamboyant, radical and mischievous; in short, he possessed all the attributes of a footballing genius which he undoubtedly was.’

Matthews placed more value on Shack than the short-sighted Geordies. Following a row at board level and after just two years in Newcastle, Shack was sold to their bigger rivals Sunderland in the First Division for the record fee of £20,050 and is said to have taken an illegal backhand payment in doing so. He had scored 26 goals in 57 appearances for the Tynesiders.

Shackleton was one of many big-name players signed by the club for a total outlay of around £250,000 during the post-war era, earning Sunderland the nickname of the ‘Bank of England’ club. And Len – regarded by the Mackem faithful as ‘the joker of Roker’ – stated that ‘joining Sunderland was the best thing I ever did’. He proceeded to become the shining light in the flickering embers of a Sunderland side in decline.

The Clown Prince failed to win silverware in his time on Wearside but featured in two FA Cup semi-final sides and narrowly missed out on a First Division Championship medal in the mid-1950s.
An ankle injury in 1957 eventually brought Len’s flamboyant career to an abrupt end. He made 348 appearances for Sunderland and scored 101 goals.

Much like Bobby Gurney, Raich Carter and Brian Clough – Shackleton was overlooked for international honours by the England selectors, despite being universally acknowledged as a player of international quality. Len made only 5 caps for England, the most famous coming against the then World Champions, West Germany, in 1954. Sadly, his style was dubbed too individualistic by the historically-conservative and southern-centric Football Association.

Len Shackleton shakes hands with the Duke of Gloucester at Wembley-http://gimmefutbol.blogspot.co.uk

Shack opened a barber’s shop in the town during his time in Sunderland, illuminating his entrenchment in our culture and history. On retirement, he became a sports journalist. He moved to Grange-over-Sands, in Cumbria.

Shack’s autobiography, The Clown Prince of Soccer, became celebrated for its ninth chapter, entitled ‘The Average Director’s Knowledge of Football’. A blank page lay underneath. Such distain towards directors endeared him to another Sunderland legend, Brain Clough. It is written that Shack even helped to fix Clough up with his first forays into football management.

Len Shackleton passed away November 28th 2000. He was aged 78. Testament to his talent as a football player and skill as a journalist, Shack received obituaries in The Telegraph and The Guardian. A true Sunderland great.

 I leave it to Shack himself to round off:

Even though I was born in Bradford and now live in Cumbria, I still consider the North East to be home. I love the place and the people are smashing. Newcastle people always tell me that I’m biased towards Sunderland but really I’ve nothing against Newcastle – I don’t care who beats them.

Leigh Richmond Roose: Sunderland’s maverick sweeper-keeper

“Think Paul Gascoigne with a higher IQ, then throw in George Best’s playboy excesses for good measure.” – Spencer Vignes.

Remembrance of one Leigh Richmond “Dick” Roose in Sunderland is rather scant. I’m willing to bet that if his name was put to a group of Sunderland fans on a match day not many would recognise his name – not entirely surprising when you consider that the Welshman kept goal on Wearside over one hundred years ago.

 Roose had an incredible career before joining Sunderland. He was, at one time, considered the best goalkeeper in Britain. Roose was described as “The Prince of all goalkeepers” in Athletic News and has been subsequently dubbed as “Football’s First Superstar” by his biographer, Spencer Vignes.

Roose had a brush with Sunderland prior to joining the club. On February 10th 1906 Roose’s Stoke City lost 1-0 to Sunderland at Roker Park. Whilst enjoying a post-match meal, the Stoke players found themselves the recipients of a torrent of abuse from a Sunderland fan. Raising from his chair, Roose went over to the man and punched him in the face. The case was brought to the Football Association and Roose was banned for fourteen days.

The hilarity continued when Roose was chosen as Ted Doig’s replacement and was signed by Sunderland in January, 1908. Almost as soon as he began to turn out for the Wearsiders, rumours began to circulate that the club were acting illegally in their payments towards him.

 Football in this period was still an amateur sport, meaning that football clubs were only permitted to pay a player’s expenses, players were not permitted to receive a salary.

The Football Association requested that Roose submit a list of his expenses for the 1907-08 season. Roose made a mockery of the FA displayed disdain towards the amateur system by listing his expenses as including: ‘a Pistol to ward off opposition” along with a “coat and gloves to keep warm when not occupied” and “using the toilet (twice)”.

Roose was also famed for his luck with the ladies. The Daily Mail dubbed him “London’s most eligible bachelor”. In 1909 he began a high profile and controversial with the married music hall star, Marie Lloyd. Lloyd would often be seen in the crowd when Sunderland played in London and Roose was a regular at Lloyd’s concerts.

According to a 1939 Sunderland Echo article Roose was able to pickup a fully inflated football with one hand / Wales Online

 

As well as being a maverick off the pitch, Roose’s unusual playing style wowed crowds up and down the country. Decades before the term ‘sweeper-keeper’ became vogue, he would spend much of his time outside of his penalty area. In Edwardian times, it was within the rules of Association Football for goalkeepers to handle the ball outside of their box. Law 8 stated:

The goalkeeper may, within his own half of the field of play, use his hands, but shall not carry the ball.

Roose developed his game accordingly and would bounce the ball up to the half-way line to launch a successful attack with a well-placed kick or throw. As Spencer Vignes explains in his book detailing the goalkeeper’s exploits:

This was perfectly within the letter of the law, though few goalkeepers risked doing it for fear of either leaving their goal unattended or being steamrollered by a centre-forward. It became a highly effective, direct way of launching attacks and Leigh used it to his side’s advantage whenever possible.

Roose’s maverick playing style made him a firm favourite at Roker Park – he kept goal for Sunderland in their stunning demolition 9-1 of Newcastle at St. James Park in 1908, solidifying him as a club legend.

However, the FA were less than impressed. In 1912, the FA changed the rules and restricted goalkeepers to handling the ball only in their own box. The rule change was a direct response to Roose’s successful tactic.

He would also turn his back on play to tell jokes to the fans, and perform gymnastics from the goal crossbar while the ball was at the other end of the field. Traits that were not in keeping with the Victorian ideals of gentlemen amateurism which underpinned Edwardian Association Football. Amateur players of the period were expected to follow the“Corinthian Ideals” of fairness and honor in competition which were valued above victory or gain. Leigh Roose challenged these conventions.

Roose left Sunderland following a broken wrist sustained in another game against Newcastle in 1909, and as a result the Mackems decided he would not be unable to regain full fitness and decided not to employ him for the 1910-11 season. That year he played games for Celtic, Huddersfield Town and Aston Villa before going on to join Arsenal as a player-coach in December, 1911.

Roose was extremely highly thought of on Wearside, a testimonial was arranged in his honour which, according to the Sunderland Echo was oversubscribed and £40 was raised for Roose (£4,421 in today’s money).

The Welshman returned to Roker Park with Arsenal in 1912 and dazzled the Sunderland faithful with some stunning saves. Roose evidently felt a strong connection to the Mackem faithful. At the end of the game he threw his Arsenal jersey into the Sunderland crowd and spent over 20 minutes walking around the perimeter of the pitch shaking hands and talking with spectators.

Roose transferred his footballing skills to the Somme and served gallantly in the First World War, winning the Military Medal for bravery. His supremely accurate and effective grenade throwing skills meant that Roose was promoted to Lance Corporal in September, 1916.

Tragically, in October, 1916 during an attack on the German trenches at Gueudecourt Leigh Roose was killed. Former amateur footballer, Gordon Hoare saw him running towards the enemy at full speed in No Man’s Land, while firing his gun. Soon afterwards, another soldier saw Roose lying in a bomb crater. His body was never recovered.

Former Wales and Everton goalkeeper, Neville Southall, speaking to Wales Online in 2016 best sums Roose up:

What makes you climb out of a trench and run towards a machine gun knowing that you are almost certainly going to die? The more you think about it, the madder it gets, and yet he did it. You’ve got to be a special person to be able to do that.

A stark reminder that we must remember and honour Leigh Roose and his comrades sacrifice. Roose’s name is commemorated on a plaque at Aberystwyth University and is among the 72,195 missing servicemen on the Thiepval Memorial.

Remembering the fallen in the First World War is of imperative importance. The First World War was essentially, as Sebastian Faulks describes, a ‘holocaust of young men’ which could have been avoided.

We must not forget the closeness of the three principle monarchs of the age. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany; King George V of England; and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Wilhelm and George were first cousins, George and Nicholas were also first cousins, and Wilhelm and Nicholas were third cousins. There is also evidence to support the claim that Queen Victoria died in the arms of her eldest grandson – Wilhelm. Millions of young men, like Roose, died at the behest of an interrelated European aristocracy.

Sunderland AFC must endeavour to remember Leigh Roose and by extension honour the human sacrifice in the First World War.

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and Welsh Newspapers Online for providing the opportunity for independent research on Leigh Roose’s exploits. I must pay tribute to the research and works of Spencer Vignes and John Simkin who make remembrance of Leigh Roose’s footballing career and life possible. Also, a nod to Richard Callaghan who wrote about Roose’s exploits for Roker Report last year.

Leigh Roose was aged just 38 when he was killed in the First World War.

OPINION: ‘Sunderland’s hierarchy is an absolute shambles’

Sunderland’s loyal cohort of fans have been continuously let down, not only by managers and players, but also by decisions made at board level too.

Ellis Short has made multiple flawed appointments at and must take his share of the responsibility for his glaring mistakes. The actions of Margaret Byrne and Martin Bain – both installed by the elusive American – have left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans and have contributed to a general lack of positivity around the club.

Decisions made by the club’s bigwigs in recent years have essentially bred the conditions for Sunderland’s most recent sh*tstorm of a season which has seen our side relegated from the Premier League after a ten-year spell in the big time.

Sunderland v Manchester City - Premier League
The loyal fans have been continuously let down. 
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Margaret Byrne is a prime example of a member of the Sunderland board who has let our beloved club down in a big way. She was aware of the damning evidence that lead to Adam Johnson’s conviction for child sex abuse, yet she chose to completely mislead Sunderland fans into believing the club knew him to be innocent and permitted Johnson to play. Essentially, she made a mockery of the our loyal support and, in turn, damaged the club’s integrity.

Her punishment for such a grotesque error of judgment was to be compensated handsomely, a figure revealed upon the public release of the club’s accounts last month – this whilst fans in an extremely economically challenged area of the country pump revenue into the club year on year through ticket sales and merchandise. Byrne accepted full responsibility in the gross mishandling of the Johnson situation and signed a confidentiality agreement which makes one wonder what other shady dealings occur between the directors in the annuls of the Stadium of Light.

Byrne also explained that chairman Ellis Short had been aware only of the ‘broad nature’ of the allegations against Johnson and ‘not the detail I was personally privy to.’ Byrne allowed Short off the hook so to speak – whilst simultaneously complying to keep her mouth shut as to avoid any further PR disasters.

Take stock of the fee Byrne received and the circumstances which led to her leaving the club – bearing in mind Sunderland’s debt at this point time was around £140m, and with such wonderful financial acumen from Ellis Short, it’s no wonder Sunderland are in the mire. Short must shoulder his share of the blame.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Pre-Season FriendlyPhoto by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

But the buck doesn’t stop with Byrne and Short. Sunderland’s new chief executive, Martin Bain, hasn’t done much to endear himself to supporters either.

While survival was still possible, Bain fostered a defeatist attitude by announcing that staff at the training ground and the Stadium of Light that redundancies were imminent. Large numbers of staff were offered the option to take voluntary redundancies via email.

Smooth from a man who reportedly netted somewhere in the region of £630,000 during his time at Glasgow Rangers FC. Obviously, one must acknowledge that Bain’s instruction to reduce debt came directly from Short; however, one must question the integrity and morality of a man that chooses to carry out orders of redundancies whist receiving such a fat pay cheque.

The distressing news came in the week where Sunderland’s under-performing players were sent on an all-expenses paid ‘training trip’ to New York. Another PR disaster, which exposed the club’s hierarchy as being totally out of touch with the community in which the clubs exists. A community that, in the same week as Bain’s announcements, turned out to the tune of ten-thousand to watch their millionaire heroes in an open training session at the Stadium of Light – not to mention the eighteen-thousand spectators that turned up to see Sunderland’s Under 23’s in their European final later that same season.

The fans deserve so much more.

The New York debacle becomes an even bigger farce when you consider Sunderland only managed to muster one win since the trip. Realistically, it must have cost a small fortune to fly twenty-two players and multiple staff to America, including expenses for training facilities among other things. The whole situation makes one question the business acumen of the man in charge of our club.

Maybe if the club hadn’t made such a mess of the Johnson situation, or had perhaps refrained from a transatlantic jolly, then the money used to buy Byrne’s silence and a glorified knees up could have been used to keep on the ground-level Sunderland AFC workers.

You know, the ones responsible for the excellent day-to-day running of our club.

It must also be noted that the culmination of the proposed staff redundancies would make little difference to Sunderland’s £140m debt, and these workers are likely to have families to support. They won’t have the luxury of a Byrne-esque payment to comfort them when they find themselves out of work in the name of streamlining a heaping pile of financial sh*te.

Sunderland v Burnley - Premier League
Ironic – Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Some sections of Sunderland’s support have suggested rather flippantly, that Sunderland should ‘sack the players’ as to allow said redundancies to be cancelled. Although this view is somewhat unrealistic and populist, we cannot blame these fans for their frustration and anger. Any genuine Sunderland fan that seeks to patronise this view does not understand the history of the community they claim to be part of.

The recent actions of the club’s hierarchy make one, at times, somewhat uncomfortable to be a Sunderland fan and makes it extremely difficult for fans to buy into the clubs cries of ‘Unity is Strength’ and ‘Keep the Faith’.
All in all, Sunderland’s off-field failings have been just as farcical as the pathetic situation on the pitch. Despite Moyes’ sacking buoying many fans, one cannot see Sunderland’s situation improving away from the football field any time soon. And, as usual, it’s the fans that must bear the burden.

A Tale of two Cities – Sunderland and Swansea share more than just a footballing bond. (Featuring an interview with ex-pro, John Cornforth)

Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Swansea sits around three-hundred miles – give or take – from Sunderland, and to travel from one to the other will take approximately seven hours. Yet despite existing at opposite ends of the United Kingdom the two cities and their football clubs share many parallels.

Both Sunderland and Swansea are post-industrial cities. Sunderland built ships and dug for coal; Swansea was once central to the copper industry. Both have known decline and share a predominately working class mentality.

Both Sunderland and Swansea based their new homes on or near industrial sites. Sunderland on the Wearmouth Colliery overlooking the River Wear, while Swansea play their games West of the River Tawe, near the old copper works.

The Liberty and the Stadium of Light are relatively new builds; Sunderland moving into their new home in 1997 while Swansea moved to the Liberty in 2005. Despite a 20,000 difference in capacity the two grounds even look rather alike; both coloured white while also sharing a scaffold-like style. The Liberty resembles a miniature Stadium of Light.
In South Wales, Swansea fall behind neighbours Cardiff in terms of investment, cultural capital and facilities much like the comparison often drawn between Sunderland and Newcastle in the North-East. However, up until 2017, Sunderland and Swansea had previously managed to overcome any inferiority complex by remaining in the Premier League thus far, while Newcastle and Cardiff play in the Championship.

On the pitch this season both clubs have found themselves struggling, unable to remain relevant as they languish at the wrong end of the table fighting relegation. Sunderland have of course fallen victim to the fat lady’s song, but Swansea still have it all to play for.

This weekend’s fixture will be an important game for the Welsh club who are quite simply fighting for their Premier League lives; however, despite the importance of this weekend’s result the histories of these two great clubs will remain.

Swansea City v Arsenal - Premier LeaguePhoto by Michael Steele/Getty Images

John Cornforth – born in Whitley Bay – started his career at Sunderland in 1985. Over six years Cornforth appeared thirty-two times in red and white before a move to Swansea City in 1991.

And it was at Swansea where Cornforth made a brief foray into international football, representing Wales on two occasions, qualifying through his Welsh paternal grandmother. Whilst representing Wales at international level was a huge achievement,
Cornforth has always remained close to his roots in the North East of England.

With this weekend’s game with relegation-threatened Swansea on the horizon, we caught up with the former Sunderland midfielder to get his perspective on the two clubs and the areas that they represent.

Cornforth explained:

Sunderland and Swansea are both working class areas situated by the beach. The people of Sunderland and Swansea are very similar – they’re working class and love their football team. Great places to play. 

And when asked about any amusing anecdotes about his time at Roker Park stated that there were ‘too many to mention’ but told the story of two Welsh lads, Sean Mills and Steve Jones, signing for Sunderland.

I was in charge of jobs for apprentices, I gave the two new lads a bucket and sponge each and told them to clean the floodlights. Thirty minutes later my coach comes up to me screaming “CORNY, have you seen those dozy Welsh f*ckers and what they’re doing?” 

I went to investigate and they were hanging off the floodlights armed with bucket and sponge washing the lights! I got an almighty bollocking.

John also recalls the odd feeling of playing against Sunderland for Birmingham and returning to Swansea with Peterborough:

I played at Roker Park for Birmingham and it was strange, we lost 4-1 and I hit the bar. Playing at the old Vetch was even stranger given the length of time I spent at the club. We won 1-0, I didn’t celebrate and my name was sung by Swansea fans throughout the whole game. My manager Barry Fry said it was the best reception he’d ever heard for a returning player.

 It’s a shared love for football by people from a working-class background that binds the folk of Swansea and Sunderland, and back when John represented both clubs it perhaps rang even more true – working hard all week to watch your team play on a weekend was a form of release, something noted by Cornforth when reminiscing the old days:

Sunderland’s crowds at Roker Park were bigger but the atmosphere at the old Vetch was electric. Both sets of fans are totally loyal, through thick and thin.

John Cornforth http://www.sunderlandafcformerplayersassociation.com

Having lived in Sunderland for most my life before moving to Swansea to study, I’ve noticed that both cities share the same extreme passion and attitude towards football. Football is the dominant form of religion-like-practice to the people of Swansea and Sunderland – a way of life. Both cites see their stadiums a replacement cathedral to which both lack in the religious sense.

Swansea and Sunderland also sit amongst the most economically challenged areas in the United Kingdom. The 2016 EY Report found youth unemployment in Wales to be around 17.4%, with Swansea experiencing extreme highs of 27.3%. The same report showed the North-East’s youth unemployment rate to be 18.3%. To put these figures into context, UK youth unemployment stands on average at 14.4%. Sunderland and Swansea are suffering similar economic hardship.

The two football clubs now provide increased sources of pride coupled with much needed escapism for the inhabitants of the two struggling cities.

General Views of UK Sporting VenuesPhoto by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

It remains to be seen whether or not Swansea can escape Sunderland’s fate of relegation this season, and although I’d never dream of wanting another team to beat the mighty Sunderland, I do however hope that Swansea stay in the Premier League.

Much like Sunderland, the city and its people deserve a team to be proud of in times of austerity, cuts and general global political instability.

Eighty years on: Sunderland’s 1936/37 FA Cup triumph – Carter’s men topple Preston!

The year 1937 saw change in current affairs, politics and pop culture on both sides of the Atlantic. Franklin D. Roosevelt is President to seven million unemployed in the United States, an enquiry begins into the Hindenburg Disaster and John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ is published. In Great Britain; Wimbledon is broadcast by the BBC for the first time and King George IV ascends to the throne. But, most important of all worldly affairs is the fact that Sunderland AFC are victorious in their pursuit of the Football Association Cup for the first time in the club’s history.

1937 was a funny old year in the North-East too. Plans for a £55,000 revamp of the Sunderland Town hall were announced. Binn’s Limited had stores in Sunderland, Newcastle and South Shields. Coxgreen Council School finally closed its doors with its few remaining pupils transferring to a new £10,000 school at Penshaw. West Herrington based workmen unearthed a pair of skeletons sparking a dramatic police investigation into potential murder – until it was found that the bones were a century old.

imgur.com – Carter holds the FA Cup followed by Hall and Gurney.
But it is May 1st, 1937 which marks the 80th anniversary of Sunderland’s first FA Cup win. Sunderland’s Cup run was by far and away the most newsworthy story in the North-East that year – bringing a tremendous amount of civic pride to Wearside. Sunderland had craved cup success since the club’s creation in 1879, leading to the FA Cup becoming a Holy Grail to Sunderland fans. As ever, Raich Carter summarised the town’s relationship with the Cup:

The fact that Sunderland had never won the Cup was a terrible thing for the North. Every year was to be Sunderland’s Cup year and there was always great disappointment when they were knocked out.

It was a real vintage and skilled Sunderland team that won the Cup in ‘37 and remembrance has not been as forthcoming as that experienced by the FA Cup winning team of 1973. This is partly due to time, and the astounding underdog story of Stokoe & Co’s victory from the old Second Division.

The road to Wembley back in 1937 saw Sunderland come out 3-2 winners against Southampton at The Dell in third round – a long and by no means easy trip. Sunderland also came from 2-0 down on a frosty afternoon to force a fourth-round replay with Luton. 52,000 spectators at Roker Park then witnessed Sunderland see off Luton with goals from Len Duns, Jimmy Connor and Raich Carter cancelling out a strike from Luton’s Payne.

Jimmy Connor suffered an injury against Luton which has been compared to the injury Brian Clough sustained on the same ground 25 years later. Like Clough, Connor’s career was over. Connor was a brilliant forward with a fantastic shot and tremendous dribbling ability; a tragic and most unfortunate sacrifice in Sunderland’s quest for FA Cup glory.

Sunderland disposed of Swansea in the fifth-round, beating the Jacks 3-0 at Roker Park. In the quarter-finals, Sunderland were drawn away to First Division Wolves, a formidable outfit led by the superb centre-half Stan Cullis. Sunderland managed to hold out for a replay with another goal from Len Duns making the score 1-1. The Roker Park replay is the stuff of legend. Raich Carter commenting in 1950 that the tie “gave me a heart attack.” The tie saw no goals until the 86th minute despite Sunderland’s pressure. Then, as is the “Sunderland way”, disaster struck Wearside. Completely against the run of play Tom Galley silenced 61,800 spectators and put Wolves in front with barely any time remaining. Some Sunderland fans even headed for the exit, convinced Sunderland had blown their Cup campaign once again.

Up again steps Mr. Robert Gurney…

A Thompson throw in was received by Carter who returned the ball; Thompson, the wing-half, found Bobby Gurney who had managed to escape the clutches of Cullis. Gurney controlled the ball, turned and hit a low weak shot. With the Wolves keeper unsighted the ball found its way into the net. To extra time! Sunderland took the lead with a goal from Duns only for Wolves to equalise within two minutes, meaning a second Cup replay after what must go down as one of the most thrilling matches ever to have been played at the old Roker Park.

The third Sunderland-Wolves tie took place in Sheffield. Raich Carter was reported as being only 75% fit, yet he played as if his life depended on it. Well, he was from Hendon after all. Carter, with his leg heavily strapped, scored the second in a 3-0 victory. The young captain had inspired Sunderland into the semi-finals in what he described as a “marathon tussle.

Third-Division South’s Millwall were to be Sunderland’s opponents in the semi’s, yet Sunderland took little comfort in the superior league standing. Millwall were the 1936/37 FA Cup giant killers having gained three First Division scalps on their way to the semi-final. Millwall threatened to cause another major upset by scoring in the first ten minutes of the semi-final at Huddersfield’s Leeds Road ground. Gurney equalised for Sunderland and Patsy Gallacher scored the winner, he later described it as “the greatest and most important goal I ever scored.” Sunderland were at last through to the final! The excitement on Wearside really was something to behold, reports even state that police were drafted in to control a crowd of 5,000 excited Sunderland folk who had had gathered outside the Sunderland Echo office eager for news of the tie.

britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk – Sunderland Echo – May 1, 1937. Page 1.

The final at Wembley was a thoroughly Anglo-Scottish affair. Sunderland fielded five Scotsmen including Alex Hall and Patsy Gallacher with legendary manager Johnny Cochrane also hailing from north of the border. Sunderland’s opponents in the final, Preston North End, also employed a Scottish manager in Tommy Muirhead. Muirhead started seven Scotsmen for the final with the most notable being the prolific number nine Frank O’Donnell and future Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly.

The Sunderland line up at Wembley in full was as follows: Mapson (GK), Gorman, Hall, Thompson, Johnston, McNab, Duns, Carter (C), Gurney, Gallacher and Burbanks. Sunderland faced a formidable Preston team of Burns (GK), Gallimore, Beattie, Shankly, Tremelling (C), Milne, Dougal, Beresford, F. O’Donnell, Fagan and H. O’Donnell. Testament to Sunderland’s achievement in 1937 is that Preston proceeded to win the FA Cup in 1938, for they were a superb footballing side in their own right.

britishnewspaperarchive.com – Sunderland Echo – May 1, 1937. Page 9.
Approximately 93,000 spectators crammed into Wembley that day, the aforementioned Frank O’Donnell fired Preston into the lead just before the interval. At half-time a marching band trooped up and down the Wembley turf providing little comfort to the downhearted Sunderland fans. Up until this point the team who had scored first at Wembley had always won the Cup. The upcoming second half was to be another test of character for the Sunderland team.

But the Sunderland public travelling en masse to London from the North-East needn’t have worried. Sunderland had two local goal scorers in the team both hell bent on returning to Wearside with the Cup. In the dressing room Hendon born Carter stirred his Sunderland teammates and attempted to settle their nerves:

We have to be more in the game. We have got to make the ball work more, find the man more. Don’t be nervous. Let’s play football as we can play it and we shall be all right.

Hailing from Silksworth, former miner Bobby Gurney equalised on 52 minutes – a commentator exclaiming: “that’s a goal that will give them something to talk about in the shipyards” – the most important goal of Gurney’s long and illustrious Sunderland career. Game on! Gurney was best man to Raich Carter at Carter’s wedding in the days before the final. Always confident, full of self-belief and cocksure, captain Carter fired Sunderland in front on 72 minutes. Carter was mobbed by his teammates and the Roker Roar lasted for several minutes afterwards with choruses of the song ‘Blaydon Races’ sung with gusto. Roared on by a huge Wearside presence at Wembley, the superb Eddie Burbank’s killed Preston’s hopes by scoring in the last ten minutes.

imgur.com – King George IV meets the Sunderland team.

After 53 years and 140 cup-ties, Sunderland had finally captured the most coveted prize in English football after years of failed attempts and near misses.

The significance of Sunderland’s FA Cup was recognised throughout the country. On May 3rd, the returning Sunderland party left King’s Cross to an enthusiastic send off in a pullman train that was covered in red and white colours. As the train drew North, crowds cheered, waved and packed full the station platforms of Grantham, Doncaster, York and Darlington. The locomotive also stopped at Newcastle train station and were cheered by a large crowd and congratulated by Newcastle’s Lord Mayor, John Grantham.

The train left Newcastle for Monkwearmouth station where a huge crowd waited for a glimpse of the victorious heroes. Carter commenting:

The crowds at Wembley, the crowds at King’s Cross, the crowds en route – they all paled into insignificance against the tumultuous reception as we drew into Sunderland…By comparison it had been quiet in the station. Stepping outside was like stepping on to an alarm signal. Suddenly everything went off. The tugs and ships in the river were hooting and blowing their sirens, railway engineers shrilled their whistles, bells rang and rattles crackled, there was shouting and cheering. It was like a thick concrete wall of deafening din. Then the cheering resolved itself into a Sunderland roar: ‘Ha’way The Lads!’ And the cry was taken up and surged round, echoing and re-echoing through the crowd who spread further than the eye could see. ‘Ha’way, ha’way, ha’way!’ cried half a million throats.

The Sunderland team toured the town in an open top bus to wild, continuous cheers of “Ha’way the Lads”. Roker Park opened to the public and 30,000 turned up to catch a glimpse of Carter, Gurney and co. A crate of beer which had been taken to the unsuccessful 1913 final and not drank following a disappointing loss was consumed with renewed vigour!

flickr.com – Raich Carter with Newcastle Lord Mayor, John Grantham.

The previously mentioned Bill Shankly became a footballing behemoth. As player and manager Shankly won the FA Cup and First Division three times each, the Charity Shield four times and the UEFA Cup once – making him a God in footballing terms. Yet, with all his knowledge and experience he still held the Sunderland team of the 1930’s in the highest regard. Shankly once explained:

In many ways, the Sunderland team of 1937 played the same brand of Total Football as the great Holland team of the 1970s. It was a frightening experience to visit Roker Park during the 1930s because Sunderland were such a terrific outfit.

A fitting tribute to the skilled technical football exhibited Sunderland team of 1937. The club would do well to further remember the heroes of the 1930’s, the fact there is no statue for manager Cochrane or the local lads Carter and Gurney is a source of embarrassment; especially given that the trio also won the Division One Championship and Charity Shield. Goalkeeper Johnny Mapson played over 385 times for Sunderland yet receives little attention despite having refused a transfer to Manchester City due to his admiration for the club. Likewise, Patsy Gallacher scored goals for fun: 100 in 273 appearances. They deserved to be remembered properly, and their gaping omissions prove that the club could do so much more to remember our terrific past.

This article is dedicated to Jarrow born goalkeeper, James Horatio Thorpe. Jimmy Thorpe would’ve undoubtedly kept goal for Sunderland at Wembley had he not passed away mid-way through the title winning season of 1935/36, due to injuries sustained in a match against Chelsea at Roker Park. Jimmy Thorpe just 22 years of age when he died.

I must also pay tribute to Paul Days, Mark Metcalf and Frank Garrick who make remembrance of the 1936/37 team possible with their research and writings – and to the brilliance of those local lads Carter and Gurney, without them Sunderland’s history would be far less rich.

ryehillfootball.co.uk – RIP Jimmy Thorpe
I leave you with yet another quote from Carter, and I hope it resonates in your soul as it does in mine:

This was my home town; these were my own folk. I was the local boy who had led the team to victory and brought home the Cup for which they had been waiting for fifty years. What more could any man ask? My happiness could never be more complete. It was worth winning the cup just for this.