A New Signing! Well, For The Roker Report Anyway...

Well then, whilst the club sit around twiddling their thumbs, there's been some movement here at Casa Roker Report, which should see the site and the podcast stick around even longer, and make it even better than it already is.

Starting with the backroom re-shuffle. Whilst Michael Graham has done sterling work in assisting me, more is required due to the overwhelming demand for high-quality articles, we've decided to give David Boyle a more prominent role in the decision making process, whilst myself and Mr Graham take a little sidestep. For example purposes, Dave is Margret Byrne, I'm Niall Quinn. Michael, Ellis Short. Actually that's a terrible analogy.

Either way, it's left a void, a void that we've decided to fill with Karl Jones. Karl's on Twitter, so give him a follow as he's now well and truly part of the furniture, so get used to seeing him around - @KarlJones_

Now, let's meet the man known as Karl Jones, why he supports SAFC and stuff like that in "The Introduction Of Karl Jones"...

You good readers of Roker Report, I'm not sure what Simon has told you (if anything) so I thought the best way to introduce myself is not by drowning you in hyperlinks of articles past, but to explain just why I'm part of a truly special fanbase.

As those of you who follow me on twitter will realise, I am not from the North-East. You'll probably not be surprised to hear that I grew up in a Manchester United supporting household - well dad was a United fan, so we all had to be. But ironically, it was my first visit to Old Trafford that proved pivotal in my search for true football romance.

As I took my seat, I felt like I was doing something I shouldn't. It was almost like I was cheating on what I had preconceived as football - Superstore, Megastore, Beckham one wing, Giggs the other - to this day my father strives to find logic in what I was about to do, but it was all too much; too pristine, as if I was at a, ahem, theatre.

The way in which United disposed of Barnsley conveyed Sir Alex Ferguson as the footballing Julius Caesar he has since become - two Andy Cole goals inside 20 minutes ruthlessly executed the game of any meaning, leaving 11 red shirts to wander around aimlessly for the remainder before Karel Poborsky's nonchalant, back-heeled, seventh for the home side left me feeling nauseous.

It was nothing like I had imagined, both good and bad: I don't think you'll ever appreciate how impressive a stadia Old Trafford is until you have been there (and this was in 1997) but at the same time it retained precious little of what I had hoped for. Growing up in South Wales, in a predominately rugby-centric area, had me dreaming that despite United being well on the way to becoming a global force that it still had the hustle and bustle of terracing, the overwhelming tension creep up on the back of your neck like someone had grabbed you from behind - well Cole put paid to that bit, and whilst I was maybe a bit rash in discarding United I was sure that what I most enjoyed about going to watch Bridgend RFC and Wales existed in football.

During this time, the Niall Quinn-Kevin Phillips partnership was just blossoming, and Sunderland were making a march towards the Division One play-offs. I decided that this new team couldn't be in the same division as United and so, naturally, I was drawn to the archetypal 4-4-2, with two out-an-out-wingers that Peter Reid had his side playing. In that respect, it was like United but different, but the area I wanted it to be most different was in the stands.

So, after weeks, I plucked up the courage.

"Dad, please could you take me to see a Sunderland game?"

Now, what followed was how Team America describes as ‘basically all of the worst parts of the Bible' but eventually the nagging ground him down. And although I missed out on the terraces and the Clock Stand Paddock of Roker Park, Sunderland's new home retained the atmosphere that I had read so favourably about.

Despite it being cliché, going to Old Trafford for me was very touristy, with the old man constantly pointing out things seemingly worth my attention. Club history and tradition: all well and good, but being the only Premier League club to have a Megastore!? Had I been a little older, I'd have probably come to accept that; modern football is what it is, but back then, no way.

In-between getting permission to go to a Sunderland game and me finally going to one, that play-off final happened. I remember playing rugby that morning, and then having the world's quickest shower so that I was up the rugby club in time for kick-off. The following 120-plus minutes had me shouting, clapping, moaning, even hiding behind my seat - it had everything. Strangely, the defeat was almost irrelevant. I was sure that this was my team; no football team had me this emotionally attached before.

Likewise, there aren't that many songs that can touch me emotionally as Dance of the Knights - I tingle with nerves, fear and anticipation every time I hear it. We had been told by the owner of the Roker View guest house the morning of my first Sunderland game to expect ‘the anthem' and it set the tone, immediately followed by the wall of noise from the crowd. This was it.

To pinch another movie quote, Hitch suggests that ‘90% of what people say, isn't spoken' and that can be attributed to football - particularly away days. Most of the time, a result is a bonus - that final 10% - and what matters is the experience. Perhaps it was me viewing Sunderland as an away game, in simplistic terms it was with the travelling, but the experience just intensified my satisfaction.

In fairness, my dad took it in good grace. Despite the odd ‘Stadium of Shite' jibe, my Christmas present during my early teenage years was a weekend away to watch a home game and for a while he had a decent picker. My next visit to the SoL was a 2-0 win over West Ham under Mick McCarthy (you know, the one where Jeff Whitley made a tackle on the goal line and scored). Leicester came next the following season - where we confirmed promotion back to the top flight - but then my first time at a derby ensured that the image of Michael Chopra waltzing on as a substitute and into our penalty area untouched would torture me throughout the seven hour drive home.

It wasn't until a few years after Sunderland had influenced an impressionable young boy that I discovered that my father had, in fact, changed allegiances too, with him swapping Leeds for Manchester in the summer of 1973 (snigger). Perhaps that was the double-edged sword; the eldest son deserting the team his father had picked for him, instead siding with the humble, working-class tormentors of sleepless nights past.

So in a way, I was a second-tier gloryhunter, not that anyone could begrudge me that now. Perversely, the 19 and 15 point seasons confirmed just how right I was to stick with my ‘new' team. They stung big time, to the extent that nowadays any Sunderland-related outcome can shape my outlook on the day. Even through the lens of objectivity that all writers and journalists don when at work it is difficult to hide any emotion to SAFC - case in point being the beaming smile that escaped after Stephane Sessegnon's late goal that put us in front against Bolton (I was reporting on Cardiff City for local radio at the time).

As a result I'm regularly the butt of jokes amongst my friends (who stuck with their trendy clubs) but I have no problem with that, because, sometimes, Sunderland produces moments that make all the tireless toe rags, telling the tired old one-liners worth it. Despite how it ended, Roy Keane was one of those for me. He picked our heads up and gave us the confidence to puff our chests out once more. Chelsea away last season was beyond any of our wildest dreams and now Old mother Fate has aligned this great club with Martin O'Neill, after many had given up on him ever managing us.

And so, that is how you'll come to find someone that sounds like he should be an extra in Gavin and Stacey at the head of SAFC discussion and general chit-chat. We all know it hasn't been pretty, but that's taught us to savour the good times, and appointing O'Neill has dared us to dream that they may not be too far away...

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