A Tribute To Phil Bardsley's 6-Year Sunderland Odyssey

Michael Regan

Today marks six years since Phil Bardsley arrived on Wearside. Love him or loath him, we think that's worthy of tribute.

It's a funny thing, football. I've often thought that had the great ancient poets such as Homer and Virgil been around today, the sheer drama of football would prove an irresistible inspiration.

Obviously, if Homer had been born almost 3000 years later, he would probably be making films or some other gainful pursuit rather than choosing to waste his genius covering Sunderland AFC. However, if he had been a product of modern day Grindon rather than Ancient Greece and caught the football bug, I'd like to think that Phil Bardsley would be his Odysseus.

It's not quite the decade-long struggle that the fabled Greek hero endured in the Odyssey, but today marks the six-year anniversary since Bardsley arrived at Sunderland.

The tale has been a gritty triumph of determination littered with the troughs that personal challenges deliver and the peaks of overcoming them. You'd have to say that the former-Manchester United youth product has seen it all at Sunderland, and come through it all - and rarely has he looked so good.

I appreciate that in many ways he remains a divisive figure on Wearside. The events of last summer represented his lowest ebb. The Casino incident was a storm in a teacup and blown out of all proportion, but his instagram mishap was a disgrace. To attempt to airbrush it out now does an injustice to the journey.

There are those who don't especially like what he does on the football pitch, and I can appreciate that aspect too. I am one of them to be completely honest. For me, the kind of rugged and tough-tackling full back rattler that he is doesn't tick enough boxes in the modern game. That's just personal preference though.

And who cares anyway? It is just opinions at the end of the day. We all have them and that is what makes it fun. If you don't like him and can't get over it... well, everyone loves an anti-hero, right?

But one thing you can never take away from him is his ability to hang on in there against the odds. He is as tenacious a character as they come.

Roy Keane replaced him, twice - Bardsley endured. Steve Bruce replaced him, twice - Bardsley endured. Martin O'Neill replaced him with a central midfielder - Bardsley endured. Paolo Di Canio probably tried to actually kill him, but Bardsley is still here.

Like Odysseus it may be that, despite the battles Bardsley faced on the journey, time itself is the greatest foe. His contract is up at the end of the season. You wouldn't be surprised if he was offered a new one, and I for one wouldn't begrudge him it. Not any more, anyway.

What happens in the future is almost beside the point today though. It's perhaps fitting that, after all that has transpired before it, the sixth anniversary of his arrival could well coincide with the highest point of Sunderland's recent history. If the lads are going to overcome the odds at Old Trafford and progress to Wembley, they could certainly be well-served by following his defiant example.

So, in the words that Homer himself used to open the Odyssey:

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,

Whether you love him or loath him, six years at a football club like Sunderland is a tremendous achievement in the modern age, especially given the battles he has encountered and fought to achieve it.

Well done Phil Bardsley.

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