In a rather surprising turn of events Sunderland face off against Hull City this Saturday, with both teams vying urgently to get as much football played as humanly possible in the face of the growing hold the Covid-19 pandemic has forced on the English leagues.
With this in mind it’s time to take another look (longingly, in my case) at erstwhile sunlun midfield general and loveable local lad, George Honeyman.
Given the captaincy under Jack Ross at the tender age of 23 following the departure of long-term skipper John O’Shea, George was the first academy product to take the armband at Sunderland since Micky Gray some fourteen years previous, and it’s fair to say the move divided fans somewhat.
Being of the ‘Honeyman for skipper’ camp, I welcomed it. To me it not only signalled a refreshing faith in the lads brought up through our youth teams, but it was good to see that that kind of dedication, commitment and love to and for the club could be rewarded. Sadly, oft-times shouldering that heavy mantle is an unenviable task.
It’s no secret that Sunderland fans can be demanding. On the face of it many of us will claim that all we want to see is passion for the game and love for the badge, and that that will see a player through his career on Wearside.
Upon forensic examination however, this doesn’t strictly hold true, and never was there a greater case for this misconception than George Honeyman. When the news came through that he had been offered up to Hull for a number so low that I daren’t write it out for fear of crying, I was both shocked and appalled. Still, some fans were happy for the club to sacrifice a pure-bred stalwart on the altar of unrealised League One daydreams.
Perhaps it was a simple case of skewed perspectives and overly ambitious expectations that turned some fans against him. Perhaps it was that this was a lad that did his job with calm and composure that belied his contribution.
Indeed, the role he played on the pitch didn’t carry with it the instant recognition and glory of a striker scoring, nor the die-hard heroism of a defender busting a gut to clear the ball from the line, yet to his credit any Sunderland fan should hold fond memories of him doing both. By all accounts the fans at what he now calls home see the value of the man; I bothered Luke from Hull City fanzine Tigers Blah Blah Blah for his take:
George was a bit part player last year, and wasn’t really someone the fans had warmed to - including myself. However, this has now completely changed. After lockdown he was a different player and even though we went down last season and were totally rancid, George was one of the few that emerged with some credit.
This season he has proved himself as being the best midfielder in League One, at least in my opinion. His energy and determination on the pitch is wonderful to see and he has stepped in as captain when Smallwood was injured earlier in the season. The fans now love him and “Honeyesta” would be a chant that would be sung around the KCOM if fans were allowed in.
McCann has his failings as a manager, but Honeyman fits into his plans perfectly. He’s a perfect number 10 and the team really miss him when he’s not there. He is so crucial to everything we do going forward and it’s not a coincidence that we lost all three games he didn’t play in before Christmas. He returns from injury against Charlton and we win. We need him - it’s as simple as that.
He never stops, and the only criticism I can make is he will get himself booked too many times just out of sheer determination to get the ball. He cares so much about winning and when I next buy a City shirt I will be getting Honeyman on the back.
I think his form has changed because he’s now settled into the area. Last year it was his first season away from Sunderland and by all accounts he was going back there at weekends - now he’s settled and got himself a house, he plays like he is happy to be here.
To me George Honeyman was a victim of circumstance and the mismanagement of the club he had pledged his formative years to, even, dare I say, as a scapegoat to distract from the obvious and far more heinous misgivings of the team and staff around him.
A casualty of a battle that still rages at Sunderland AFC on the pitch and behind the scenes, George isn’t simply the one that got away; he’s the one that was thrown out.
That he was sold at all was criminal, let alone that he was even denied the small comfort of knowing that his services were picked up for the premium his ability warranted.
In the end all we can do is be glad that our loss is his gain, even if it does mean we have to sit back and watch a prodigal son return to face us at a time when no club can say they’re safe. As always we wish him the utmost luck in his future endeavours, and I will always harbour a hope that we see him again in the red and white.