Sunderland goalkeeper Ron-Thorben Hoffmann has a column in German football publication Kicker where he discusses his career at the Stadium of Light and life in general in the North East.
First the flood, then the crisis? After the water fight against Portsmouth with a really tough defeat, we were in a great mood in the games after that and won regularly, whether away or at home in the Stadium of Light, the stands are full. In one game I was voted Man of the Match, which makes me a bit proud.
No wonder, really, with these fans: when Falling in Love is heard from more than 30,000 throats, I still get goose bumps. And when the collective “come on!” is heard, the stadium literally shakes. It’s cool, or to say it with Sunderland’s musician Brian Ferry: “Don’t stop the Dance!
But the intensity of the English weeks, often with trips halfway across the island, is also enormous. And then - no ups without downs - things suddenly didn’t go so well.
In the league, we actually lost three games in a row. I also scored a real goal. In the 1:5 against promotion rivals Rotherham, the ball jumped off my foot. Sometimes just “kicking it away” is the best solution. And maybe that’s a bit symbolic. The third division doesn’t give you anything for pretty play. You have to fight, always hold your own, no heel-and-toe 1,2,3. I think we’ve learnt that and we’ve put it into practice well in the next games. One reason: The cohesion in the team is growing from day to day. So, as Brian Ferry would say: “Let’s stick together”.
The international break was certainly good for us too. And as far as life in England is concerned, I consciously used the days to “think outside the box”. I explored the “Forbidden City” Newcastle and was in London at the weekend. When you hear the news about Corona from Germany, it makes you very thoughtful. Here in the capital, the pandemic is barely noticeable - let’s see how long it will stay that way.
On the other hand, Brexit is sometimes encountered in a really curious way. At the petrol stations you were only allowed to fill up with 35 litres for a while, and in a few shops the shelves for some things were completely empty for a short time. Both phenomena show me how vulnerable we all are, globalisation and high-tech or not. And one should always be grateful for what one has and take nothing, really nothing, for granted.
Speaking of which. Many things are different in England. Not only the weather. First you have to find a house to rent, most English people buy or inherit the roof over their heads. Then organise electricity and gas, buy furniture. Without the fabulous Mr Henderson, all this would have been much, much harder. Brian Henderson is the father of former Sunderland player and Champions League winner Jordan Henderson, captain of the England national team.
Father Brian has always been loyal to the North and took me under his wing straight after I signed my contract - and also got me the house. He is one of the warmest and nicest people I have met and does everything for his club, AFC. He reminds me a bit of the “tiger” Hermann Gerland - simply a great person! As long as there are people like him, professional football will retain a bit of humanity - and that’s a good thing.