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Harrogate v Sunderland - Pre-Season Friendly

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Three reasons why this season could be the start of something special

Having watched the lads for more than 50 years, Kelvin Beattie is full of hopeful anticipation ahead of our season opener. And why not? If you look closely, there’s a hell of a lot to be positive about at SAFC.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

As season 21/22 gallops towards its start on Saturday and with the naysayers and doom-mongers cranking up their negativity on any social media platform that will have them, I find myself strangely looking forward to our fourth season in EFL 1.

Is this because I am a “happy clapper” (a label that says more about the person using it than the people it is aimed at) and delighted at the prospect of another season of League One slog?

Or is it because I have completely lost my bearings due to the pandemic, combined with far too many years of disappointment?

The answer is no to both.

I am feeling hopeful and anticipating a key period in our club’s history as we seek to turn the juggernaut that is Sunderland AFC in an upward direction.

To be succinct the reasons for my hope and anticipation are as follows...

I am intrigued by the backroom team assembled

KLD is not here to fail, and it would appear to me that the people who have followed him here are of a similar ilk. Lee Johnson has, of course, to win over his doubters and the work of Speakman et al will not be immediately apparent to us. I also have appreciated for the first time in perhaps a decade (even two!) that we are hearing and witnessing not just short-term reactionary measures, but a mid and long term strategy to develop and sustain the club going forward. I would cite the work being done to develop the under-23 squad and academy as evidence of this.

New Sunderland Manager Press Conference
Speakman and Johnson are the most visible components of a significant backroom restructure that’s taken place
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

I am pleased we have not signed players on inflated salaries

We’ve avoided buying players on high salaries who will not add to an increase in skill levels, players who won’t be capable of playing at a higher level, and players who are short-term fixes. The players we have signed so far look like they could play at a higher level and will bring something new to the existing squad. I am sure that we are not finished with incomings and believe it will take the whole of the transfer window for our careful business to be conducted, as Premier and Championship teams make decisions on which young players are going out on loan and the careful (less publicised) recruitment of our backroom team bears fruit. I expect to see at least a couple of young loan players as well as a permanent signing or two before the window closes. These are extraordinary times as we attempt to negotiate our way out of the pandemic. Patience and clever financial decisions are going to be required of all clubs, or I could see more going to the wall.

Sunderland AFC Announce Signing Of Alex Pritchard
Smart signing - Alex Pritchard
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Young players will finally get a chance

Perhaps though I am most excited/anticipatory about the young players from within whom it would appear are going to get “a good kick at the ball” this season.

Neil, Diamond, Patterson, Hawkes, Younger, Richardson and Almond all look like they could offer something to some degree or other. Embleton has looked at it in pre-season games and like Diamond will only get better the more he is played in the right position.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Papa John’s Trophy
Dan Neil’s been a pre-season fixture
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

My first full season supporting the Lads was 1966/67, I saw Colins Todd and Suggett, Billy Hughes and Bobby Kerr progress into the first team. It was exciting to see these young ’ins get their chance and despite the pressure of fighting for our First Division survival, they were well supported by the Roker crowd. I remember season 71/72 where Mick Horswill, Joe Bolton, Jackie Ashurst and Keith Coleman all came through from the junior ranks – it felt like we were doing something right in developing young players and giving them a chance.

I was lucky enough to see Mick Henderson, Gary Rowell, Tim Gilbert, Shaun Elliott, Kevin Arnott and Alan Brown all come through to the first team in consecutive seasons 75/76 – 76/77, Rob Hindmarch followed in 77/78 and Gordon Chisholm the following season.

I am not suggesting today’s crop of youngsters are as good as those I have mentioned (this is a debate for another day, as the game has changed so much in my opinion). I am suggesting that developing our own players is essential for the survival of the club and for the connection that many supporters feel towards “one of their own”.

I am looking forward to seeing these “young ’ins” given a good go and hope that the Roker faithful can get right behind them (win, draw or lose) and play our part – not only in their development but in the turning of the juggernaut towards better times.

Let’s enjoy being back in the stadium and do our bit on Saturday.


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