A rare night out socially presented itself as we try to ease out of pandemic mode the other Friday. The delightfully orthodox Blackhill Comrades Club was the venue for the Consett Branch fundraiser – Kevin Phillips was the star turn and the local hospice (Willow Burn) was to be the beneficiary of funds raised.
I am a new member of the Consett branch having only recently moved to the area. The branch runs two buses to home games and a bus to some away games. I was keen to go and support the cause, as well as get to know a few more of the members.
I was a member of the large and very well-run Morpeth branch in the ’70s before I moved to Scotland for nigh-on 40 years and had not been to a Supporters Club function in all that time. I had also never heard Kevin Phillips speak before (other than his TV punditry).
I found Phillips surprisingly open and humorous about his career, nothing like his rather austere and precise TV punditry. He looked in seriously good nick, tanned and slim and belying his 48 years of age – he could have been a first-team player.
I learnt a few things about Super Kev I did not know. He confirmed that he did indeed clean Alan Shearer’s boots as an apprentice at Southampton.
His debut for Watford in 94/95 was against… Sunderland (who won with a Craig Russell goal at Vicarage Rd).
His league debut for Sunderland did not quite go as planned. Having prepared all week for the away game at Sheffield Utd and the first game of the 97/98 season, he had somehow lost track until very late in that week of the fact he was still suspended. He had not enjoyed telling Reidy!
Phillips was both amusing and warmly appreciative of Niall Quinn. He told some amusing anecdotes about “Disco Pants”. I was amazed to learn that they never really worked on their partnership, Super Kev described it as “a lucky coming together”!
To much laughter, he told us that his sister had played at Wembley before him and that she never let him forget it! He was delightfully humble about his England debut and the reception he got from the Stadium of Light crowd. He re-lived some of his best and most important goals and took us all back with him to those treasured moments. He also led us all in one of our favourite songs about one of our nearest and dearest... he knows all the words. His obvious affection for Reidy and Sacko shone through on several occasions, he clearly rated them both as pivotal in his career and very good at what they did.
I had not realised what a close relationship he had with Alex Rae during his time at the club. He drew warm applause from the audience as he touched on Rae’s difficulties. His respect for Rae was obvious as he confirmed Rae’s rehabilitation journey and the effort this had taken.
There were many other anecdotes and stories, and what did strike me was his genuine affection for our club and its supporters. He posed patiently for photos and autographs, and I think left us all proud of the little forward who had defied those that had told him he was too small and not strong enough to go on and become an England international, Golden Boot winner as well as one of our genuine legends, scoring 113 goals in 208 appearances.
Sunderland COO Steve Davison and supporter liaison officer Chris Waters were also in attendance. Steve spoke briefly but warmly, assuring us of his best efforts as a Sunderland fan himself to get the club back to where it belongs. Not just to the premier, but thoroughly re-connected with its fan base. The fact he was out in Consett this Friday night perhaps evidencing his efforts.
I was very impressed with Chris Waters. He knew the first names of many I heard him speaking to as he moved around the tables and seemed down to earth and genuinely enjoying his night with the Consett Branch. He appears a good ambassador for the club and like Super Kev, he is a good finisher…. of tasks and work on our behalf. I think we are lucky to have him in “our corner”.
As the night drew to a close it seemed to me it had been a win/win & win/win evening.
Win: Super Kev had entertained us.
Win: Steve Davison and Chris Waters had reassured us.
Win: Willow Burn Hospice had benefitted from the generosity of the audience, facilitated by a hard-working committee.
Win: I had enjoyed my night with my new branch, who seemed a right friendly gregarious crew.
It was good to be out and about among my fellow fans, the accents are marginally different, but the banter and hope are very familiar. There was something else aboard in that concert room that has not been that obvious these last few years… a palpable sense of optimism.
Bring it on!