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Sheffield Wednesday v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Play-Off Semi Final 2nd Leg

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Alex Neil’s Sunderland: “A Terrible Beauty”

Another poem for a Wembley matchday, with a nod to WB Yeats.

Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

First the apologies. Poetry isn’t my thing, as will shortly become apparent, so in normal circumstances I’d never attempt to pen a line or two of verse, never mind partially plagiarise one of the greatest poets of all time.

To compound the sin, the subject matter of the original is politically sensitive, to say the least, and some may take offence at what they may perceive to be an attempt to equate the subjugation of the Irish to Sunderland’s four years of League One misery.

Apologies too to those who consider this a tempting of fate too far. It’s meant to depict the transformation the team has undergone to get here, win or lose, but I can see how it can come across as counting unhatched chickens.

My sole defence is that these aren’t normal times and we’re all prone to a little over-indulgence and exuberance ahead of our biggest game since last week.

Although most poetry goes over my head and I can mainly take it or leave it, Yeats’ Easter 1916 has always resonated with me. I’ve no real dog in the political fight from which it takes its inspiration but the impression of people transformed in the eyes of others, by their actions, is something to which the football fan in me can relate, if a little over-dramatically.

It seems to me particularly apt for a team that, whilst brimming with talent, suffered from a soft underbelly that has become armour-plated since Neil was appointed. Whether a bloodied Wright after Hillsborough or O’Nien clattering Bannan within minutes of the first leg, the impression created is of a more battle-hardened unit that can look after itself.

Being a flat-track bully is of little use when there are so few flat tracks in League One. If the Johnson era was typified by displays of fragile beauty, Yeats’ description of ‘terrible beauty’ aptly depicts the Neil reboot version.

So here it is. Anything good in this, I owe to Yeats. The bad is all on me.

Spring 2022

William Butler Yeats, Poet Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images

I’ve imagined them at close of play

Coming with vivid faces

From an underwhelming draw away

Wondering if they’d keep their places.

I’d greet them with a nod of the head

Or polite meaningless words,

Or would’ve lingered awhile and said

Polite meaningless words,

And thought before I had done

Of an ironic quip or cheap shot

To garner likes from the Twitter throng,

All cynical and disillusioned,

Being certain that they and I

Now lived where all hope is forlorn:

All changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

These three spent their formative years

With the promise of glory,

Their nights with increasing fears

Of too great expectations as their story.

What feet more sweet than theirs

When, weighed down by excess money,

They embarked upon their careers.

Another a lapsed Chairboy

Converted fully to our cause;

With an unlikely skipper and friend

Now coming into his force;

And local lads who may have to contend

With a gut-wrenching move

Should the dream finally end.

This Antipodean with much to prove,

Lacking finesse but large of heart

With his Pottery partner in crime.

Both playing their part

Ridding ridiculous from sublime.

Adding steel and grit to the start

That the Johnson reign began;

They, all, have been changed in their turn,

Transformed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone

Through winter and spring seem

By sheer will to have sown

Renewed faith in our team.

The daily commute, the chat down the pub,

The regular routine for them, him and her.

Alone with thoughts or with friends in a club,

Minute by minute the hope starts to stir;

The prospect of ending our exile

Increases minute by minute;

Tenacity, skill and guile,

With a streetwise ability to mix it;

An attitude screaming never-say-die,

Allied to genuine ability on the ball;

Minute by minute we live

As they stand tall in the midst of it all.

To suffer for so long

Shrouds hope with suspicion.

Yet so many false dawns

Give the real ones definition.

Late winners once or twice

Can be put down to chance

But luck cuts no ice

When habit leads the dance.

With forwards like that

Who needs luck?

When fullbacks overlap

Is all credit forsook?

For all that is done and said.

We know their mettle; enough

To know they’ll banish our dread;

To take the game by the scruff

Of its neck and whole head.

I write it out clear and stark—

Patterson and Pritchard

And Stewart and Clarke

Now and in time to be,

Wherever red ‘n white is worn,

Are changed, changed utterly:

A terrible beauty is born.

Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday - Sky Bet League 1 Play-Off S-F Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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