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England v New Zealand - First LV= Insurance Test Match: Day Three

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The Deadzone: Cricket, concerts, ownership speculation & transfer rumours can’t fill the void...

Two weeks with no Sunderland games and a long Bank Holiday weekend has left Davey reflecting on the empty space left in our lives in the summer months.

Photo by Gareth Copley - ECB/ECB via Getty Images

Oh, Matty Potts. you wonderful Mackem... you’ve been a welcome distraction these last few days.

May you not have to bat this Sunday morning and may those seven wickets at Lord’s be the first of many that we get to bask in the reflected glory of, safe in the knowledge that, once again, one of our own is showing the rest of England how to get the business done.

The young Durham fast bowler is the latest in a long line that proves the land between the Tyne and the Tees produces the best sportspeople in country.

England v New Zealand - First LV= Insurance Test Match: Day Two
Durham’s finest...
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

For those of us for whom the attributes of talent, ability, dedication, skill and performance on the big stage - rather than longevity and accidents of birth - are the things worth celebrating in life, this June we’re left looking towards the cricket pitch and the musical stage for inspiration.

Music will always be an escape for those seeking carefree distraction and an opportunity for chemically altered escapism. Knebworth looks like it was fun, and the superb staging at the Stadium of Light for Ed Sheeran and guests seems to have throughly entertained the over 100,000 concert goers.... but neither are particularly to my taste these days. Bring on Little Simz, Róisín Murphy and Bicep at Glastonbury, then Groove Armada and Bjork at Jodrell Bank in July, I say!

Though thoroughly different, Test match cricket has many of the same essential attributes; the choreographed drama, the technical artistry and virtuosity (along with the price tag) of a big stadium concert.

I love the game dearly and it has proved the backdrop for many an inebriated weekend with my mates down the years, but does the result of a single England test match really matter in the same way as Sunderland beating Gillingham in League One or Sheffield United in the Women’s Championship?

I must admit it does not - or at least it hasn’t since that glorious summer of 2005; halcyon days, indeed. Like a headline gig, I expect entertainment but whatever happens, and whether I’m there in person or watching on the TV, I’m basically in it for the experience.

After the coverage of the third day of the test finished on Saturday afternoon, I flicked through the sports channels and stumbled upon a proper treat - highlights of Sunderland’s playoff win at Wembley on Sky.

Now, like many I’ve seen the clips over and again on my phone these last couple of weeks, listened to the podcasts, been through the pictures, talked about it with friends and family.

We’re all clinging desperately to that joyous feeling, that overwhelming sense of relief, that disorientating emotion that comes with having actually won at Wembley and having finally escaped the footballing purgatory of League One. The collective achievement is immense and incomparable.

Watching it back again on the big telly, I couldn’t help but wince as Sam Vokes went through on goal and be delighted when the ball somehow stuck under Patto’s leg. I was still gutted that Stewart headed that one wide in the second half, and I remain livid that we didn’t get a penalty when Roberts was sandwiched between two Wycombe defenders.

And I cheered out loud and punched the air when the second Sunderland goal went in... man, being there for that moment was the best feeling I’ve had in football for decades. But after watching the highlights I was left with a sense of melancholy...

Sunderland v Wycombe Wanderers - Sky Bet League One - Play Off - Final - Wembley Stadium Photo by Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images

Despite two weeks having passed, it’s already starting to seem like an age ago. Since then we’ve had the release of the retained and released list, the news that it seems finally Donald and Methven are selling up, rumours of impending deals for our successful Premier League loanees... nothing solid, nothing tangible, nothing as golden and untainted as that moment when the final whistle went at Wembley.

None of this is actually what we really want out of football. It is the drama of the whole tournament or season, the joy of the win in a game that really matters, the collective, partisan, precious sense of ownership over the result, which is the essence of the entertainment it provides and the loyalty it invokes in us.

Yes, it would have been nice if Ross Stewart had got his opportunity for Scotland against Ukraine the other day, and if Nathan Broadhead had been fit for this afternoon’s final World Cup playoff match I’m sure it would have added that extra edge to the game for many Sunderland supporters.

But once that one big game in Cardiff is over this evening, all any football fans are going to be left with this June is England men’s Nations League game against Germany (and, really, who cares about the Nations League) and a few warm up matches for the Lionesses ahead of next month’s Euros. We are now entering the deadzone.

Hungary v England: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 3
Nations League... what’s the point?
Photo by Visionhaus/Getty Images

So we look for distractions. We enter ridiculous online arguments with sexist and racist idiots. We enjoy the schadenfreude of those clips of the Prime Minister being humiliated on the steps of St Paul’s and goggle at the unashamed misinformation coming from those who are literally in charge of media and sport in the UK. When the play is over in the Test match we watch Derbyshire play Nottinghamshire in the Twenty20 cup because the alternative is, well, “Platty Jubes”...

We remind ourselves that football in all of its wonderful guises will be back in July, and before then we will have kit launches and scarf pictures and even, possibly, another billionaire in the Sunderland boardroom... but it’s just not the same as the beautiful game itself, and I miss it.


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