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Barnesy’s Blog: 20 years of Barnes and Benno, Sunderland’s longest running commentary team!

Instead of talking about the most burning topic on the lips of Sunderland supporters - strikers - Barnesy’s decided this month to chat about something closer to his heart... 20 years of Barnes and Benno!

We’re underway.

Three matches in, and three defeats... and time for me to write my latest blog. Ouch.

So I’m going to swerve the speculation and the rumours because it’s screamingly obvious to everyone, yes everyone, we need a striker. Probably two. Until that happens we will be mired in angst, anger, admonishment and argument.

Instead, I’m going to reflect on the fact that this is Benno and I’s twenty-first season, our twentieth year covering Sunderland and in October we will hit the landmark of a thousand Sunderland matches.

Our thousandth will ironically be at Stoke City on October 21st. I know this because I have kept a meticulous list of all my commentary matches from the very first I did in February 1990 at Brunton Park. A 1-0 win for Carlisle United against Exeter City with the two vying for promotion from the then Division 4. It was Exeter who went up as champions. Carlisle fell away following a few matches later when an injury to the former Sunderland defender, sadly now no longer with us, Nigel Saddington, ruled him out for the remainder of the season.

Hence forwards I have kept a notebook(s) with every match on which I have commentated, with the tally now at 1593.

Our first Sunderland match was at Kilmarnock in pre-season ahead of the 2003-2004 campaign, though I had previously commentated on Sunderland matches in the FA Cup against Carlisle, at Spurs in the League Cup as a stand-in for the then commentator John Cairns, and then on a number of occasions when the then incumbent Andrew Dalby left the BBC. One of those matches was at West Ham when Sunderland could have topped the Premier League but for a late West Ham equaliser which saw the match end 1-1.

We’ve never had much joy at West Ham. On another occasion, we were at Upton Park and an hour or so before kick off all the lines in the press box went down. It transpired someone had cleaved the cables building the Olympic Stadium in Stratford and we had to do the whole match on two mobile phones. Then would you believe it, we were in the new stadium for the first time and the same thing happened again! This time BT managed to knit together some wires and we managed to limp on air.

We have never been late for a game but suffered a narrow escape on our way to Everton one wet Sunday. It was a lunchtime kick off and as we approached Bradford on the M62 it became apparent there were delays ahead. Significant delays. In fact so significant had we stayed on the M62 we’d still be there now.

So we came off and went on tour through Sowerby Bridge, Hebden Bridge, Todmorden and Burnley in the pouring rain behind a slow moving milk tanker. Lovely towns ordinarily. But not when the clock is ticking. We arrived at the Anfield car park with twenty minutes to spare. Never have I hated the walk through the park so much as that day in the rain as I dragged my unfit body with all the gear to Goodison. We made it though. Just. I don’t remember the result but it was probably not worth the stress.

Everton FC v Fulham FC - Premier League Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

At Turf Moor one afternoon our commentary was punctuated by the very raucous rantings of a Burnley fan to our left across the step that separated us. He was far from complimentary and when half time approached I feared the worst. Benno was the wrong side of me to act as my protector, and sure enough as soon as the break arrived the Burnley fan leaned across the divide and bellowed in my face, “You two! …… You two! …… are the best dressed commentators I have ever seen here!”. Well, would you know it.

One bizarre afternoon at Ninian Park we endured rain, snow, sun and a howling wind. As always in Cardiff it was freezing too and this was in April. It was in April the match against Fulham was abandoned at the Stadium of Light in a snowstorm. Snowflakes resting on Kevin Ball’s head on the touchline.

Last season we were staying in Coventry ahead of the lunchtime kick off. We left for the stadium and entered the co-ordinates for Coventry City in the sat-nav. We were technically a stone’s throw away so I was somewhat mystified fifteen minutes later as we headed through a deserted business estate and onto the road to Rugby. The sat-nav ushered us to u-turn. Then took us into a very picturesque village and along a narrow country lane. “You are now at your destination”. We looked to our left. A big sign informed us we had arrived at the Coventry City training ground. Bugger.

And so to season twenty one. What could possibly go wrong?!! We’ve been through eighteen managers and nine caretakers (Kevin Ball twice) in twenty years. I have no idea how many players, though it was interesting to hear Lee Cattermole on his recent appearance on BBC Radio Newcastle’s Total Sport reel off the number he’d played with in his ten years at the club. 144!

Anyway, what was I saying about strikers?


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