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About Jozy Altidore’s move to Sunderland: this is ALL about soccer

Jul 9, 2013, 5:20 PM EDT

Sunderland city

I’ve been to Sunderland. The people were warm – but the weather wasn’t.

The Stadium of Light is a lovely place – but it’s across the river from a town that is fairly, well, un-lovely, truth be known. A seaside resort town, it is not.

I was dispatched by American Way Magazine a few years ago to generate a feature-length story on the “relegation battle,” a concept most Americans know nothing about. So I went to Sunderland and spent a couple of days there around a match against Wigan, another side that never could quite move beyond swinging distance of the relegation dagger.

(Due to a hotel mix-up and a lack of rooms, I also had the unique experience of spending my last night at a $28 room on Sunderland’s gritty seaside. But that’s another story.)

(MORE: Altidore signing with Sunderland becomes official)

What I wrote about the city (with a population roughly equal to Anchorage, Alaska, or Lexington, Kentucky) in the article:

Sunderland (population 290,000) sits along England’s right flank in the industrial northeast. Here, and in many of this area’s midsize cities, the decline of heavy industry has struck like an economic hammer. Reductions in shipbuilding and coal mining have cost the Sunderland region about 30,000 jobs over the last couple decades or so, rendering the economy as grim as a crime scene.

 … The weather can be equally bleak. The average high temperature in December, January, and February is 42 degrees Fahrenheit. The frequent thick fog ensures a wet, cold draping and near-constant heavy-sweater weather.”

So I sat in places like the Roker Avenue pub or the Fort and shared beers with the locals. I learned about why they call Sunderland’s team the Mackems. (Well, they are only theories, really.) I heard the jokes about the hated team from neighboring Newcastle. I watched the grimaces as proud supporters told tales of “devastation” felt with Sunderland’s tumble down into the lower tiers, some from men who showed me the club’s badge tattooed over their heart.

I came to better understand how, in places like this, so much of the town’s collective self-image is tethered to soccer.

What I also wrote about the place Altidore will soon land:

So Sunderlanders live for their team. What else is there? Sunderland is to English football what Green Bay is to American football: a scrappy little bruiser of a city that manages through sports to keep fast company with the wealthy boys of the neighborhood.”

So, this is all about soccer for the U.S. striker. Altidore’s first professional stop was in the United States’ largest media market.


He moved to Spain, attempting to catch playing time in Villarreal along Spain’s sunny coast.

Even at Alkmaar, Altidore was spending his time off the field in a charming little Dutch town (pictured at right), just outside of Amsterdam and lined with picturesque canals.

I’m not saying any of those moves were about the scene … just saying that they weren’t notoriously lacking in glamour, either. Call it a “bonus.”

In moving to Sunderland, the man can scarcely be accused of looking for anything close to glamour or pretty things.  It’s about the opportunity for playing time in one of the world’s best leagues – and the aesthetics away from training ground clearly don’t matter.

Far more fashionable London may be calling one day. But for this day Altidore’s mind is clearly wrapped around his professional soccer career.

  1. mkbryant3 - Jul 9, 2013 at 5:36 PM

    Hmmmm. Sounds like porter/stout weather.

  2. bellerophon30 - Jul 9, 2013 at 6:33 PM

    Sounds like the Buffalo of the EPL.

    • travishenryskid - Jul 10, 2013 at 10:12 AM

      Poor weather: check
      Dying, rusty industrial town: check
      290,000 people: check
      Live and die by it’s sports teams that are the main link to the rest of the country: check

      Looks like I’m a Sunderland fan now. This is Buffalo’s English twin.

  3. talgrath - Jul 9, 2013 at 7:20 PM

    There’s a big difference between going to Sunderland and going to Green Bay though, Sunderland isn’t too far from some fairly sizable cities. Sunderland is a couple of hours drive from Manchester, a bustling city with some nightlife and things to do. You might not go there on a daily basis, but you could certainly go there when you have a day or two off. Sunderland is about five hours from London too, which isn’t too bad; if you have a match there you might be able to stay overnight or an extra day (depending on scheduling) to entertain yourself. If you’re out in Green Bay, the nearest city with real nightlife by car is Chicago, over three hours away in good weather (and the Green Bay area is notorious for serious snow). If I had to pick, I’d go with Sunderland over Green Bay, any day of the week.

  4. safcian - Jul 9, 2013 at 7:28 PM

    As a local Sunderland lad, i would not disagree with these comments, hardly a thriving metropolis is our little city, but we love it.
    The industrial demise during the 70’s and 80’s is something the area in general is still struggling to recover from but one thing you will find is the spirit in the North East is as strong as it ever was and a lot of this comes from the (mainly) humerous banter between us all.
    Some players have arrived here with no clue about the place but have come to love it as much as we do. I hope Jozy is another, there is a new scouting group and director of football at the club now and some of the players we have been liked with have opened a few eyes.
    Jozy should have some genuine talent around him by the time the season begins and we are all sitting and praying everyone gels quickly, if the coach has anything to do with it I doubt we will be bottom half of the table and a nice ‘middling’ position would make a nice change, anything 10th place or above would be an excellent season for us after recent years.

    • Steve Davis - Jul 9, 2013 at 7:36 PM

      Thanks for commenting … nice to have corroboration from someone in the city. I had a nice time there. Heck, the £19 room wasn’t even all that bad! It was directly over a nice pub, so that certainly helped.

      • safcian - Jul 10, 2013 at 6:35 AM

        I am glad you found the people ‘warm’, we pride ourselves on being a friendly lot and anyone not wearing a black and white football shirt is usually welcomed (the colours of our local rivals of course).
        hope we have a moderate bit of success soon and you can come back over to see how it can lift a city, our last trophy win way back in ’73 was amazing, the city was deserted and the welcome when the team returned was something special with thousands upon thousands lining the streets all along the few miles of the open top bus ride…a buzz that lasted for years.

  5. takethelongview - Jul 9, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    Steve, I would like to peruse that article about relegation! I am unfamiliar with American Way Magazine, though since you did not link to that article, I am guessing they don’t have an online edition or that the article is no longer available on their site. Anyway you can get their permission to post the text here, so that we could see it?

    • Steve Davis - Jul 9, 2013 at 9:02 PM

      Here ye go …

      • lunasceiling - Jul 10, 2013 at 1:37 AM

        Really enjoyable article, Steve. And you know…I think I’d like Sunderland. The kinda city I like, although I’m perfectly happy here in Stumptown.

      • takethelongview - Jul 10, 2013 at 2:42 PM

        Thanks. A good window into the realities of fan fervor.

  6. mvktr2 - Jul 10, 2013 at 1:35 AM

    Calling it the UK’s ‘rust belt’ would have sufficed to get the point across. Wishing Jozy all the best.

  7. nussdorferac - Jul 10, 2013 at 12:47 PM

    The fear is uncertainty with the manager. It’s ruined many a season.

  8. pjbowmaster - Jul 10, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    Talgrath, I’m wondering what type of “nightlife” you have to leave Green Bay and drive all the way to Chicago to find? Or are you just one of those East or West Coasters that think Chicago is the only oasis in the middle of Flyover Country…..

  9. charliej11 - Jul 10, 2013 at 9:40 PM

    Great article, both of them.

    Really does sum up the difference when the guy says there is more pressure in a relegation battle than a battle for winning it all. That idea is so un American it can’t even be fathomed by me. But, I guess it a league where the same team wins every year, they must not really care who wins ? Still bizarre.

  10. ubme4aday - Jul 16, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    There is a big difference between Green Bay and Sunderland. The Pack have won plenty of championships. Sunderland can only take pride in winning the Championship after being relegated with a league record of 3 wins the in the premiership the year before. The Packers average 3 wins a month. The Packers have gone to countless Super Bowls in nice places like LA and Miami. Sunderland doesn’t play in UEFA or Championship league so you will never see a Mackem in Milan.

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