Jul 9, 2013, 5:20 PM EDT
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.)
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.
Jul 29, 2014, 12:37 AM EDT
Sounders’ tendency to collapse resurfaces during the Galaxy’s biggest win of the season.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:07 PM EDT
A terrible move could get worse if Chelsea can’t move the Spanish striker.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:13 PM EDT
Belgian international intends to stay at White Hart Lane, with a new, five-year deal on the table.
Jul 28, 2014, 9:17 PM EDT
Napoli, Borussia Dortmund linked to the potential United castoffs.
Jul 28, 2014, 8:22 PM EDT
Colombian international expected to play Saturday against Valencia.
Jul 28, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT
Time in the NASL will give the 24-year-old needed minutes.
Jul 28, 2014, 6:48 PM EDT
Brazilian’s injury testing United’s depth on the right side.
Jul 28, 2014, 5:54 PM EDT
U.S. international’s knee surgery will sideline him for “several weeks.”
Jul 28, 2014, 4:57 PM EDT
Two Saints look to follow their former manager to North London.
Jul 28, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT
Timber’s game-winning goal in Montréal separated him from a tight field.
Jul 28, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
After two on-pitch selfie’s occur with players over the weekend, security needs to be stepped up.
Jul 28, 2014, 2:50 PM EDT
Could Neymar represent Brazil at the 2016 Olympics in Rio?
Jul 28, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
Besic, 21, has signed a five-year deal with the Toffees.
Jul 28, 2014, 1:43 PM EDT
Bale smashes in an absolute beauty from distance. Check it out, here.
Jul 28, 2014, 12:58 PM EDT
After selling over $170 million of talent so far this summer, what are Saints playing at?
Jul 28, 2014, 11:52 AM EDT
Boyd out after injury in Queens Park Rangers friendly.
Jul 28, 2014, 11:25 AM EDT
He may be one of the best soccer players the planet has ever seen, but Messi is not above the law.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:51 AM EDT
Arsenal splash the cash to sign 19-year-old Southampton academy graduate.
Jul 28, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT
Did Remy fail a medical at Liverpool? ‘Arry isn’t buying it.
Jul 28, 2014, 9:20 AM EDT
Clegg, Downing Street, discuss Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup.
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