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.
May 24, 2015, 5:25 PM EDT
Manchester City ended its Premier League season in second place, and manager Manuel Pellegrini is optimistic about his job safety.
May 24, 2015, 4:25 PM EDT
Dortmund has its first signing in the post-Klopp era.
May 24, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
With 90 minutes at Wembley to prove they’re worthy of the Premier League, the third and fourth place finishers in the Championship do battle with promotion on the line.
May 24, 2015, 3:00 PM EDT
In case you missed anything, here’s what happened on the final day of the PL season.
May 24, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT
The club won just three of its final 14 matches, nosediving out of a Champions League position and leaving the manager without a job.
May 24, 2015, 2:15 PM EDT
Red Devils boss talks about the futures of DDG and Falcao.
May 24, 2015, 2:07 PM EDT
This summer will be key, especially if Middlesbrough brings another set of Northeast Derbies to the Premier League. What’s next for Newcastle?
May 24, 2015, 1:45 PM EDT
Arsenal finished the season in third place and put on a good showing in their final match of the season.
May 24, 2015, 1:21 PM EDT
It was almost like Stoke wanted him to score.
May 24, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
After 380 PL games, here’s how things finished.
May 24, 2015, 1:04 PM EDT
The Liverpool manager knows he could have hurt his position today with a 6-1 thumping at the hands of Stoke City on the season’s final day.
May 24, 2015, 1:03 PM EDT
The Blues hoist the trophy in front of their own fans in west London.
May 24, 2015, 12:45 PM EDT
Hull spent on Abel Hernandez and others in a relatively splashy summer, but still sink into the second tier.
May 24, 2015, 12:36 PM EDT
A resilient John Carver, buoyed by Newcastle United avoiding the drop, has reiterated his desire to lead the Premier League club.
May 24, 2015, 12:35 PM EDT
Clarets sign off with a win as Villa go into FA Cup final on the back of two-straight defeats.
May 24, 2015, 12:27 PM EDT
West Ham released a statement on Allardyce’s removal seconds after Sunday’s final whistle.
May 24, 2015, 12:24 PM EDT
Saints must wait for Europa League spot, as Lampard signs off in style.
May 24, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT
Tigers relegated after throwing everything at United.
May 24, 2015, 12:15 PM EDT
Kane nodded home an Eric Dier cross to give Spurs a lead, and Tottenham controlled possession for most of the match in holding on for all three points.
May 24, 2015, 12:08 PM EDT
Marouane Chamakh netted the only goal of a relatively friendly match before injuring himself shortly after.
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