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 3, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT
Sour grapes from a manager who just lost his trophy.
May 3, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
One miss and you’re out. That’s the Louis van Gaal way.
May 3, 2015, 9:10 PM EDT
The combination of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins was too much to handle for NYCFC as the duo ran rampant at Yankee Stadium.
May 3, 2015, 8:40 PM EDT
Chelsea may have just won the title, but Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino are already looking ahead to next season.
May 3, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
John Carver is almost certainly on his way out at Newcastle United, but how quickly will the club make changes?
May 3, 2015, 7:03 PM EDT
It was far from pretty for Sporting KC, but three points is three points, as they say.
May 3, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
Catch up on all of Sunday’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.
May 3, 2015, 5:33 PM EDT
The Blues’ legend has had a hand in all four of Chelsea’s Premier League titles, but claims this one is special.
May 3, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Wilshere has been linked with a move to Manchester City, but his manager believes the midfielder will remain a Gunner.
May 3, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
The Chelsea captain had one of his best seasons in years, and took a jab at a former manager who said he couldn’t play twice in one week.
May 3, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
The former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder says he knew Chelsea was the place to go to win trophies in England, including the big one cliched Sunday.
May 3, 2015, 2:56 PM EDT
Eden Hazard was understandably jovial following Chelsea’s clinching of the Premier League title.
May 3, 2015, 2:19 PM EDT
The Bundesliga club barely escaped relegation last season, and now they’re trying to do it again.
May 3, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT
With the Premier League championship officially decided, let’s look back to seven defining moments of Chelsea’s league season.
May 3, 2015, 12:53 PM EDT
Sergio Aguero got the better of Harry Kane at White Hart Lane.
May 3, 2015, 11:35 AM EDT
The Chelsea manager was all business following Chelsea’s title-clinching win over Crystal Palace.
May 3, 2015, 10:57 AM EDT
The Blues held the top spot in the Premier League table almost wire-to-wire, as no one came close.
May 3, 2015, 10:35 AM EDT
Sergio Aguero and Manchester City travel to White Hart Lane looking to lock down the Premier League’s second place spot.
May 3, 2015, 10:23 AM EDT
Chelsea secured its fourth Premier League title, and Player of the Year Eden Hazard fittingly sealed the clinching win.
May 3, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT
A local club in the lower leagues of Polish soccer saw a supporter killed by riot police as fans tried to storm the field.
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