A SLURRY welcome from several sunburned faces greeted the Sunderland team coach as it rounded the corner to the Albufeira Stadium last night.
It’s easy to see why several hundred Sunderland supporters have made the trip to the Algarve.
The grog runs pretty constantly for a modest amount of Euros in the neon-light decorated hotspot of Albufeira and the opening hours go on and on and on and on and on.
When some sustenance is needed to soak up the ale, you don’t have to look too far for an all-day English breakfast (2.5 Euros for those interested, plus free wi-fi - that’s value).
But the delights of an all-dayer on the Super Bock lager will go undiscovered for Gus Poyet’s squad.
Sunderland are based further down the coast, well away from all the mayhem, at a 1970s-style hotel complex.
But while the decor may be dated, the players are facing that timeless pre-season tradition of good old hard work.
Double training sessions - one in the morning, one in the afternoon - remains the schedule for Gus Poyet’s men in the blistering Portugese sun.
This might just be one of those few occasions when Joe Bloggs has it better than their Premier League idols.
SUNDERLAND fans have been at their most creative best during pre-season.
In the opening friendly against Darlington 1883, Connor Wickham’s had a chuckle at the “Connor, the champagne’s on you” chant.
And last night, Billy Jones became the subject of the licence for lyrical conjuring.
“Super Billy Jones, Super Billy Jones, signed him on a free, who the **** is he?”
We wait to see if it catches on.
The players enjoyed the banter.
They loved it even more when Costel Pantilimon’s plastic chair broke from underneath him.
“He breaks what he wants, he breaks what he wants, Costel Pantilimon, he breaks what he wants,” they sang. Heartily.
A PAIR of flip-flops lay discarded in the long jump pit.
The pole vault mat, which had long ago seen better days, had a mouldy aura as it basked in the sun.
And don’t even think about what lies in the water jump pit for the steeplechase.
Yes, the Estadio Municipal de Albufeira has that classic Continental look - the tired athletics stadium which doubles as a football ground, complete with running track etc.
Think Gateshead Stadium in the sun and you’re not too far off.
But fair play to those first-teamers who only had a watching brief from the stands last night.
There was no hint of them ignoring the Sunderland fans who have travelled out here.
They were more than happy to spend several minutes chatting before the game, signing autographs and posing for photographs.
There was more than a slight snigger among them too when a giant phallic inflatable arrived, decorated with an FTM slogan.