David Preece: North East once a hot bed of football, now it’s being dragged across the coals

Sam Allardyce, when times were good on Wearside.
Sam Allardyce, when times were good on Wearside.
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It all started so well. The alarm on my iPhone went off at 6.30am. I’d left the curtains open so the sunlight would force me up and out of bed. It did.

And as I looked out of the window across North London, the sky was a strangely beautiful shade of pink.

Perhaps it always is, but I never usually wake up before 7am, so how would I know?

Whatever the sky usually looks like at that time of the day, it put me into something else I was unfamiliar with at that time of the day; a good mood.

I know the saying goes “Red sky in morning, sailor’s warning” and I should have taken heed, but this was pink, I thought, and I’m not a sailor.

What I didn’t know was that the pink tint behind the clouds was caused by the diluted blood dripping down from the gaping wound that is North East football right now.

A week is a long time in football, so 12 months might as well be a light year for all that’s happened between this year and last up here.

Sunderland were on the brink of survival last April and looking forward to mid-table obsecurity* under Sam Allardyce.

Sam. Good old Sam. The biggest of all Sams. Big ‘I do what it says on the tin or your money back’ Sam. I miss Big Sam.

A year on our manager has, somewhat ironically, been slapped with an FA charge over comments made to Vicki Sparks and we’re anchored to the foot of a table like a mafia grass wearing concrete boots in the Hudson River.

This time last year, Middlesbrough as a club were like the contestants in the dome at the end of the Crystal Maze with Premier League pound notes flying around their ears.

I hesitate to criticise them because they are such a well-run club with an owner as amiable as he is admirable, yet you get the sense that they have gone through this season without really giving themselves any real chance of survival.

Cautious in their approach, the damage caused by draws didn’t give Steve Agnew much of a chance in his first shot at management when it came. Which is a real shame.

Aggers is the type of person you will to do well. Half of the dressing room’s popular comedy act with Martin Scott during their time there, he’s responsible for me being able to recite the whole of the football scene in Kes and from everyone I’d spoken to at Middlesbrough and his previous club, Hull City, he was more than well-equipped to fill Aitor Karanka’s boots.

I’ve got my fingers crossed that he gets the chance to do more than just try them on.

Even Newcastle, after a dire season knew they could look forward to the season that has transpired as long as they could keep hold of Lord Rafael Benitez of Benwell.

The only fear for everyone at St James’s was whether they could keep him and sadly those fears have never dissipated.

Even before yesterday’s HMRC revelations, the ambiguity in his answers left no-one 100% confident in their manager’s near future.

Anyway, for me the biggest question that I’m left asking myself is how Lee Charnley is a year younger than me!

Like a rewrite of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ only there’s an oil painting of Charnley in his attic where he gets younger and more handsome by the day.

Down the A19, Hartlepool consolidated enough to steer clear of danger from the drop into the National League and delayed Jeff Stelling’s live on-air impression of an active Mount Etna for another year.

Two games to go and, with all due respect, they’ve handed responsibility of their survival to a 30-year-old defender with no experience of football league management.

And while this could be the making of Matthew Bates, it’s a hell of a burden to have a relegation on your CV before your coaching career has started in earnest.

I’ve got my fingers crossed for him that his side are at the races when they face relegation rivals Cheltenham this Saturday.

Martin Gray and Brian Atkinson were busy masterminding Darlington’s regeneration, building them back up from the ashes of administration and guiding them to the sixth tier of English football, where they have competed with the riches of AFC Fylde and the Class of ’92-backed Salford City.

Sitting comfortably in a play-off place, they were recently informed of a change in rules last May regarding required seating needed for promotion - meaning that they would not be allowed to participate in the play-offs, should they stay in that position.

A careless oversight? Maybe, but unless their appeal against the decision is won then I can’t imagine how angry and disappointed Martin will be.

He’s an acutely ambitious manager and another promotion would further steel his reputation as one of the region’s brightest managerial prospects.

That one may still end on a happy note, but if news elsewhere is anything to go by, I won’t be holding out for good luck to win the day.

Thank God for Blyth Spartans, South Shields and Spennymoor, eh?

It’s early afternoon now, and the sky is no longer pink. It’s a murky grey with no prospect of sunshine.

Sounds just about right for the tone of the time. ‘A hotbed of football’ is how we’re famously known.

Maybe that needs reworking too.

The North East, the hot coals of English football. And now we’re being dragged across them.

* mid-table obscurity + security.