x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sunderland chance to go on song

As hosts Sunderland plot musical revenge against rivals Newcastle in Premier League, our columnist calls for subtlety in choice of ditty.

Newcastle fans were so ecstatic during their rout over Sunderland earlier this season, they sang along to Daydream Believer, which their arch rivals found humiliating. A musical revenge is on the cards. Steve Drew / EMPICS Sport
Newcastle fans were so ecstatic during their rout over Sunderland earlier this season, they sang along to Daydream Believer, which their arch rivals found humiliating. A musical revenge is on the cards. Steve Drew / EMPICS Sport

I cannot wait for the final whistle in tomorrow's Premier League clash between Sunderland and Newcastle United.

Normally, one longs for the end of such encounters because the reality of local derbies rarely lives up to the overcooked hype, particularly when an atmosphere-sapping midday kick-off is involved.

In this case, however, I am keen to discover what treasures Steve Bruce, the Sunderland manager, has unearthed from his record collection.

Bruce is allegedly plotting musical revenge on Newcastle for a song played over the St James' Park speakers following the reverse fixture earlier this season, which ended 5-1.

As the home support celebrated the humiliation, they sang along to Daydream Believer, by The Monkees. The 1967 single is traditionally used by Newcastle fans to taunt Sunderland, with adapted lyrics not fit for repetition in a family newspaper.

Bruce was reportedly upset by the incident because Newcastle appeared to deliberately orchestrate abuse of the away team, rather than doing what every other club does: pretending to disapprove while privately smirking.

He has a point. The Magpies' version of Daydream Believer is a particularly witless ditty.

Plus, it is not even unique to Newcastle. Variations on the same song are favoured by morons at many other clubs. So, if Sunderland win and Bruce does lash back with a song of his own choosing, then he should be more thoughtful.

A sly dig is often funnier - and more easily defended against a charge of inciting violence - than a blatant haymaker.

George Sephton, who has chosen the matchday music at Liverpool for 40 years, told me: "The trick is to be subtle. Just after Tom Hicks finally left the club last year, I played Where Have All The Cowboys Gone, by Paula Cole. Nobody argued with that one.

"And when we beat Manchester United at Anfield in 1992, which meant that Leeds had won the Premier League title, I just played the opening bars of Always Look On The Bright Side of Life, then turned it off. The crowd had already picked it up by then!"

Sephton also warned, however, that subtlety comes with its own hazards. Namely, that people will read malicious intent in songs chosen for innocent reasons.

He maintains that he never intended any hidden meaning when he played Leave Right Now, by Will Young, towards the end of Gerard Houllier's time.

Likewise, he insists that his recent playing of When Will I See You Again was not a coded message to the beleaguered manager Roy Hodgson, now departed, but the fault of a mislabelled CD.

As for blasting out Arrivederci Roma after Liverpool beat Roma en route to the Uefa Cup in 2001: "That song is very complimentary about Rome, it meant we look forward to seeing your beautiful city again very soon."

So if Bruce wants to make a subtle dig, he should ignore obvious choices, like Crying, by Roy Orbison (Newcastle fans have a habit of weeping) or even the Baha Men's Who Let the Dogs Out (a reference to reported remarks by former Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd about the physical appearance of his own female fans).

No, for an ultra subtle dig at Newcastle, a club which has always overestimated its own size and significance, just play anything from the 1990 album Flood. The band? They Might Be Giants.

Ferrari’s parental guidance will ensure Alonso gets all the toys

The Ferrari Formula One team were enjoying a ski holiday on the slopes of the Dolomites this week.

Well, I say “enjoying”, but it must have been hard for Felipe Massa to maintain his spirits with golden boy Fernando Alonso on the scene. Have you ever been on holiday with a favoured sibling?

“No, Felipe, let Fernando have the carving skis, you can use this pair of old planks. No, Felipe, Fernando must have the first chairlift. Yes, Felipe, of course you can have the last meatball. Just as long as Fernando does not want it.”

When Alonso declared that Michael Schumacher was his greatest rival for the world championship this season, some wags suggested he must have fallen on a black run and bumped his head. I suspected that Massa may have simply clobbered him with one of those planks.

But there was no head injury and Alonso, as ever, had full control of his senses.

Praising Schumacher was a wily move by the Spaniard because it sounds like a credible answer – yes, it is just about credible, when you consider that Schumacher will be driving a better car with improved Pirelli tyres and a power booster button – but one which allows him to play his cards close to his chest.

Logic suggests he must surely be more fearful of Sebastian Vettel, who beat him to the title last season and was easily the fastest driver. Also, the McLaren-Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button must be a greater threat than old Schuey. But why bolster their self-confidence by telling them so?

Far better to lavish praise upon a noble old warhorse who is destined for pasture, while secretly plotting how to beat your true rivals. Oh well, at least he knows one young driver who poses no threat.

“No, Felipe, let Fernando win the race.”

sports@thenational.ae