Muers, Richardson, Stoker, McConville

Muers, Richardson, Stoker, McConvilleAnother average season from Sassco, blighted by inconsistency. Unlike previous seasons, this campaign saw some heavy defeats against teams, transformed by handsome wins or, at least, massive improvements in results and performances over the same teams and superior teams a few weeks later.

The pre-season programme was full again; totalling nine games against teams who were in stronger leagues. The team were donning a new jersey and had secured another new sponsor in iKobo, a finance company based in Atlanta, Georgia and also Florida. The players added were returns for Wayne Greenwell, with Neil Richardson coming in for pre-season games (due to a competitive ban) as well as Paul McConville as a non-regular player. Gareth Stoker came in for a centre half berth. Andy Swinhoe also made a return as a regular player along with Mickey Pearson. And Stephen Lewis also returned after warming Redhouse FC’s bench. A unique feature seems to be past Sassco players wanting to return. On the opposite end, Andy Farrer, Andy Reay with Gav Brown were all gone. Also missing was Mark Middlemiss, albeit for a few returns. Jamie Wilson was also absent apart from a solitary appearance.

So, unlike last pre-season, the team was reasonably set for the marathon of games on artificial turfs in and around the region. A heavy hammering off Shildon was one of the notable ones. But battling performances against Rutherford AFC, Redhouse FC and Sunderland South were augmented with excellent wins over Washington Colliery, Whitley Bay Deaf and Forest Hall FC.

The most devastating defeat was actually the 11-a-side team losing to a Sassco B team, cobbled together with ex-players and player from the Sassco leagues. The poor A v B defeat helped in our first game, as confidence was questioned. Sassco blitzed Park View 8-0 away from home. However, after this, we had a poor game at Hylton CW with a depleted team and a 3-1 defeat. The big disaster came away to Sporting Redhouse with a heavy defeat, despite leading. This was mainly due to sending offs, substitutions and injuries, as the team only had nine fit players for the majority of the second half.

After this it was a record win against Sportsmans Arms (a team later removed from the League), with Steve Stubbs making a return. And then the best so far in the Cup against Blue Bell (3-1). Overconfidence nearly led to a home defeat against Traveller’s, but the team 2-0 down and 3-2 down clawed it back to 3-3 (with Lewis scoring two comeback goals).

By now, the team was suffering it’s typical share of player losses. Lewis became disillusioned again and vanished from view. Gareth Stoker was banned for several games. Critically, Dave Graham was missing more and more, and we didn’t have a ready placed replacement.

Then, in November, it was the logistically successful Malta Trip. Three games in three days fulfilled one of the many ambitions I had for Sassco. The results were three expected defeats, but overall the tour was so successful that a Portugal Tour is to take place in October 2009. Dave Gourlay was appointed as Team Coach for the tour and the system seemed to work, so he was appointed on a full-time basis, with myself being solely in charge of bringing together the best 14 players for Gourlay to work with.

Coming back from Malta, the team was caught cold in an away game to Seaham as Cresswell was poached by Hylton Castle (finally). It was then that I called on Jimmy Raeper to return. Craig Charlton also heard about it and requested to join. Charlie transferred from Redhouse and Jimmy came in for the final games in 2008. However, they joined at a poor time. Player shortages starting to occur and we played several important games with what I would call a second string side, or the bare eleven. I started making appearances which is a clear sign of something going wrong.

The Seaham defeat was followed by a heavy Cup defeat to Mountain Daisy in appalling, freezing weather. Pearson also left the team as a regular player.

A mid season game took place against Ovi’s disorganised NaSA team. An easy  win with Raeper and Charlton featuring. This led to a full team easily defeating travellers 4-2 in a Cup Competition. This was followed by a lucky 1-1 draw at home to Cambridge Hotel and a 6-3 win over Times Inn, which saw Anthony Pearson grab a hat-trick in front of the cameras. The games against Sportman’s, Traveller’s and Times Inn were captured on video (available in the Media section) as well as the complete Malta Tour. Back to reality, a good January, which is traditionally poor for Sassco, was followed by a disastrous February.

It was after Christmas when the real problems started occurring. Cresswell leaving left a bit of a void. Also, Stephen Lewis, who re-joined with such fanfare went missing – mainly down to work issues, but probably due to the fact that he wasn’t given the red carpet treatment and seemed to be jealous of Dave Gourlay for some apparent reason.

With the poor weather, several games were called off, thus creating a backlog.

Two heavy defeat in February with depleted sides (1-5 v Hyltion and 1-8 v Colonel Prior – both in the Cup), saw Craig Charlton leave the team (again), but Brian Marley and Andy Farrer making emergency appearances, along with Neil Richardson, due to his ban being lifted. An important win, 3-1 away to Cambridge (which saw Swinhoe playing his last game) revitalised the side, but another setback saw Travellers defeat Sassco, 5-2 away, with Steve Conlin making his first appearance; sourced by Jimmy. A poor squad saw Sassco lose at home to  the Seaham Times Inn, and it was obvious changes needed to be made.

The form was upturned and the best came with 4-1 home win over Usworth, with Kyle Robinson shocking the footballing world by making a return with Sassco. He was sold on the fake club vision by McDermont and this seemed to settle the squad. By this time, Dave Graham’s appearances were limited, Tim failed to show for several games and Stoker was banned again. In the Usworth game Rikki Kennedy made his debut, and Dave Simpson saved his first ever penalty with the scored tied at 1-1. However, the most important result in terms of a watershed moment came after a chaotic midweek 10-0 defeat to Hylton. This was after a superb 2-2 draw v runaway leaders, Sporting (when 2-0 down). This heavy defeat resulted in Dave Gourlay stepping down as Team Coach. I returned as Interim coach (with a 3-2 away win over Usworth) before making a controversial appointment of Neil Richardson as Team Coach (initially until the end of the season). Marc McDermont was also ejected from the team, but apologised and made a return.

However, for Richardson; his first task was to mould the weakest possible Sassco team on a Wednesday evening against The Fort, a team unbeaten in several games. Greenwell, due to the heavy midweek defeat and complaints about Neil Richardson refused to play for him and demanded a change (despite being aware of the change the night before). But Sangha backed his Coach and Greenwell was removed from the team five minutes before kick off. The ten men made a brave stand to gain a 2-2 draw against The Fort. Greenwell was told to apologise to Neil Richardson (his Team Coach) and the team, if he wanted to come back. The Sassco management always stand their ground and the majority of the players had a “stick two fingers up at Greenwell” attitude and were pleased he had left.

After this, things went on the up. Both McConville and Pearson made more regular appearances and we weren’t short for the rest of the season. A win over Country Park Inn was followed by a best performance away to the Fort (6-4). However, it all collapsed when a full and overconfident team were defeated 4-3 by the bottom team and everyone turned on the stubborn Nelly in the changing rooms. I then made the decision to take control of the team again. Nelly obviously wanted better players so he was hampered with the squad chosen for him. However, I didn’t want to change things, so decided that it’s best I pick the squad and the team.

We defeated Park View 3-0, with a wonder goal from Dave Graham, who spent the rest of the half asking people if they wanted his autograph. Then a midweek performance v Hylton CW was vastly improved despite a first half 2-0 deficit. Sassco dominated the second half but failed to score despite at least a dozen good chances.

The final game saw a reasonably full complement easily beat Country Park Inn, with a staggering four goals from Jimmy. The end of season enjoyment was somewhat lowered by Brian Watson’s announcement that he had to stand down as Team Sec. due to other commitments.

Marc McDermont headed the goal scoring list with twelve goals, but Jimmy was close behind him. Gareth Stoker was voted Player of the Season with 8 votes, which is 38%. Dave Gourlay, winner every year since 2005, got 5 votes, which is 24%.

Other things of note were that we had our Charter Standard award renewed. Sponsorship was also renewed and a new away kit was obtained. The website is still gaining many visitors and players seem to want to play for Sassco. A prime example being David “Bunta” Murton, who returns on a temporary two month contract before he vanishes again.