Sunderland U23 v Middlesbrough U23, Monday 20th September 2021, 1pm

One of the advantages of me working on a freelance basis these days is it gives me a lot more flexibility during the day. This meant that lunchtime kick-off for the Boro U23 game with Sunderland was easily do-able. The match had originally been listed as being at Eppleton Colliery before changing to the Academy of Light. I’ve never been to either place so it was no big deal to me.

Jen and I followed the phone directions but were turned away at the main entrance car park for not being scouts. I knew I should have stuck with going to cubs. Instead we had to park around the corner and take a five minute walk along a track to a pitch that looked like it had been dug out of scrubland.

There weren’t any team sheets available, but I saw a few people with them. No doubt they will have picked them up at the main entrance as part of their scouting privileges. Unusually there wasn’t any info on the Boro line-up on Twitter either so I was pretty much in the dark about who was playing for us until later on. I’d estimate that there were around a hundred people watching with at least twenty of those observing in some sort of official capacity.

Boro were in their green change strip with Sunderland dressed up as, well, Sunderland. One of the players that I did recognize was Sol Bamba. He started at left-back before switching to centre-half mid-way through the first half. He played for about an hour, organizing everything that went on in an impressive performance.

I noticed how much politer the players were to the ref than in regular adult football. The players were more likely to praise the referee for a decision that went their way than slag him off for one that didn’t. “Ref, that’s better, well done” still implies dissatisfaction with earlier decisions but keeps the pressure on without telling him he’s having “a fucking shocker”.

Boro took the lead early on and then doubled it after some good play from the left winger Kololo. We added another scrambled effort straight after half-time before Sunderland nabbed a consolation once Bamba had gone off and left the organizing to others. All in all, it was a decent performance and an enjoyable trip out during the day.

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