Date: 7th November 2008 at 2:24pm
Written by:

This week Chix visits the town of Sunderland in Scotland and enters a surreal world of Mad Hatters, Cheshire Cats and girls called Alice.

Scotland Bound
Having left Liverpool, still dressed as Dracula! I headed North toward the location of our next away opponents, ‘The Black Cats’. Gazing out of the window of the little Nissan I had hired for the journey, I delighted in the picturesque scenery that Scotland offered. Over hill and mountain I went until I arrived at my destination – Sunlun, a quaint little town, on the outskirts of Newcastle. I parked the car and headed for the nearest ‘convenience’ to change.

Aware of the fierce rivalry between the ‘Geordies’ and ‘Mackems’ I’d decided this weeks disguise should take the form of a Middlesboro supporter. After all, any hostility toward a ‘boro fan would surely be on the tame side, it wasn’t as it they were in the Premiership or anything!

Digging deep into my costume bag I pulled out my curly perm wig and bushy moustache from ‘Davilla trip’, together with a recently acquired Gary O’Neil shirt and put them on. As I exited ‘The Ladies’ resembling a hybrid of 1970’s Graeme Souness and Tom Sellick I reacquiented myself with my mission? To find out as much as possible about Sunlun in 1500 words.

Blonde Girls & Mackems
As I pondered the question ‘What has Sunlun got to do with Black Cats’? I encountered a young blonde haired girl dressed in a light blue smock with a white apron wrapped around her waist.

“Excuse me” I said politely, “Why are Sunlun FC nicknamed The Black Cats?” The girl glared at me as if I was some kind of fool dressed in a ‘boro shirt. “Votes!” she said abruptly not wanting to elaborate. Somewhat bemused I asked another question “OK then, Could you tell me where the term Mackem comes from?” This time she was more forthcoming and informed me that a ‘Mackem’ is a resident of Sunlun and the word is believed to have spurned from World War II when Sunlun shipyard workers were asked to help build ships on the Tyne. Apparently this was not too well received by the Geordies who didn`t want their rivals from the Wear ‘Mak’em ships and Tak’em’ jobs from Newcastle folk. It was this phrase that over the years was shortened to Mackem.

The Dormouse & Tourists
Thanking the girl for her help, I moved on in pursuit of my mission. It was then that I heard a squeal. Looking down I noticed that I’d trodden on a Dormouse. Slowly and gently I picked it up and not wanting to waste an opportunity to obtain another fact I asked if it could tell me why Sunlun FC were nicknamed The Black Cats, “Votes!” he replied and promptly fell asleep. Waking him gently I tried a different question “OK” I said “What is Sunlun’s biggest tourist attraction?” “Roy Keane!” he replied and promptly fell asleep again. A little frustrated I woke him for a second time and demanded an explanation.

As it transpired, the Dormouse was not wrong. The arrival of ‘Keano’ as Sunlun Manager in 2006 actually had an impact on Sunlun’s tourist industry. It’s said that the Tourism Office reported a dramatic rise in the number of football fans coming to the city ‘mentioning his name’ Furthermore, Ryanair, recorded a 10% increase in passenger numbers travelling to Newcastle Airport on Fridays preceding Sunlun home games. They also believe Keane’s association with the city is having a knock-on effect on local restaurants, bars and attractions as more tourists build their weekend around watching the football matches.

I thanked the Dormouse, who had again fallen asleep and moved on.

A White Rabbit & History Lesson
As my mind searched for reasons why I had not yet met any normal people, something bit my leg. I turned around.”Out of the way!,” exclaimed a White Rabbit ‘I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date!”. Picking the rabbit up by his ears, I asked if he could you tell me why Sunlun FC were nicknamed The Black Cats, “Votes!” he replied “No time to say hello, goodbye!” he went on. “I’m late!, I’m late!, I’m late!’

Assertively, I informed the by now frantic little bunny, that if he didn’t help me in my quest and provide some facts about Sunlun I wouldn’t let him go. Dangling and wriggling in front of me, I believed he had little choice. His response? “I’m late!”

Now I’m not one for animal cruelty but I as my agitation grew I shook him a little. And shook him again. And again. What followed was the quickest recital of facts about any football team I’ve ever heard.
“Sunlun!, OK. I’m Late! Played at Roker Park for 99 years until 1997. Village of Roker has only 12 streets. I’m Late! Roker Park was used to host Internationals during the 1966 World Cup. Moved to Stadium of Light, holds 49,000. I’m Late! A Davy lamp monument stands outside in remembrance of the Monkwearmouth Colliery that stood there before. I’m Late! Formed in 1879. League Champions six times, but not since 1936 when they were the last team to win it wearing striped shirts. I’m Late! Won the FA Cup in 1937 and 1973. I’m Late! Won Division title with (a then) record of 105 points in 1999. I’m Late! Last ‘final’ appearance was 1992 – Lost to Liverpool 2-0 I’m Late! I’m Late! I’m Late!

Overjoyed with my collection of information I released his ears from my grip and ambled on my way as I watched him fall to ground. I was now 945 words into my mission and I had amassed a wealth of facts but still wanted to get to the bottom of the ‘Black Cat Mystery’.

A Cheshire Cat & A Riddle
My final encounter of the day was with a Cheshire Cat sitting on the top of a very high wall, now what a Cheshire Cat was doing in Scotland I just don’t know but again wanting to complete my mission I grasped the nettle “Oi Cat! Why are Sunlun FC nicknamed The Black Cats?” I bellowed “Votes!” he replied and promptly disappeared.

Just as my frustration was about to make me blow, he reappeared in front of me “Would you like to learn about the Black Cats?” he inquired in a sort of purring tone. I nodded “Then answer me this” he said “If Sunderland scored the winning goal in the 1979 FA Cup Final, why did they not lift the trophy?” How I was supposed to answer that I just didn’t know, but just as I was about to categorise my mission as a failure a small Mad looking fellow wearing a Top Hat and bow-tie suggested I “go ask Alice!” “Alice!” I thought “Alice! Who the **** was Alice”. Long blonde hair, blue dress, white pinny said the Mad Hatter, but be quick she`ll be on her way to see the Queen of Hearts.

Retracing my footsteps I went in search of Alice, the girl from earlier who I eventually found outside of the Queen’s Palace “Oh Hello again” She said “What can I do for you?” I explained my predicament and that the Cheshire Cat was willing to tell all on the Black Cat Mystery but only if I answered his riddle as to why Sunderland scored the winning goal in the 1979 FA Cup Final, but didn’t lift the trophy!

“Curiouser and curiouser” said Alice as she smiled and explained, that in 1979 Arsenal beat Manchester United 3-2 and the winning goal was scored by Alan SUNDERLAND. Thanking her quickly I was just about to rush back to the Cheshire Cat when he appeared in front of me. “So now you know” he purred “And now I can tell you why Sunlun are nicknamed the Black Cats” he said.”But the answer IS votes!”

Eventually. The Black Cats
The Cat explained that Sunlun did not have an official nickname, however in times past they have been known as Rokerites, Roker Men, the Light Brigade, the Miners, and the Mackems. After leaving Roker Park the club decided that they would vote on the nickname to clarify the situation once and for all and ‘The Black Cats’ received the majority of votes!

He further explained that there are many associations with the term Black Cats but the most believable is that Sunlun supporter Billy Morris took a black cat to the 1937 FA Cup final in his top pocket as a good luck charm. Sunlun won the game and took the trophy home for the first time in their history.

I would have thanked the Cheshire Cat for his information had he not disappeared so I headed back to the Nissan with my mission complete I had managed to gather as much as I could about Sunlun in 1500 words

But wait! – I’d forgotten to explain the Alice in Wonderland connection !

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