Author: dbbaldwin (Page 1 of 10)

Christmas in Missouri 2021

When we landed in Springfield, we went to pick up the rental car I had reserved. The nice lady at the counter checked my information and offered to upgrade me from the mid-size sedan I had booked to a brand new Toyota 4Runner that she had on the lot. I gladly accepted, rightfully thinking that the 4Runner would more easily hold all our bags than a Corolla would. All was good.

We drove the 4Runner for over two weeks, including trips to Arkansas and to Kansas City. It was a beast. Huge, for sure, with a great view of the road, but only a moderately comfortable ride. The interior–after driving an Acura and a Lexus before moving to London–was a bit basic. Not bad, but not as nice, either. The real issue, though, was the gas mileage. We were getting under 18 miles per gallon throughout the trip. I was appalled the first time I had to fill the gas tank. I used to get 24 mpg in my ’03 Acura TL (with my heavy foot driving it) and 21 mpg in Carissa’s RX350. A mere 18 was horrific, especially in a newer vehicle. 

I noticed, too, that there were a lot of big vehicles on the road. Why does America have so many four-door trucks? Wouldn’t a light pickup be better for trips to Sam’s Club and a sedan be better for hauling kids to soccer practice? I can maybe wrap my head around someone in construction needing to move building supplies and a crew of workers in a single vehicle, but not the average person for everyday driving. Such a massive, inefficient truck seems like a waste, not just of greenhouse gases, but of purchase price and ongoing fuel expenses. It makes me think buying a vehicle that size is about something else… Missouri, if you’re considering buying a four-door truck, maybe you should go see your urologist instead. A Viagra prescription will surely be less expensive than your weekly fill-up, and it will do far more to help you compensate for whatever is lacking in your life. 

I managed a good bit of jogging on these roads while we were in town. After all the eating, I needed it.

Many people asked what had changed while we’ve been away. Springfield, the city, was much as we remembered, give or take a few stores and restaurants. We, on the other hand, felt that we had changed considerably. The kids have grown, of course, but even Carissa and I have noticed that our view of America and the world has shifted. When you’re swimming in a pot that’s slowly boiling, you don’t notice the change as much. Looking in from the outside, we can see the bubbles forming. There’s an attitude of selfishness in Springfield, the Ozarks, and America, in general, that is much more apparent to us now than when we lived there. It’s both political and cultural, and I think Trump and Covid have laid it bare. I don’t remember when science denial became a key plank of American conservatism. I don’t remember when utter disregard for the safety of your friends and neighbors became widely accepted. I surely don’t remember when the pandemic skipped over the Ozarks like a tornado over a sheltered valley. Aside from talking to a handful of people, it was like being in an alternate universe compared to Europe. I guess your hospitals aren’t so full of covid patients that other appointments are being rescheduled? How Americans can look at the rest of the world and be like, “nah, it’ll never happen here” blows my mind. (And don’t get me started on voting rights!)

If you’re thinking “yeah, whatever, dude,” I present you this gem to neatly encapsulate whatever the heck is going on back home:

I just don’t even know what to say, and this wasn’t the only example we saw on the trip. Also, that is not how Jesus OR vaccines work

In other news, it felt like we ate our way through Springfield. In 17 days, I think I had barbeque on 7 of them. We also ate a preposterous amount of Mexican food, frozen custard, and chicken sandwiches. Add Nonna’s cooking on top, and it was a calorie-rich environment. 

I know you’re expecting a punch line. There isn’t one. We ate a lot of comfort food, and it was good.

A waste bin with "patriot disposal" written on the side
Missouri, I have questions about what, exactly, you’re disposing

We went to Kansas City for New Year’s Eve to see the Diullos and play board games. This was an all-day affair, and it included a round of Battlestar Galactica. If you’re not familiar with the game, it’s a secret identity game where the humans are trying to save their spaceship and get to a safe planet while the hidden Cylons are trying to sabotage them and destroy humanity. We had 8 players, which is more than the game supports, but we decided to play, anyway. This included giving the youngest child a human loyalty card so she would have an easier time learning the game. Naturally, she picked a character card that made her President of humanity. I was actually a hidden Cylon, and I had the admiral card that allowed me to do significant damage to the humans. I knew we had at least one other Cylon, but possibly two more. The youngest child started accusing everyone, but especially the guys at the table. She was in peak, shouty, tween form, but it was all good fun. Then the humans won a skill check that allowed them to see my loyalty card. I thought I was sunk. Revealed. Busted. Off to the brig where I couldn’t do nearly as much damage. The eldest child was the current player, so she took my card. She looked at it, passed it back, and announced… “he’s human.” The youngest child demanded that she look her in the eye and repeat that I was human. Eldest child was a stone-cold killing machine and stared her sister down with a curt declaration that “he’s human.” Reader, I was such a toaster (Cylon) that I should have had Black+Decker written on my forehad. (Non-Americans, Black+Decker is a common brand for household electronics.)

Everyone bought it. I was in shock. I mean, I was bursting with pride, but I could barely look at her and keep a straight face. At that point, the humans were done, but we took another half hour to really turn the screws on them, including brigging the two most dangerous humans before I finally revealed my true allegiance and the penny dropped that the eldest child was also a traitor. The non-reveal when I thought I was sunk was one of the best board game moments I’ve ever had. Thank you, Diullos, for being such good sports about it!

We all missed Nonna’s super cozy Christmas decorations

On our way back to London, we had to check bags at the Springfield airport. The first bag up weighed in at 55 pounds. This was 5 pounds over the limit, and it was going to incur an excess weight fee. Initially, we were thinking we should just pay the fee, but then I remembered the last-minute trip to Walmart and the extra supplies (sweets) we bought. Specifically, I remembered the double-pack of Jif peanut butter that weighed exactly 5 pounds. I dug out the peanut butter and a hardback book, and we were back in business at 49 pounds. The book and the peanut butter went into other bags, and we were good to go, but we were about 30 seconds away from a $110 jar of peanut butter. Oops. 

Missouri beaches are special, but they’re extra special when it’s a freezing cold January morning

All joking aside, we had a good time seeing our friends and our family. I know we didn’t get to see everyone, but we tried to fit as many people as we could without running ourselves completely ragged. Two and a half years away was a long time, and we hope to be back to visit sooner next time. I can’t possibly give enough thanks to everyone who hosted us, visited us, and generally put up with our stories about Life Over Here, but thank you all the same.

I miss the Missouri sunsets. London has some pretty ones, but they’re much fewer and further between

On Childhood & Race in the Ozarks

I grew up in the Ozarks. For my first ten years, I was in the heart of the Ozarks, in Harrison, Arkansas. There weren’t any black kids at school. There weren’t any black people at church. There weren’t any black people in Boone County. I think it was probably a trip to Springfield, Missouri when I saw my first black person somewhere other than the television, but it could have easily been my first trip outside the Ozarks when I was eight or nine. The Ozarks weren’t exactly the most-diverse place at the time. They still aren’t.

As a kid, I never really thought about why that might be.

Back in 2015 I read a Kameron Hurley blog post that introduced me to the Tulsa Race Riot and Black Wall Street. Tulsa wasn’t far away, but I had no idea about any of it. Like, I knew that black people had a hard time post-1865, but high school history lessons touched on the Civil War and slavery, glossed over Reconstruction, talked a bit about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr, and ended on a note of “but things are great now!”

In case you missed it, the folks who burned down 35 blocks worth of homes in Tulsa were white, and the people they burned out, the 300 people who were killed, the 10,000 people left homeless – were all black. It was not until 1996 that the state even bothered to commission a proper history of the event that would be available to everyone, instead of relying on a spoken oral history maintained by survivors who were now dying.

When I heard about police cars blocking off roads and journalist access in Ferguson, Missouri last year, Tulsa immediately came to my mind, and I thought, “If you think the shit you’re seeing on Twitter is bad right now, can you imagine what they’d be doing to people right now if there wasn’t any Twitter?”

Kameron Hurley – Welcome to the Hurleyverse

Reading about Tulsa led me to Springfield’s history. You gotta go back fifteen years before Tulsa to 1906. In 1906 the fine people of Springfield lynched two black men in front of three thousand people. You can read about it here. Or here. Or here. The short version is that a mob of white people broke into the jail in Springfield, abducted two innocent black men, and lynched them on the square. That wasn’t enough blood, so they went back for another black man and lynched him, too. No one was convicted.

Following the lynchings and mob violence, a grand jury was called to indict anyone who had participated in the mob. By April 19, four white men had been arrested and 25 warrants were issued. Only one white man was tried, however, and no one was ever convicted.

Equal Justice Initiative

There’s a plaque on the square in Springfield that talks about it. That plaque was installed in 2019, after I moved to London.

Today, in December 2021, I learned why there were no black people in Boone County, Arkansas. It was not an accident. It turns out that we have to backup before the 1906 lynchings in Springfield.

Harrison, in the early 1900s, had about 1500 people, of which about 115 were black. I’m not saying Harrison was diverse, but it was more diverse than the literally zero people of color it had in the 1980s. In 1905 the railroad in the county went bankrupt. People were hurting. The white people of Harrison did what, apparently, white people in the early 1900s did. They formed a mob, stormed the jail, and hauled some black men out for punishment. In this case, they whipped two men, told them to leave town, and then went back to town to finish their business.

The mob then went on a rampage through Harrison’s black community. Numbering about thirty, they burned down homes, shot out windows, and ordered all African Americans to vacate the town that night.

Encyclopedia of Arkansas

Not all the black residents in Harrison left. No, it took another riot in 1909 for that to happen.

Now, maybe you’re reading this and thinking that my ignorance is on me. I’d like to think I’m a well-read person. Someone who is knowledgeable about history. Clearly, I have some gaps, but I try. But you know what? That’s wrong. Here’s why:

As Harrison’s white residents tried to erase the black community in their town, they apparently also tried to erase the historical record of the events in question. The files of the local newspaper, the Harrison Daily Times, contain gaps coinciding with the dates of the riots, and though records exist, including transcripts of testimony, for most of the other cases heard by Judge Rogers’s 1905 grand jury, only one handwritten note with the dates of the investigation’s beginning and end remains extant.

Encyclopedia of Arkansas

The white people of Harrison, Arkansas willfully and intentionally tried to erase the embarrassing parts of their past. Read that quote again. The files of the local newspaper contain gaps coinciding with the dates of the riots.

Was it my parents that lynched those men in Springfield? No. Was it my grandparents that ran the black community out of Harrison? No. Did my parents or grandparents teach me the history of our cities? They most assuredly did not. Is that their fault? Shoot, they probably didn’t know about it, either.

I talk to folks back home. I read the news. Today folks are upset about critical race theory. Last year it was election fraud. Before that it was migrant caravans. It was super-predators. It was hippies. It was civil rights. It was slavery.

America will chew you up and spit you out. It will use you and discard you. Maybe you’re reading about labor unions at Kellogg or Activision Blizzard. When you read about them, do you think about why we don’t have child labor? Why we have a minimum wage? Why we have a 40 hour work week? Do you think about Blair Mountain? Have you even heard of Blair Mountain?

There’s a lot we don’t teach in school. A lot we should.

So as you’re sitting there watching your Fox News, listening to your Rush Limbaugh and grumbling about those damn Democrats and their critical race theory, take a pause. Think about your history. Think about your lack of history.

It’s a lot easier to blame someone else than it is to put yourself in their shoes. It’s a lot easier to grump and moan than it is to look in the mirror and think about your past. Our past.

I know you’re not racist. I’m not racist. None of us are racist. We don’t see black and white. We just see people.

But if that’s true, why wasn’t there a single black kid in my elementary school class in Harrison in the early 90s? Why were there only two black kids in my high school class in Missouri in the early 2000s? Why did it take until 2019 for Springfield to put up that plaque?

Makes you think, don’t it.

Autumn 2021 Catch-up

Autumn has been (mostly) good to us. Since the last update we’ve had Carissa’s parents come to visit, and we managed to get out of the house and enjoy London and the surrounding area.

Korean BBQ was a hit

We took Nonna and Papa over to New Malden and had Korean BBQ for the first time. It was amazing. I had heard good things, and I was eager to try it, but I didn’t appreciate the variety or quality of ingredients and sauces. Apparently, New Malden has the largest concentration of people from North Korea outside of actual North Korea. I don’t know which side of the 38th parallel the people who run the restaurant were from, but either way, their food was amazing. 

HMS Victory from a distance. The pavement doesn’t provide enough scale to do her justice

We also took a day trip to Portsmouth and toured the historic dockyard and HMS Victory. It was a great trip, and I managed to find a good bargain on a jumper (American translation: sweater).

The Victory’s gun deck. American bloke wandering along on the left

I didn’t realize it until I was listening to the tour, but HMS Victory is actually older than the United States. The ship was built in 1765! She was an effective warship for 40 years, fighting her most famous battle at Trafalgar in 1805 where she was so heavily damaged (and so old) that the Royal Navy didn’t want to restore her to fighting shape. As someone who is about the same age, I found that part of the ship’s history to be entirely relatable. 

The plaque marking where Horatio Nelson fell at Trafalgar

While the in-laws were here, I took my father-in-law to see Spurs, Harlequins, and England rugby. Was him visiting an excuse for me to get out of the house and attend some in-person sporting events I hadn’t been able to see since covid upended all our lives a year and a half ago? Of course not! We were walking through Twickenham, and I noticed that about half the men going to rugby were also wearing blue quarter-zip sweaters. I’m not going native; I just like to be comfy, okay. 

Brent and Carissa Thanksgiving Dinner
Carissa and I at Thanksgiving Dinner, including my new favorite jumper

Our sporting experience included sitting behind the goal in Tottenham where Cristiano Ronaldo scored in a match that led to Spurs sacking their manager two days later. I, too, would like to be so good at my job that someone is willing to pay me millions of dollars a year to do it, but just bad enough at my job that they are willing to pay me even more millions of dollars to simply go away and not do it. 

Spurs stadium as seen from the High Road

If you saw my post about Piper, you know that our autumn was not all sunshine and roses. We’re still devastated to have lost him. At least once a week I come around a corner and see something orange, and for a split second, I think it’s him. We’ve lost pets over the years, and I know it’s part of life, but losing Piper hit especially hard. He was such a sweet, people-friendly cat. Carissa and I have talked about getting another cat in a few months. We are not, apparently, the kind of people who are capable of optimal function without feline supervision. 

England v Tonga as seen from the second row

After the in-laws went back home, we had another friend in town visiting. Carissa and our eldest were able to go in and meet her for high tea at Kensington Palace. High tea is a total tourist trap, but I’m told it is worth doing once just to experience the pageantry. Carissa brought me leftover biscuits, so I can’t really complain.

We had hot pot on one of the last days with Nonna and Papa

And now, storytime. This is the story of “the little French girl,” aka “why it’s important to be punctual.”

After the in-laws left, I made a trip to Lisbon for work. I was out there for a week and had dinner with various people from my work and some of the other companies that work with us. For one of those dinners, a coworker and I went into central Lisbon to meet some Portuguese colleagues and a couple of our coworkers from Madrid. 

The dinner was at a shopping mall, and Matt and I arrived early. We stopped for a beer–as you do–then went to meet the rest of the group. We weren’t entirely sure where the restaurant was, but we figured it was probably a reasonably nice place (this was a work outing, after all), and the mall wasn’t that big. We searched. We searched some more. Finally, we called someone who spoke English, and they told us to look behind the McDonalds. Not exactly what we were expecting, but sure enough, our place was a little sports bar tucked in behind Micky D’s. 

The breakwater along the Tagus River in Lisbon. My home flight was canceled, but I managed a Saturday morning run along the river to make up for staying an extra night.

We find the place and take our seats at the end of the table. Most of the group had already ordered, so Matt and I requested some drinks and checked the menu. The menu was in Portuguese, but between my poor high school Spanish and my willingness to try anything once, I figured I’d be okay. I ordered something that sounded like a hamburger with pulled pork and an egg, which sounded a bit fancy for a burger, but I was willing to roll with it. We chatted about work a while, ate a few appetizers, and the entrees started arriving. 

I wish I had a picture of the dish itself

My “burger” turns out to be a mass of pork, glued together somehow, with an egg on top. Not a bun in sight. Nor any beef, for that matter. Unbeknownst to me, the Portuguese contingent at the other end of the table has all ordered some traditional Portuguese sandwich, and they had convinced one of my Spanish coworkers to try it, too. The server brings out four plates of something perfectly square and covered in some kind of gelatinous orange sauce. The Spanish coworker takes a few bites and starts pushing his food around. Matt, ever a fellow to take the piss out of his mate (American translation: pull a prank on a friend), asks why our colleague hasn’t finished his food, to which the colleague claims that it’s an awful lot of bread, and he had eaten earlier. At this point, I’m feeling like maybe my own gelatinous pork dish was the better option, but then the Portuguese guy beside me explains that this is a very famous dish from Porto. It’s called the “francesinha,” which translates to “little French girl,” and it’s basically the Portuguese take on a croque monsieur, which is–as far as I’m concerned–the food of the gods. 

This news left me in quite a bind. Had I known this dish was so popular, I would have had to try it, but alas I was late for dinner. So the next time I’m in Portugal my options are to order a “little French girl” and immediately be sent to jail as a nonce (American translation: pedophile), or never try this dish. 

So, anyway, that’s why I’m spending Christmas in prison.

Sailboats on the Thames

The writing continues apace. I’m editing a novel and trying to keep some momentum. I already want to move on to the next thing, so it’s hard to stay focused. Alas, no new sales or publications to report. I put together a post with my stories eligible for 2021 awards. They’re good stories, though I’ll be surprised if they garner much attention. Someday.

We’re planning some travel over the holidays, so perhaps I’ll see you soon. Take care, everyone. Get your vaccinations!

Awards Eligibility 2021

Hello, friends. I have three stories eligible for 2021 awards. All three are flash length (under 1000 words), which qualifies them in the “short story” category for science fiction and fantasy awards.

Lisbon Sea Dragon

Kintsugi for a Broken Heart” is probably my favorite story that I’ve written, in part because it’s so intensely personal. If you really want to read just one story to get a feel for my writing, I’d start with this one. It was published in February 2021 in Nature.

A Dying World, Overheated and Nearly Ruined” is another personal story, drawing on a lifetime of computer repair and customer service, but perhaps not the same degree as Kintsugi. I’m proud of it, and I’m especially proud to have sold a second story to Nature, this one in August 2021.

An Open Letter to Bezoath, Lord of Darkness and Shareholder Value” is a “write what you know” story about corporate life, and the tone of it is right there in the title. It’s a bit lighter, but with an underlying seriousness. This story also came with the best acceptance letter:”I’m afraid I have some bad news. We really enjoyed “An Open Letter to Bezoath…” and we would like to accept it for publication, which means you will no longer hold the title of TTL’s most-shortlisted-but-never-accepted author. (P.S. congratulations!).” Translunar Traveler’s Lounge may be a semi-pro publication, but they are publishing some great work, despite (or because of?) publishing a Brent Baldwin story.

I may yet have a fourth story out this year, but it looks as if it’s slipped to Q1 2022.

From Barn Cat to Barnes Cat

Piper passed last week. This post is me recording some of the moments of his life that the girls and I remember.

Piper posing for a Christmas photo

It started in a barn. The kids were hanging out at Carissa’s grandparents’ farm, and one of the cousins came in and asked if they wanted to see some kittens. Two girls, aged 7 and 10, clearly wanted to see some kittens, so off they went.

The mama cat liked to move her litters, so they had to check multiple places, but eventually the girls found their kittens. The kittens were a couple weeks old and various colors, but one little ginger guy was fearless enough (or foolish enough) not to flee the approaching children. It was pretty much love at first sight.

Piper was such a good sport with any nonsense two little girls could imagine

Piper joined us a few weeks later. He was still pretty tiny, but his mama wasn’t giving him the care he needed since cats struggle to buy antibiotics, so we picked up the slack. The girls were in heaven, and I was happy to have another male in the house.

Piper was an asshole jerk the first year and a half. Pretty much all kittens are, but he was the epitome of a rambunctious kitten. No matter how many feathers we dangled in front of him, not matter how many laser dots we gave him to chase, he loved to pounce. He’d pounce the kids. He’d pounce the dog. He’d pounce Carissa. He’d pounce his own tail and act indignant at the assault.

Pretty sure that’s intentional handball

The joke is that ginger cats all share a single brain cell, and today is never a given ginger cat’s day. I can believe it.

Life was good the first two years. He mostly stayed in the house, and whenever he escaped we knew he was in the storm drain out front. We lured him out of it with kibbles and treats on a weekly basis.

Just keeping the hamster company, guys

Piper’s life–and ours–changed in the summer of 2018 with the move to London. There was no question about whether he’d come with us or not. The youngest child told me flat out that he came or she stayed. I’m pretty sure she meant it.
Unfortunately for Piper, traveling to the UK was an ordeal. He had to arrive via courier and pass through the animal reception center. It was summer, so we had to wait for the weather to cool enough that he wouldn’t suffocate in transit in Dallas, which meant he had to spend a couple weeks boarded with the vet in Missouri. When he finally reached us, he was exhausted, afraid, and stressed. We took him to his new home in the village of Barnes, in London.

Piper helping me edit a novel

Living in the States, we never considered that it would be difficult to keep a cat in the house. The windows and doors were usually closed to keep the heat or the air conditioning inside. When the windows were open, there were screens. None of this was true in London. Relatively few houses have air conditioning, and they’re built to retain heat in the winter. Summers mean throwing the windows open and turning on fans.

Piper, already stressed from travel, bolted out the nearest open window.

We found him a few houses down, tangled in a thorn bush. The girls rescued him and passed him to me. That lasted about 30 seconds until he tried to flee the area. When I wouldn’t let him jump down, he decided to go vertical by climbing my face. Our relationship suffered for a few days until my face healed.

He settled in pretty well. We kept him in for much of the winter, and when spring returned, he ventured outside for a few hours at a time, but he always came back for dinner.

He averaged fewer than one mouse per year, so he wasn’t entirely useless

After the first year in London, we moved houses to Twickenham, a little further out from the city center. This gave us a bigger back yard garden and Piper more friends to make. He always loved people, and the neighbors soon knew his name when he turned up to beg. I’m sure the women next door thought we were the worst people ever for starving that poor cat. It was as if he had never had a meal in his life.

While Piper liked people, he hated other cats. The boy was a fighter, not a lover. (He was neutered, else he might have been both.) He loved a good brawl, and he came home more than once with another cat’s fur stuck in his claws. My running joke over the last two years was that he was London’s second-least-favorite orange American. At least no one ever flew a blimp to mock him.

Helping me choose a dress shirt for a work trip

In late September Piper stopped eating. We knew something was wrong and took him to the vet on the second day. They treated him for constipation and dehydration. He came home and ran around a bit, including attempting to flee out the upstairs window and being stopped cold by running headlong into the glass. The good times only lasted a few days. He still wasn’t well, and we took him to the vet again. A few days later he stumbled when trying to leave his litter box, and within two days he could barely walk. We took him to another local vet, who found a lump in his back and thought his symptoms might improve if we reduced the swelling with a steroid shot. Over the next few days we fed and bathed Piper and tried to nurse him back to health. None of it worked. Ultimately, we took him to a neurological specialist at the Royal Veterinary College.

His spine was damaged.

Shouldn’t you be feeding me more and working less?

There were no good options. His breathing was already poor, and the best outcome from attempting surgery was that he might be able to walk again, but the vet didn’t think he would ever run or climb again. We left Piper with the vet overnight for another exam, and the news the next morning was no better. His breathing had gotten worse, and they had put him on oxygen. The recommendation was palliative care. Ultimately, we made the decision to say goodbye.

We don’t know what happened. I don’t think it was a brawl; he showed no signs of blood or missing fur. It’s easy for me to imagine him leaping down from the retaining wall to the bike shed, slipping on the plastic, and landing poorly. I don’t understand the progression of symptoms, and I don’t want to think about what our options might have been if the first vet had found the spinal damage. They didn’t, and here we are.

He was a good boy. The best boy. It’s been a week, and I’m tearing up again writing this. Piper and I were bros. The winter in England is gloomy, and we spent much of the last three winters hanging out together at my desk and in the kitchen. He would sleep in the floor behind me, on the cat furniture beside me, and sometimes in my lap. I never lacked for a lap warmer or for someone to interfere with my typing. When things were stressful with work, a relaxing purr was only a few scritches away.

Pure joy for Carissa, and I’m pretty sure Piper managed to beg an extra meal afterward

The girls loved him even more. The youngest came into our room every night to check on him, and most of the time he was already asleep at the foot of my bed. The oldest gave him pets and scritches, even after developing an allergy that meant every scritch ended with a dose of Benadryl.

I don’t know if he lived his best life, but I am certain that he lived a good life. He had lots of adventures and lots of love.

We’ll miss you, bro.

Goodbye, bro

Piper Baldwin – May 2016 to October 2021

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Images Fixed

My system for playing, writing, and posting has failed me. I was capturing the narrative and screenshots in Evernote and copy/pasting from there to WordPress. This worked well from my laptop, where the images were automatically uploaded. It failed on my desktop, where only the image attributes were captured. I thought I had a clever workaround by copying from the Evernote site, but apparently you could only see the images if you were logged in to my account. Oops.

It’s fixed now. Season 9 and the two follow-ups should now be fully functional.

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Retirement Edition

By the time you read this, months will have passed in our universe. Multiple seasons passed in Sunderland’s universe. Abdoulaye Kouyate was worth his 145m transfer fee. So was everyone else.

I took a few weeks off, but I decided to load up the last save I made before retiring. You know, just to see what would happen.

This happened:

We won the Champions League in 2030!

(We also won the Premier League in 2029, but came 2nd in 2030.)

2031 was our year, though, including a rainy night in Sunderland where we put Barcelona to the sword.

The season and the save culminated in this:

A brilliant treble, with a comfortable win in the league, an amazing comeback from 0-2 down to City in the FA Cup final to win it 3-2, and a 4-0 over Bayern Munich in the Champion’s League final.

I ended up buying a young Italian striker that was even better than Kouyate, and we tore through everything. The side could still be incrementally improved, but Sunderland are truly one of the best teams in the world.

And with that our journey really does end. I may putter around with another save, but I don’t plan to blog about it. Next year, perhaps, I’ll be back with something for FM22.

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – A Retrospective

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

I said at the very beginning of this long, wonderful trip that Football Manager is a youth exploitation roleplaying game with a layer of football tactics on top. This save has reminded me of just how true that it is, especially if you are starting as a lower league club.

We were fortunate to get out of League One on the first attempt and unbelievably lucky to get out of the Championship on the first attempt. We did this with a handful of signings and some key loans. We didn’t start making expensive signings until we reached the Premier League.

Even though we were relegated, the Premier League money, the global scouting range, and the bump in the club’s reputation meant that we could attract players that would never consider a League One side. It also meant we could afford to pay their transfer fees (or compensation) and wages. Our success snowballed (along with the backroom staff’s grasp of Spanish and Portuguese). After a few seasons of midtable mediocrity, we leaped up to 2nd, and then won the league the following season.

My transfer business was generally good. I brought in a number of players that didn’t quite work out, but only a few of them were sold at a loss. There are a handful of deals I regret.

In our first season in the Premier League I went a little overboard on signing young, foreign players. In prior versions of FM (pre-Brexit; thanks, Boris) you could collect wonderkids by the bushel. In FM21, with the Brexit rules, you must be more careful. We signed Victor Hugo on a free, but due to his age, he didn’t arrive until January. By the time he reached England, I had already signed 6 (technically 7) other foreign youngsters. Victor’s transfer was canceled, and he signed for another Brazilian club within days. That was all on me, and definitely a moment I learned from for future seasons.

Selling Adam Steele might have gone down as a regret given how good he’s been, but he really wanted to leave for a bigger club, and I couldn’t risk letting him leave on a free. Would we be better with Steele on the right and Victor Hugo on the left? A little, but mostly because Hugo developed so well. It’s probably a push, to be honest.

Nicolas Bacolla I should have kept. Our set piece goals really diminished in our title-winning season. I think a big part of that was the poor delivery from corners and free kicks. When you have a 6’6″ striker, it pays to have someone that can put the ball on his forehead. Bacolla could have sat in midfield alongside Pardo and given us good passing and set piece delivery. With Lee Farrell and John Ramirez, we’re actually good for passing, but our corner and free kick takers are a step down.

Vladimir Puric aka Pure Magic wasn’t quite a regret. He truly looked like he’d be great and the scouts said he’d be great. He was just an object lesson in the fact that FM these days has some built-in uncertainty. My process was good, but the outcome was just something I couldn’t predict.

We’ve had a long-running joke about Lee “the Scottish Mistake” Farrell. The fact that he was the captain of our title-winning team (technically vice-captain, but McCrorie spent much of the season on the bench after being overshadowed by Pardo) and scored two goals in the match that sealed the title really speaks for itself. He might not ever be the best player in the world, but he’s the kind of player you need in a squad; not everyone can be a superstar.

I probably paid too much for Barji. He’s good, but I could have picked up Fabio Cesar for about 1/4 the price and he would have been comparable. On the plus side, he’s been progressing well since he joined the club.

I paid way too much for Kouyate. Again, he’s good, but he didn’t even start the final match. Cordero, Martin, and Baez are slightly better suited. If Kouyate had been 30m, he would have been a bargain. At 70m I would feel like I had paid a fair price. 145m was simply too much.

But you know what? We won the league. Barji played a ton of minutes across the season. Kouyate is young and already worldclass. They’ll both be fine. I might regret how much I paid, but their next manager won’t regret having either of them available next season.

I found that there are tiers of wonderkids. Well, tiers of pricing for wonderkids.
South America is a gold mine. Brazil is the obvious place, and you’re looking at about 10-15m for a burgeoning Brazilian star. Next up is probably Argentina, where you’ll pay a bit less. Around 7-13m. After that is probably Uruguay, where you’re looking 4-9m. Colombia is amazing, and you can find excellent talent that might cost you 1-4m. You’ll find fewer wonderkids in Chile, Peru, Venezuela, and Bolivia, but you’ll still find some. You can often pay under 1m in those countries.

Eastern Europe is also excellent. Serbia in particular, but Croatia and Romania are also great places to look. You’ll be paying Argentina rates in those places, sometimes up to Brazilian rates or even higher, depending on the player’s age.

Before Brexit, it was worth scouring any country in the EU since you didn’t need a work permit, but with the new points system Serbia is the same level of difficulty as Brazil. Find a player, get them some youth caps, and off you go.

I had good luck in Denmark and Belgium, but prices are much higher there at 20-40m for actual talent, though I did find some decent Championship quality players on frees.

Here’s our full transfer history.

Now, I said I was retiring. And I did. But… I got an itch. There’s one more installment coming.

So, for the final time (and I really mean it), see you next time, footy nerds.

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Season 9, Part 2

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

After the Kouyate signing, I was a little shell-shocked. That was A LOT of money to spend in one place. It might not even be worth it compared to Ramirez, Cordero, and Villafane.

I did move a couple fringe players.

Holub was never going to hit the level we need for him to compete with our big guns. I let him go to Southampton in a deal that ought to reach 11.25m. I might have kept him longer in the hope that I could further increase his value, but he complained about me not selling him for 7.25m, so I let him go.

Ignacio Escalante is a similar story.

He once would have been a good player for us, but his ceiling is lower than what we have in the squad today, never mind where we’ll be when those guys get to their mid-20s. He cost us 950k, and we should make 11m on his transfer.

Gaston Araujo is the third note in this refrain. He was a bit of a problem child after I broke a promise to sign a player that would help him settle in England, and I missed multiple opportunities to sell him for a lot more than the 8.25m Crystal Palace paid us. Sigh.

He’s a Premier League quality player, but he’s not a Champion’s League quality player. We ended up making a small profit . Maybe I could have kept him around and increased his value, but I’d rather sell him, make a little money, and use his registration slot and minutes to develop a better player.

I signed this gem from Romania. He’s good at a ton of things already, and I’ll train up his technical abilities over a couple seasons. He’ll be a great addition to our midfield in another season.

He cost us 6.75m, and he’s set to arrive in the summer. He didn’t get a work permit, but we’ve been down that road before. He’ll be off to a loan the day after he arrives at the club, and he should have his permit by Christmas. That should give him time to get even better.

Former Black Cat Michal Bednar just earned us 1.9m in a move from Spain back to England. We sold him for 9.75, and Bournemouth brought him back for 5.5m, plus apparently some incentives. I hope that worked out for Almeria.

Our January results were okay.

I’m not at all happy about dropping four points at West Ham and Burnley, and the win over Leicester was much too close for comfort.

Buyer’s remorse, the 145m pound edition.

A straight red card for a two-footed tackle. February did not get off to an auspicious start, not least because Liverpool, at the time, were in 17th place on 26 points. (Six above relegation, but still.) They lost to every top 6 side, then had a horrific run in January. Look at this bloodbath:

That was our form when we were relegated, not what you’d expect from a club that’s won the league 7 out of the last 9 seasons. We picked the wrong day for a red card. Damn. They have a great squad, too. Haaland, Lautaro Martinez, Jude Bellingham, Junior Wagenaar (a regen midfielder I’ve mentioned before and would love to steal).

After the Liverpool match we hosted Sheffield United, and I had an object lesson in just how crazy our attacking depth is. Club record signing Kouyate was suspended. Martin Ramirez was out with the flu. Fede Cordero started, but picked up a knock in the second half, but I was able to bring on World U21 Player of the Year / European Golden Boy Ricardo Villafane to lead the line. He duly scored to seal a 3-1 victory.

We drew with Manchester United after Sheffield United. United have such a strong team, and I couldn’t really complain about taking the point.

Last season, in the Conference League, we played some reasonably big matches. This season, in the Champion’s League group stage, we played some legitimately big matches. I’m not sure any match Sunderland have played during my tenure has been bigger than our first away trip to AC Milan in the Champion’s League knockout round.

We went down on 10 minutes on a direct header from a corner. It’s been ages since I’ve seen one of those go in. We went down 0-2 a mere 2 minutes later to a wonderstrike from Milan’s AML. They scored AGAIN on 17 minutes with ANOTHER 23 yard rocket. Five shots, 3 on target, xG of 0.4, 3 goals. It was unbelievable.

We went into halftime down 0-3 with Milan at 0.49 xG and us at 0.78. Both sides had 7 shots with 3 on target. All theirs went in. I pulled Adam Idah, moved Freddy Baez to the left, and put Kouyate in on the right with Martin Ramirez still up top.
We were the definition of mediocrity in the second half until 87 minutes, when Ricardo Villafane picked up a loose ball on a corner, drove 70 yards upfield, and scored the most magnificent solo goal you’ll ever see. Martin Ramirez had a glorious chance 2 minutes later, but smashed his shot into the keeper.

Not a great result, though I honestly think the process was fine. We generated chances, but couldn’t finish them. We need two goals at home, and that should be doable.

Our next big match was not the second leg against Milan. It was the Carabao Cup final against Everton. We went down early again, this time to an Ian Hunt (regen I tried to sign a couple seasons ago) chip over Adan Tirado on 14 minutes. Claudio Pardo brought things level on 36 minutes after a neat interchange of passes with Freddy Baez at the top of Everton’s box. He slammed a shot home into the top left corner, not giving the keeper even the remotest chance. Things held steady until 90 minutes when Everton’s keeper cleared a ball high and long. It dropped to their forward, who skipped around Puric, and slotted home. Everton 2-1 Sunderland, with the assist to the keeper. I thought we were done. Cooked. Kaput. But I had to try throwing everyone forward, so I set us to Very Attacking mentality and put everyone but the keeper and center backs onto attack. That beautiful 4th string striker Ricardo Villafane scored us a goal at 90+3!

Everton somehow got one back at 90+5 after I moved everyone back to their normal mentalities. Unfuckingbelievable. Everton 3 – 2 Sunderland at full time.
I was shook for days.

We had a match at home vs Spurs. I wouldn’t call it a big match. We were favorites. We won. (It hurts to be so flippant about Spurs.) I was still punching walls about that last Everton goal.

The next Big Match was our home leg vs Milan. I had to put Everton behind me and come up with a plan to recover our two-goal deficit. I rolled with the 4231, and I tried something new to fit as many of my best attackers.  Yes, the plan was to stuff even more forwards onto the pitch.

Martin Ramirez is too good to not be at the tip of the attack, and he’s proven how effective he is there, so he got the nod over Kouyate.

Look at that jumping! Dude is 6 foot 7! He’s a monster in the air, he’s damn good on the ground, and he’s going to get even better.

I dropped Kouyate behind him as a shadow striker. Freddy Baez went out wide into his normal role as a right winger. The new wrinkle was putting Fede Cordero on the left as an inside forward. He’s not actually trained in that role, but he has all the attributes for it.

He’s reasonably fast, has a wonderful first touch, good dribbling, and good finishing. He even has good passing and vision.

I made Lee “the Scottish Mistake” Farrell a deep-lying playmaker. He’s been okay this season, and I thought it would be better to have him a bit deeper in midfield where he will have more space to use his ridiculous passing and vision.

Also, for a Scottish Mistake, he’s turned out pretty damn well. Maybe I shouldn’t have spent the money on him at the time, but he’s been a solid player for us. He’s also our vice captain, which means he’s frequently the captain on the pitch with McCrorie so often on the bench or not in the match day squad.

Once the match started, we poured gas on a bonfire. A corner kick on 9 minutes saw a loose ball in the box fall to Claudio Pardo, who smashed it into the net. Two minutes later Martin Ramirez brought us level on aggregate and ahead on away goals.

We took a 2-0 lead into halftime and looked GOOD for it, too. I told the lads how proud I was of them and to keep up the good work, and I actually meant it this time.

At 66 minutes Kouyate was on a yellow card and had a 6.5 rating, so I pulled him for Enric. I’m not saying I’m worried about my 130m signing being underwhelming, but I’d sure like it a lot more if he were overwhelming. Or just whelming. Is that a word? (Merriam-Webster says “yes.”) Fede Cordero’s condition dropped into the red around 80 minutes, so he came off for Jhonny Palacios, who has developed really well.

Everything was going well and looking good. And then…

Milan hit the post off a corner. I lost a year of my life. Moments later, we raced upfield, Donnarumma made a good stop on a Jhonny Palacios shot, and the ball landed at Freddy Baez’s golden feet. He slid a shot inside the near post as cool as kiss your hand, and we were up 4-3 on aggregate.

I pulled a knackered Scottish Mistake for John Ramirez and dialed time-wasting to 11. We calmly saw out the rest of the match for a 3-0 win, and we advanced 4-3 on aggregate.

Really solid performances pretty much across the board. I’m not actually worried about Kouyate. He joined the team two months ago, and most of these players have played together for years. He’ll adapt and be a star.

I promised glory nights in the Champion’s League. I. Have. Delivered. The weather did, too. It was spitting rain and howling wind for all 90 minutes.

We drew Manchester United for the next round. A tough draw, but I think we can get through. If we do, it will be Arsenal or PSG awaiting in the semi-final.

Our youth take arrived. I’m not blown away by any of them, but Niall Hyland is a Fairly Professional young striker who is starting with 14 finishing.

Supposedly he could be as good as Villafane. Which would be great, given all the awards Villafane just won.

We followed Milan with a poor loss at Spurs in the FA Cup quarter-final. I wasn’t terribly fussed about it given that I’d far rather focus on the league and the Champion’s League. But then Miguel Benavidez came into my office complaining about a broken promise to win silverware.

Maybe give me another two months, my dude. A lot can change between now and then. He’s a good player, and I’m not terribly worried. If we can win the league, he’ll probably withdraw his transfer request. (The promises system is rubbish and needs review. Seriously.)

Signing an injury-prone player is not bad in isolation. Fede Cordero is injury-prone, and he’s been amazing. Victor, on the other hand, has spent more time in the physio room than on the practice pitches.

Three major injuries in a row. I’ll try to sell him as soon as I can. That leaves me Barji and Neco at right back. Probably enough, but I’ve had my eye on this lad for a while.

He has a 15m release clause, but the bad news is that he’s also injury-prone.

It’s a hard call, but he is generally better than Fernandez.

I’ll figure it out in the summer. I’d still rather have a top-tier holding midfielder to rotate with Pardo, but it’s hard to pass up a physical monster like Cesar.

More bad news arrived after the Spurs loss.

Puric is probably our best overall defender. We still have good depth there, but I hate to lose him for so long. That’s the end of his season.

ANOTHER award for our strikeforce.

After going up 2-0 at Bournemouth, we did something I haven’t seen in ages. We gave up 3 unanswered goals, ultimately losing 2-3. It left us in second place in the table, but with two games in hand.

Our first leg against Manchester United was at the Stadium of Light. It wasn’t great. Mason Greenwood scored a stupendous solo goal on a corner counterattack (which reiterates that I need be double-checking to ensure I have a holding midfielder (Pardo) outside the box and not Freddy Baez, who has the defensive nous of my cat). Greenwood bagged his second late in the second half, and I thought were going to go into the second leg down two, but Jhonny Palacios did a fine job cleaning up a loose ball in the United penalty box, and brought us back to 1-2.

We need to score at least two when we’re away in Manchester, but we’ve done that once already this season.

The run-in isn’t terrible. We need some away wins vs United and Chelsea, and we really need a home win (or draw) against City, but things could be worse.

We scraped a 1-0 over Derby. We needed 3 points, we got 3 points.

Then came United. I checked and double-checked our set piece routines. I also set us up in the 343, thinking we’d stay tighter at the back and see if we could nick a goal on a set piece. The plan mostly worked, in that we kept things reasonably tight at the back, but we generated nothing going forward. With us needing two goals, I switched back to the 4231 at halftime and made a double change, pulling Enric (already tiring) and Felipe Augusto, and bringing on Fede Cordero and Freddy Baez. A pretty significant offensive upgrade at the cost of some defensive stability. I also checked all the set pieces AGAIN.

We played much better, and Nathan D’Haene pulled a goal back for us from a corner on 56 minutes. We were looking good, and at 65 minutes I switched Lee Farrell from DLP to CM-A to try to get a little more going forward. With the score 2-2 on aggregate, we were still down on away goals. At 75 minutes we went to Very Attacking mentality. Barji, at right back, was shifted from wingback attack to complete wingback attack. At 78 minutes, we cleared a corner, it was fed back into the box to a lurking Harry Kane, who passed to the open man, who finished without fuss. MUFC 1 – 1 Sunderland. We threw everything at United, including Pardo smashing a shot off the post. We couldn’t break the deadlock, and our first Champion’s League foray ended with a 1-1 draw and a 3-2 loss on aggregate.

I’m a little disappointed, but I can’t really complain, either. We played them about as close to even as possible. I could have done a little better with my set pieces in the first leg. Had I kept Pardo outside the area instead of Freddy Baez, I don’t think Mason Greenwood would have scored the counterattack goal that he scored. That said, my fullbacks should have stopped him, but I keep them around more for their attacking capability than their defensive capability.

The good news is that we still have the league in our sights.

We’re even on points at 69, but we have two games in hand.

We went away to Villa, and we should have thumped them. We were the better team, by far. They scored early when Jhonny Palacios missed a header and Neco Williams, standing on our goal line, somehow let the whole ball cross the whole line before heading it away. John Ramirez (midfielder not striker) leveled things just after halftime with a 25-yard screamer. Just when I thought we were going to scrape a draw, Freddy Baez broke up field, beat three guys, and slotted home. It felt like a smash and grab, but I’ll take the 3 points.

Top again, and we still have two games in hand.

Our next match was against Chelsea, and I put us back to the 343. The same principles of keeping it tight at the back and looking to counter or score on set pieces applied. Naturally, we went down after 11 minutes to a goal scored from open play. Like, wtf, my guys? Eleven minutes later, the same story repeated itself. I went nuclear and yanked D’Haene (who was the least fit of my 3 centerbacks and culpable for Chelsea’s first goal) for Freddy Baez and switched to the 4231. It kind of worked, in that we did stop the bleeding and scored a goal late in the match, but we also conceded from another corner and lost 3-1.

My honest opinion is that Chelsea have a better squad. We have some great, young players, but they have great, peak players. Give us a couple more seasons, and we’ll probably be superior.

The loss took us back to second place, but still with a game in hand.

I have a feeling our season is going to be decided on May 6th.

I rotated us a bit for Southampton at home. Fede was injured, Kouyate, Farrell, Pardo, and Martin Ramirez were knackered. We started in the 4231 with Villafane up top, Palacios on the left, and Baez on the right. So’ton were a bit livelier than I wanted to see, and on 15 minutes Neco Williams put in a wretched piece of defending and let his man skin him and finish inside Tirano’s near post. At this point, Neco is a liability. I hate that. He was good for us for years, but he’s gotten older and we’ve gotten better. The problem is that he’s Welsh, which means he doesn’t count as foreign, and I’m running into registration problems as my foreign legion ages.

We went into halftime down 0-1. I gave the lads the hairdryer, and we went back out to the pitch where Neco managed to get skinned again, but this time Tirano made the save. I had to throw on Farrell and Martin Ramirez to try to salvage something. Before they could enter the pitch, Neco failed to cover a defensive breakdown between D’Haene and Benavidez, and So’ton were up 2-0. We pulled one back, and I went full gegenpress to try to salvage something. We generated chance after chance but couldn’t get a second goal or a draw.

We’re really gonna bottle this, aren’t we.

We utterly destroyed Wolves 6-1, and somehow want-away center back Miguel Benavidez scored a hat trick (two headers and a penalty). We went back to second, even on points and 5 back on goal differential. We legit need to run up the score against bad teams now.

After the Wolves demolition, Mike France–our Director of Football–stopped by my office with a bit of news. On the one hand, I don’t begrudge the player his money.

On the other hand, what the hell did I let slip into his contract? (I swear it was 300k at 10 assists and 350k at 20 assists, but apparently not.)

We went to 9th place Everton in desperate need of a win to keep our title hopes alive. Kouyate earned some more credit by heading down a wicked, bending Palacios cross into the path of Felipe Augusto, who finished from 5 yards. Martin Ramirez was rested for an hour, but with a 1-0 lead, I brought him in and he scored on 65 minutes to put us up 2-0. The two goals were all we needed. We might struggle with Everton in a cup final, but not in the league, not today. Three more points, and what could be the title decider at home against Manchester City next weekend.

The pressure is back on them.

They won on Sunday because of course they did.

And West Ham let them run up the goals.

Tell them they aren’t expected to win? Are you kidding me? I’m not opposed to lying to the players, but not that, not now.

Manchester City at home. The title on the line. They are a very good team, they have the best striker in the world, but we’ve beaten them before. We will do it again.

Lee Farrell got our first shot of the match, wide open from 15 yards, but he blazed it over the bar. The match engine said it was 0.2 xG, and I can believe it. That should have been 1-0. Five minutes later our Brazilian left back Gabriel came marauding across the box, picked up a Freddy Baez cross, and rifled home. Sunderland 1 – 0 City. Game. On. Not two minutes passed before a poor City goal kick fell to Enric, who passed forward to Baez, who laid the ball into the path of a wide open Martin Ramirez. 2-0. Four minutes later Fede Cordero received the ball on a throw-in from the left, spun across the box, and buried a shot into the far corner. 3-0 after 12 minutes. We’re going to win the league. Sing it with me. We’re gonna win the league! We’re gonna win the league!

Is 15 minutes into the match too early to start time wasting?

We played excellently through the first half, but we did give up a goal on 40 minutes, only for Fede Cordero to score our 4th late in added time. At halftime it was Sunderland 4 – 1 City.

At 80 minutes I went to a Balanced mentality (we were Attacking before; we’re always Attacking by default) and set time wasting to 11. Delgado managed to get himself a goal in the 4th minute of 2 minutes of added time, but it didn’t matter. Sunderland 4 – 2 City.

The team have a lot to be proud of in that image. Yes, I absolutely, positively did a manual save after that win, just in case. I’m not save-scumming, but I’m sure as HELL not letting a win like that get lost due to a crash.

We need 1 point away at Fulham to win the league, and we have a week for our starters to rest before kickoff. 

I changed nothing for Fulham. Martin Ramirez scored on 8 minutes. Freddy Baez worked the ball down the right and fed it back across the middle for an onrushing Lee Farrell, who smashed home from the middle of the penalty box. After completely dominating, Fulham pulled one back through Timothy Weah, who hit a preposterous curler over Tirado and into the corner. We went into halftime with the scoreline reading Fulham 1 – 2 Sunderland, and the xG at 0.09 to 1.37.

I took us out in the second half and asked the team to lower the tempo a bit. We usually are at high tempo to work the ball upfield more quickly, but A: I wanted to hold onto our lead, and B: we are technically much better than we used to be, and a more methodical approach should be fruitful. Fulham did scrounge another shot on target, but at 61 minutes Lee Farrell picked up the ball on the edge of the penalty area, took two touches, and fired home his second of the day. Which should have wrapped up things and taken all the suspense out, but 2 minutes later Gabriel scythed down a Fulham player in the box, and they converted the penalty. Fulham 2 – 3 Sunderland. Meanwhile City were up 4 – 0 over Leicester. I dropped our mentality to Balanced and pushed our time wasting to 11. Adan Tirado, in an effort to make even more of my hair turn gray, played a freekick from a Fulham offside past Benavidez and directly to Tim Weah, but Tirado redeemed himself and saved the resulting shot. I worked through my subs in the final minutes, wasting as much time as I could. 

The whistle blew at 95:10 after what was supposed to be 4 minutes of added time. Fulham 2 – 3 Sunderland.

We did it.

We’ve won the league.

Read that again. We’ve won the league.

In 9 seasons, we’ve gone from League 1 to Premier League champions. The path has not always been smooth, but we’ve established ourselves as the best club in England. 

Freddy Baez won the English Players’ Young Player of the Year. He had 7 goals and 11 assists. He deserved it. I won English Premier Division Manager of the Year. I also deserved it.

Multiple players made the team of the year. Including our former player Adam Steele.

We won the league, though if you put a few pints me and ask if we’re best the squad in the country, I couldn’t honestly say yes. Our best 11 can compete with and even beat any 11 in England, but we lack the depth of City, Chelsea, and United. We’re also much younger than they are, which can lead to matches like at Chelsea where we go behind and look utterly lost. Our young players will get better, though. We might not win the league or the Champion’s League next season, but we’ll be in the running for both.

At the beginning of the season I laid out what I would do if we won the league or the Champion’s League. I meant it. This has been a long, exciting save, but it’s been tiring, too.

I’ll write a retrospective and lessons-learned post sometime soon and put it up next week.

I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Fam.

Sunderland ’til I’m Sacked – Season 9, Part 1

Welcome back, footy nerds. If you’re just joining, the previous installment is available here, and the first installment in the series is available here.

We rolled through September.

After our start in August, I didn’t think the good times could continue. They did. I had to rotate a bit due to fixture congestion, and Leicester were able to take advantage to nab a point off us. We had great wins against Liverpool and Chelsea in the league.

We rolled through October.

Same story, different month. More good wins in the league, this time over Man United and Spurs.

At the end of October, we were top of the league.

We were also top of our Champion’s League group.

November was our first actual stumble.

My squad rotation bit us at home against Villa. We were slightly the better side, but couldn’t find the net. Rhian Brewster scored a penalty on 82 minutes, and Villa got their second after I threw everyone forward.

Our youth intake preview came in.

It doesn’t look very promising, despite the green rows. “This is a very poor crop of players.” That’s after I managed another upgrade to our recruitment.

One of my positions of “need” (I use the word lightly) is left back. Gabriel has been hurt for months, and Nilson is right-footed. Our scouts turned up a great-looking player.

Oh, wait. Victor Hugo. The one that got away. He ended up being better than Vlad Dragic. He is also monumentally expensive. I don’t think we’ll be signing him. Hopefully Gabriel stays healthy and develops further.

You know how I complain about not being able to spend our transfer budget? I… may have done a thing.

I’ve been sending the scouts to watch Kouyate for a few years, but he was never interested in joining us. He is now. He’s not the best striker in the world. I still think City’s guy Delgado is–and Mbappe and Haaland are still very much playing–but Kouyate could be top 5.

The catch is that I don’t really need another top-shelf striker. (You always need another top-shelf striker.) I have Martin Ramirez, who is probably top 10 in the world. Fede Cordero is right there with Ramirez.

Kouyate is better than them! He also will cost me 130m quid (plus agent fees) with a 15m bonus due after 50 league appearances.

I did it. F*** it. What’s the point of being rich if you don’t enjoy it.

There are clubs that have a philosophy of not signing a player only because they are good and available, instead looking to fill the actual needs in their squad. That is not my philosophy in general, but certainly not when I have a 165m quid transfer budget burning a hole in my pocket. You could argue I overpaid for him. You would probably be right, given our squad situation. But if we win a major trophy this year, and Kouyate is scoring goals along the way, will you complain? I don’t think so.

We are so loaded in attack, it’s kind of ridiculous. Kouyate, M. Ramirez, Baez, Cordero, Idah, Villafane, Palacios. I need to start playing 3124 and see if we can win with 4 strikers and 2 wingers on the pitch.

Our form in December dipped a little.

But only a little. City scored multiple late goals when we were throwing bodies forward to recover a 1-2 scoreline for a draw. The Porto match was a heavily rotated side in a match that was meaningless for us.

We’re in great shape at the end of December. I guess, technically, I could ask for a perfect record, but WE’RE TOP OF THE LEAGUE AT CHRISTMAS. By 8 points no less.

This is from 2 January, to reflect our club record transfer.

After we paid Lyon for Kouyate, our bank balance took a major hit, but we’re still preposterously rich. If I sell a couple more fringe players like Araujo and Escalante, I could still potentially bring in a 50-60m midfielder.

The rest of this season should be fascinating, but it will have to wait until the next update. See you then, footy nerds.

« Older posts