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milwall fans raise £2,300 for the bradley lowery foundation
By chris prete

Remember Bradley Lowery? He was the little boy in Sunderland, suffering from a rare form of cancer. He couldn’t get treatment in this country on the NHS. A fund was launched, to pay for his treatment abroad. He seemed to be holding his own against the disease, but unfortunately relapsed, and his condition got worse. Just before the football season kicked off earlier this year, Bradley Lowery passed away. His passing touched many lives, and especially football fans from all over the country. He was a Sunderland supporter.

His funeral took place while we (myself and my wife Sue) were on holiday with our friends Kelly and Ellen. We watched the news reports on TV. Hundreds of football fans attended the funeral in their team shirts. Just about every club was represented. Rather appropriately, keeping in mind the football connection, someone coined the phrase “Cancer has no colours”. We joined in with thousands of other people on the day of the funeral, and released helium balloons in Bradley’s memory. To us, the balloons symbolised his spirit flying free. The occasion also brought to mind the plight of Millwall fan, little Harvey Brown, and the campaign to raise funding for him. The NHS refused him treatment on the grounds of cost, but caved in due to overwhelming public support for his cause.

That night was quite an emotional time. Millwall fans were just coming to terms with the London Bridge attack, and the stabbing of Millwall fan Roy Larner, who stood up to the terrorists. Therefore, a drink or two or three, and a chat was in order! The end result was, that myself, Kelly, Ellen and my wife Sue, decided to do something positive to help in some way. With the match against Sunderland coming up, we hit on the idea of getting a flag or banner made up, to express our solidarity with Sunderland fans over their loss. The idea was to take it to Sunderland, then hand it over to some Sunderland supporters to bring to The Den in March.

A conversation in the pub before a home match, led to Martin Cooper coming on board. He suggested holding a charity night. Martin approached the Eltham Hill Social Club, where we are also members. The club readily agreed, and gave us the hall and staff for nothing. Martin then contacted fellow Millwall fan, Paul Fuller (the ex-Oasis backing singer). Although busy gigging and touring, he agreed to perform for free. Then Stevie Wynn put me in touch with journalist and author of numerous football books, Mark Metcalf, who is a massive Sunderland fan who has seen his side play many times at the Den, old and new.  He began opening doors for us to the Bradley Lowery Foundation. The foundation was set up after Bradley’s death, to provide help to other people who can’t get treatment or medical equipment through the NHS.

The weeks leading up to the charity night were literally a blur. The banner was ordered, a planning meeting was held, and the offers of help came flooding in. Harvey Brown’s family were invited as guests of honour. A message of support was received from the Bradley Lowery Foundation. We had auction items donated by Millwall, Charlton, and local Eltham businesses, plus no end of raffles prizes. We were ready to rock!

Although Friday the 13th sounds inauspicious for a charity night, the day started well. Mark Metcalf – author of the authorised biography on Millwall and Sunderland legend Charlie Hurley (and a great friend of Lions season ticket holder Robert Boyling), had put a piece about the charity night on the Sunderland AFC message boards. Messages of support, and encouragement were soon being posted. It was a great gesture by the Sunderland fans.

Despite last minute nerves on my part, the evening was a huge success. Paul Fuller opened the evening with the first set of two sets. He was at his best, and had the place pulsating with a variety of songs, that stretched from The Beatles and Rod Stewart, right up to Oasis. But the best was yet to come! The message of thanks and support was read out from Gemma Lowery and Lynn Murphy, then it was straight on with the auction - hosted by Dean Brown. The lots went down like dominoes, and the bidding was fast and furious. A 2004 FA Cup Final shirt (signed by the Millwall team), this season’s signed shirt, a Millwall signed football, a signed Nigel Ben boxing glove, and a signed Madness picture, were just some of the items which raised £785. The raffle followed, with the winning tickets drawn out by special guest Harvey Brown. Finally, the evening was brought to a close with Paul Fuller’s second set.

The event raised £2,231.55 on the night, which the social club have made up to £2,300. We have also been promised further donations from people who couldn’t get there, and from the Millwall Supporters Club. The proceeds will be presented to the Bradley Lowery Foundation, before the Sunderland v Millwall match on the 18th of November - where it is hoped that Sunderland will agree to the presentation on the pitch. Mark Metcalf is also arranging for Millwall fans who can make it to have a beer with some Sunderland fans prior to the match.

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grayson stays positive
as does watmore...

Simon Grayson was left ruing last-minute injuries and illnesses ahead of Saturday’s draw with Queen’s Park Rangers. The gaffer had been hoping to have a near full strength squad to select from, but had to make late alterations to his preferred team. “When I’m looking at the start of the week, I knew (Lewis) Grabban wasn’t going to be far away, I knew (Duncan) Watmore was going to play on Tuesday and be available, and I knew the international lads would be back and in good nick. McManaman had a week’s training, so I was really confident because I knew we had the attacking prowess that could go and win us a game. Then on Tuesday, Tyias pulled a muscle and overnight Lamine gets ill. That doesn’t help you along the way. It’s small steps. It’s not going to happen overnight, but we’ve made a small progression and hopefully these small steps will lead to bigger ones. It was sickness and diarrhoea with Lamine. I wanted to name the team on Friday and work on the set-pieces, but we couldn’t because we had Lamine in bed not knowing until Saturday morning whether he was going to play or not. It’s something we’ve had within the group. We thought we’d cleared it all, but his kids have come home from school or nursery and decided they’re going to give it to their dad.” Wilson, who has missed games with a groin injury, is expected back in training in midweek.

He has also urged fans to stick with the team despite the ongoing struggles the team are enduring. “It’s tough. I’ve played in games and teams where I’ve had criticism myself, and it does affect players. All I can say is, please stay with the team’, because we’re all in this together. To be fair, Adam Matthews was unfortunate. One took a bobble that he played out of play, and then John played one behind him when he wasn’t even looking. Full credit to him, he stuck in there and contributed, and started us off for the goal. He was hobbling around for 20 minutes, but there are some good kids in that dressing room, good lads who want to do well for the club. Stay with us because we’re going to take this team forward. The players are here for footballing reasons, and not for other reasons that might have been the case in the past. They’re here because they want to give everything for this football club. I don’t think there’s been a spell in any game where the players have not tried to get something out of the game. Obviously, a little bit of quality has been lacking at times because of the confidence levels not being where we would want them to be. When this team gets results, you’ll see a different group because of what confidence levels can do to people. You’ll see different characters then, but they’re showing good characteristics now and that’s pleasing.”

Grayson has also tried to justify his decision to leave Jonny Williams on the bench. “Williams was very close to playing. He played on Monday night, but one of the reasons why he didn’t start is because I wanted to play with two up front. I wanted to take the game to them, and I wanted to play Vaughan up there because we wanted to get more crosses into the box, and he could get on the end of things. I wanted Duncan up there to run in behind them as well. Did it pan out how we wanted it to? Probably not. But Jonny was always going to be an option in the second half because he’s brave and he wants to get on the ball and make things happen. You could see what he can bring to the team, and with the players alongside him, we will be a threat. John has acquitted himself really well with his experience, his knowhow and his knowledge. He talks to the lads alongside him. We’d all love to have a 26-year-old John O’Shea, but there’s not too many of those around, and they certainly wouldn’t be at this club because they’d be too expensive to bring here.”
Despite sitting second bottom of the league Grayson isn’t getting too worried about. “The position will only become a worry when you’re still in it and it’s mathematically impossible to catch the teams above you. We want to win games, but I’ve said to the players that this was never going to be a walk in the park – not for me, not for anybody playing for this club, and not for the supporters either. It’s a tough ask in the Championship, and it’s tough for this football club at this moment in time.”

Watmore has also continued to preach positivity in light of recent back to back draws but accepts our current league position is not good enough. “It’s difficult times, but it was difficult times the last time I played here considering the position we were in. I’ve also been injured for a long time, which was extremely frustrating. We’re not in the place we should be, and everyone knows that. But there’s no point giving up and being all negative – you need to be positive and keep working hard, keep everyone together, and get the fans cheering again. We’re in a difficult position, but we’re trying everything we can. I know the fans are probably bored of us saying the same stuff, and the results are disappointing, but we know that and we’re all desperate to turn it around. The lads are great, the gaffer’s great, and everyone’s on the same page here, which is important. We’re just waiting for things to click so we can go on a good run. I never really felt that weight of expectation personally. I just focus on me, and I know that after ten months out, I wasn’t going to come out and be sharp straightaway – that comes with match fitness. I know I’ll always give my best and work hard, but I feel I will get better as I play more and more games. It’s going to take a while because I’ve been out for so long, so I’m not putting that pressure on myself. I’m looking to give everything I can for the cause. Aiden has scored a few goals from outside the box now. It was a great strike, and it’s useful to have him in the side. We tried to kick on and get the winner, but we couldn’t quite do it, which was a shame.” 

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MORE BAD NEWS
BY LUKE HAKIN

Luke Another week, another dispiriting performance littered with laughably bad individual errors and schoolboy defending.

In attack we again looked completely toothless, with only McGeady and the returning Watmore offering any kind of threat. In midfield, the game again passed by the ineffectual Ndong and Cattermole; the latter of which looks completely shot even at this level. 

Yet looking at the squad, you can't convince me this is the second worst team in the league, pipped only to last place by a newly promoted Bolton team hamstrung by a transfer embargo and crippling restrictions on player wages and squad size. That comes back to the manager, and whilst Grayson isn't the root of all problems at the club, he is a problem. 

With just over a quarter of the season already written off, let's look back at his performance so far:

Tactics and team selection - Baffling. After flogging the squad to death with successive unchanged line-ups at the start of the season - to the point where the team looked exhausted before even the end of August - each game now sees a myriad of changes with little logic or reasoning and we’re yet to fully-commit to a first choice goalkeeper 12 games into the season. It’s throwing mud at the wall and seeing what sticks.

We have no discernible game plan other than to hoof the ball in the vague direction of Vaughan, a cheap squad filler signed from Bury who has somehow started almost every game. The long-ball game relies on willing runners supporting the target man; we have possibly the most static midfield in the league. Bizarrely, the only midfielder in the squad capable of running beyond – a Grayson signing, Jonny Williams - cannot get into the first team ahead of Cattermole.

Transfers - Jury's out. Naturally there are mitigating circumstances - a pathetically small transfer budget being the main one, whilst also simultaneously having to move on anyone we could shed from the wage bill. McGeady looks a great signing for pennies, and Williams and McManaman have shown brief glimpses of ability, but it would be generous to the extreme to describe either keeper or Galloway as anything other than horrifically bad. Vaughan and Browning haven’t fared much better.

Motivational skills - Well, the proof is in the pudding, isn't it? The team look completely devoid of leadership, consumed by fear at home and fare little better away. His media soundbites make little sense and whatever is said in the dressing room clearly isn’t working.

Results - As above. To repeat, we're second bottom of the Championship with 1 win in 12.

I don’t say any of this purely as a reaction to our dreadful form – I’ve backed underperforming managers in the past (of which there have been a few) who have a) looked to have some idea as to what they’re trying to achieve, even if it hasn’t necessarily worked, and/or b) have a track record of moving the club forwards, be it here or elsewhere. Grayson has neither. I don’t buy the argument that he ‘knows the division’; his 7th placed finish with Leeds in 2011 remains the one and only time he has finished in the top 10 of the Championship in his 12 seasons in management.

The situation we’re in now is reminiscent of where we were 12 months ago under Moyes, when it became clear he wasn’t up to the job but escaped with relatively little criticism because we needed stability and ‘can’t keep sacking managers’.

I’ll nail my colours to the mast now – Grayson was, for me, an uninspiring and underwhelming appointment and has done nothing since to disprove that. Grayson isn’t particularly dislikeable like Moyes and I bare no ill-feeling towards him on a personal level, but it’s blatantly obvious how this will end, and it isn’t with him taking us back to the Premier League and kicking on. Never mind promotion, winning a game at home looks beyond him at the minute.

To address the inevitable question of ‘who could we get to replace him?’ – I’ll turn it around on its head. We’re 2nd bottom of the league – who could possibly do any worse?

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HEIGHT OF MEDIOCRITY
BY PADDY HOLLIS

Saturday’s uninspiring 1-1 draw with a very average QPR side shows that we have hit rock bottom. Most games this season have produced worrying performances, but in failing to beat one of the sides who are destined to go nowhere in this division we have made it clear that we will be following in their footsteps.

Aiden McGeady said in his post-match interview that this is the stage of the season where we need to be winning games, if it wasn’t for him we would have lost a great deal more. This includes yesterdays match; a draw was bad enough but a defeat to such a poor side would have been unforgivable. The Irishman has a point though. We’re already a quarter of the way through the campaign, eight points from 36 is relegation form and there’s little sign of that changing.

Another home game without a win was confirmed when the full-time whistle, accompanied by boos, was blown yesterday. That’s 17 now, and there are plenty of sides better than QPR who still have to visit the SoL this year including in-form Bristol City later this month. The poisoned atmosphere on Wearside isn’t going to improve until we can show some resilience on home soil.  

There were at least two positives to yesterday’s performance. The long-awaited return of Duncan Watmore added plenty of pace and power to our attack, he is destined to be a major player this campaign. The form of Aiden McGeady continues to dig us out of a hole, however, we can’t rely on him all of the time and unfortunately, no one else looks very keen to step up to the plate. Lewis Grabban’s return to the squad is also welcome, with a fully fit squad we should see things improve soon.

The trip to Brentford next week may follow the same pattern as yesterdays match. The Bees haven’t had the best of starts to the season either, however, they picked up a big three points yesterday and they’ll no doubt be raring to get stuck into us. With two more home games in quick succession after that, the time to dig in and grind out an ugly win is now.

We all knew there would be some weeks in this league where the game would be a bit of a write-off. However, that has been the case 80% of the time. We might not have lost yesterday, but you’d be a brave individual to try and say it was a positive result.

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SACK THE MANAGER
BY TOM LYNN

A few weeks ago I wrote of the need to quickly relieve the inept Simon Grayson of his duties as manager of SAFC and surely the need to do this is now even more urgent as anyone who witnessed the utter dross of a performance against QPR should realise. To those who say the manager is not the problem, I would beg to differ whilst still acknowledging that chairman Short, who rarely attends matches and is totally unaccountable, needs to sell up and move on to things that really interest him as clearly he's bored stiff with his acquisition of an English soccer club.

With the squad we have we should be nowhere near the relegation zone. It's down to abysmal, confidence sapping, haphazard, inconsistent management by a man who is not big enough for the task in hand. He is coming over as a boardroom patsy, a second choice who is doing as he's told by his masters after Aberdeen boss McInnes made Martin Bain's summer long, highly publicized pursuit of him look foolish as he declared 'my way or no way' and decided on the latter due to lack of funds and a refusal to let him have total control of the club to turn things around from academy level downwards. Grayson's come in like a nodding dog and that's what Short and Bain wanted, someone who suits their third-rate agenda and which will result in relegation to the third tier unless our dozy custodians wake up soon.

We saw things on the pitch against QPR that I'd laugh at if witnessing a Sunday morning division five match. A free kick slashed out of play as its intended recipient wasn't concentrating, a goalkeeper who is like a rabbit in the headlights and who is surpassing Kelvin Davis as the worst in recent memory, kicking the ball out of play and constant aimless punts upfield to non existent strikers and an array of puzzling decisions by players clearly lacking leadership.

Mix in a shocking, demoralizing team selection with the likes of Williams and McManaman on the bench (Grayson signings too!), a centre half who can't even play his proper position of right back very effectively and the totally out of form and ineffective Cattermole was again selected to start and you have to wonder just what planet Grayson, one pathetic win in twelve league matches in a poor division, is on.

The decision is yours SAFC, get rid soon or pay a price which will be a step too far for some of the greatest fans in world football but whose patience is now being tested to the limit as the depressing sub 20,000 attendances in a soulless atmosphere (forget about the official attendances you read in the media, the true number of people physically in the ground is nowhere near those inflated figures) bear witness to.

The fans aren't mugs and we can see on the pitch right now that if action isn't taken we could be relegated to the third tier, a historically famous old club that we all love embarrassed yet again.

How much more are we expected to tolerate? Act or suffer potentially terrifying consequences SAFC.

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post qpr craic…
REACTION

Aiden McGeady rescued another point for Sunderland with a brilliant second half strike as Simon Grayson’s side came from behind against QPR at the SOL on Saturday to draw 1-1. Sunderland failed to win again at home yet again but things could have been a lot worse after the lads conceded a sloppy first half goal when Idrissa Sylla nodded in from a corner. Fortunately, McGeady struck midway through the first half to salvage a point but this result was still greeted with boos at the final whistle as it’s still simply not good enough. Simon Grayson had this to say afterwards: "We wanted to win the game and we did have some good chances to do that. After going down a goal following their set-piece we didn’t take it to heart; we dealt with it, we got on the ball better and we created some urgency about us. You could tell the players were doing whatever was required to get a result. Of course we’re disappointed because we wanted to win and get the three points, but we’re taking small steps and hopefully next time we turn out we get maximum points. If [Aiden] McGeady had scored with that early chance it would have really settled us. It was a great ball from Duncan to set that up. It would have given us that first goal, which is so important at home. There were a lot of positives in the second half; the players stepped up and they wanted to be on the ball. We had some decent opportunities, we just didn’t get the breaks. We certainly looked a threat today and we passed the ball with purpose. The lads who came off the bench had an impact on the game too, which is what you want to see.  Tyias [Browning] picked up an injury on Tuesday in training and Marc Wilson is still injured," he continued. “Lamine [Kone] was down to play but fell ill overnight. You finally get your full complement of strikers available and then you lose players at the other end, but Billy [Jones] came in and stuck to the task he was asked to do. Lewis has been out for 4 or 5 weeks now and it’s great to have him back and there’s another 75 minutes in the tank for Duncan which is great for everybody. We’ve shown some good character today, we’ve not buried our head in the sand and let’s hope we can build on this result and the last one when we go to Brentford next week."

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