Thursday 23 July ~
Taking a new job in a different part of the country can involve a lot of upheaval. Especially if you have already have a strong perception of what your new surroundings will be like. "I thought life in the north would be funny, with people wearing clogs and all that. But I was wrong." So said Ray Wilkins in his Shoot! column 30 years ago when discussing his move from Chelsea to Man Utd. But even if the modern footballer was to base his impression of the north of England on old Hovis commercials, as Ray may have done, there is still no good reason to turn down a move because the surroundings will be unfamiliar.
With the amount of money that players receive now they can pay to fly anywhere – you can live in Durham but spend your weekends in London. Yet this week Peter Crouch became the latest player to turn down a transfer, to Sunderland in his case, on the basis that he didn't want to "move north".
Crouch used to live on Merseyside, where his partner is from, so it's not as if it would be an unfamiliar experience for him. In any case he will be ensconced in a celebrity bubble, based in an old manor house or on a new gated estate that really could be anywhere. By the time his playing career is over he will have banked millions of pounds, which would seem like a reasonable exchange for spending a year or two living somewhere that might be on average two degrees colder than the south coast.
Some of my fellow Sunderland fans have been hurt by Crouch's rejection, feeling that old stereotypes and prejudices of the area have cost them a major signing. More than that, many remember floundering in the second division and jealously looking on as Newcastle and Middlesbrough signed the likes of David Ginola and Juninho thanks to huge sums of cash. This has clearly not worked out – at Newcastle to a disastrous degree. But Sunderland fans now look for proof of their status as the region's top club, which means matching the headlining deals that their local rivals made in recent years. The fact that location is being claimed as the major factor in the failure to sign Peter Crouch must make it hurt all the more.
In reality, Sunderland's Premier League record is abysmal and in joining Fulham Crouch would be also getting European football. Despite our undoubted ambition, Fulham finished nine places above Sunderland last season. The wisdom of the Tottenham substitutes’ bench as a career choice for the England striker is slightly more dubious. But the reasons that Crouch didn't sign for Sunderland are much more likely to be professional rather than geographical. Unfortunately, the perils of moving "north" are seen as a plausible euphemism for the truth. Ed Upright