At each season’s end, we ask a group of judges to pore through up to 50 interviews with supporters of each team Sunderland faced in league and cup, and choose the best. Competition was tough; the panel was offered a non-binding shortlist that stretched to a dozen or so articles, and has reached its verdict …
The judging is over and we have our winners.
A superb season of “Who are You?” interviews, from which any of a dozen, maybe more, stood a decent chance of snatching a top three place in the annual awards, has produced its winners. And we are indebted to When Saturday Comes and Octopus Publishing for coming up with some prizes: a year’s subscription to the more than half-decent WSC, money to spend in the “shop” at the magazine’s website and a copy of the tremendous book of black and white football photography, John Tennant’s Football: the golden age.
Step forward, then, Tom Watt, a well-known NCO in the vast army of Arsenal supporters. In a close-run contest, Tom’s thoughtful, passionate answers were chosen by the Salut! Sunderland judging panel as the best of the lot.
Tom, as most will know, earns his living from writing and broadcasting and this would in previous years have caused me to exclude his “Who are You?” from interviews eligible for awards. On reflection, in the season just ended, I decided so many Q&As were with people professionally involved in writing, or in the game itself, that there should be no exclusions at all. The result was interesting: some judges clearly preferred the non-pros, others were drawn to them. That sounds like vindication of the decision I took.
Tom’s interview appeared just after the Carling Cup Final defeat to Birmingham City, a time when Arsenal still had hopes for the Premier League title, Champions’ League and FA Cup. It didn’t go quite according to plan, starting with our own valiant, if a trifle fortunate, 0-0 draw at the Emirates …
Click on each sub-heading if you wish to read the full interview.
* First place: Up the Arsenal, down with Gooners
Q:What have been the highs and lows of your history as a Gooner?
First of all, I never call myself a Gooner. I am an Arsenal supporter. Gooner is a modernism that I just don’t use at all. It is just a word that really winds me up; the same with fans, which I don’t use either.
But very few days go by when I don’t thank my lucky stars that I grew up around the corner from Arsenal and not anywhere else. I have unbelievable memories: the second leg of the Inter City Fairs Cup final in 1970 when we beat Anderlecht 3-0 at Highbury, winning the league at Tottenham in 1971, at Anfield in 1989 and at Old Trafford in 2002. The invincibles season, the first Champions’ League final in Paris. All unforgettable highs.
Lows? Well Sunday was pretty low, but the lowest would probably be losing the League Cup final to Swindon, who were then in the third tier, in 1969. Also that semi final against Sunderland at Hillsborough – you ought to remember Jeff Blockley as it was his two mistakes that put you through to the final. That one sticks in the memory because for some reason we didn’t start to play until we were 2-0 down, Charlie George got one back but it was not enough, a devastating afternoon.
Q: Arsenal supporters certainly seem to have remembered the name Dan Smith long after Sunderland supporters have all but forgotten him.
You say Dan Smith. Then there’s Martin Taylor and Ryan Shawcross (who did his best to break another Arsenal player’s leg the other night) and it doesn’t seem like a coincidence. OK, if it was just Dan Smith, you might say that’s one unfortunate event, Then you get Martin Taylor and Shawcross and it looks different. I don’t just blame the players, but the whole attitude on what is acceptable as a way of stopping Arsenal playing. It is not really a conversation worth having with supporters of other clubs but there is something very English and very regrettable about the way that within five minutes, the perpetrators of these assaults become the victims – “he’s not that kind of player”, “he didn’t mean it”. Yet the lad who had had his leg broken suffers in his long term career. Abou Diaby has never really recovered, physically yes but not psychologically, from his injury. Look at the recent game at Newcastle: people would stick up for Joey Barton and not him.
It all went down well with our judges, or enough of them to make the difference.
“For someone heavily involved with football in a professional capacity, he displays a healthy dislike of what the Premier League has become, and a level headed reality about Wenger’s managerial masterplan,” said Paul Dobson, “Sobs” to friends and ALS readers. “Easy to read with good footballing knowledge and an obvious love of (his) club, set in the context of a love for the game as a whole,” wrote Malcolm Dawson, a Salut! Sunderland contributor, though he was referring collectively to each of his choices.
* Second placee: Trautmann to Tevez: a true fan speaks
If Tom had not been a candidate, then first prize would have gone to Peter Kelly, a Manchester City supporter. Conscientiously or otherwise, last season’s winner Martin Haworth, also a City man, did not vote for him, but Peter picked up plenty of points from the others, who clearly overlooked the shame of the 5-0 walloping that followed the interview.
Q: Sheikh Mansour must have removed all the misery of being a Man City supporter, but has his money also taken away some of the fun?
A: Absolutely not! We can now watch terrific players, in Carlos Tevez a genuinely great one, play in light blue. We see a man in blue passing the ball to another man in blue. It was not always thus! however, the realist in me says we can still end up with egg on our faces, we always have in the past.
Q: Are the greatest players you’ve ever seen in City colours at Eastlands, or do you hark back to Colin Bell, Francis Lee or other stars of the past?
Colin Bell for me, at the moment, is still the greatest player i’ve seen in a City shirt. if we keep Tevez for a few more seasons and he continues like this, maybe that will change.
It was, said Pete Sixsmith, “an honest and open piece that reflects well on older City fans who would not do anything as idiotic as The Poznan”.
Sobs aded: “Pete has obviously taken a deep breath and thought long and hard about his opinions on the Arab cash now sloshing around Eastlands, but would obviously stick with his club whatever. Nice memories of those who have served both clubs as well, and is a proper football fan. ‘Hopes but no expectations’ is a mantra that supporters of Man Utd and Liverpool would do well to adopt.”
* Third place: Wolves at our door: they want Gyan, Turner, Zenden and Gordon
Which leaves us with the last of our prizewinners, Andy Nicholls from the Molineux Mix Wolves fan site. Andy seems intent on making third place his own, having occupied it last year, too. Oh, and his wife Jo, a Mackem, did the honours for the return game at the SoL (about which we wish to hear no more), and also picked up points from the judges.
Extract (from Andy’s interview ahead of Wolves 3 SAFC 2 in November):
Q: Mick McCarthy retains a lot of goodwill on Wearside. What’s your own view and has it changed in any way since his arrival at Wolves?
A: Just like Mackems – I believe that MM has done a fantastic job here at Wolves. However, I do believe that whilst being a great man-manager he can be found wanting in the tactical department. Our coaching set up (in my opinion) is not as strong as other teams – we need greater depth but with MM captaining the ship. So to answer the question – great bloke just lacking in a little something – TACTICS!
Q: Ditto Jody Craddock. A great servant to us and, so far as I can tell, to you. And a true gent, to the extent of doing one of these questionnaire for us last season. What are your thoughts on him?
A: Love Jody to bits – works hard and reads the game well. He has been injured this season and we have missed his calming influence. Great to have around the club and a super ambassador both on and off the field. As the song goes … he used to be s****, but now he’s alright – walking in a Craddock wonderland!
Sobs’s verdict: Andy’s “view of his club and football seems to be in tune with opinions on Wearside (on both clubs and managers); he puts across a view that is both balanced and partisan at the same time – which is how it should be. A humorous outlook always helps.”
But what a pity we couldn’t have 10 winners. The judges’ comments on other contenders show how widely and wisely the panel’s net was cast:
* “Honest and accurate appraisal of the whole West Ham situation, season, and recent history. Sadly for the Hammers Tony was bang on the money. A lot of people have West Ham at the top of their hate list. I think this has more to do with their owners than anything else. I’ve always thought that the Hammers were a bit like us as a club. A worthy nominee for the end of season medals.”
– Jeremy Robson
* “Feisty and opinionated with a sharp sense of humour; just the kind of blog I like. But don’t give her any prizes until they get rid of that blooming drum.”
– Pete Sixmith
* “They were all excellent, and it was very difficult to separate them. Still feel aggrieved that I cannot find a place for Tom Watt or Stoke City’s Stephen Foster.”
– Martin Haworth
And there were honourable mentions for Jimmy Armfield (Blackpool), Pauline McLynn (Aston Villa), David Harding (Chelsea), Keith Topping and Mick Quinn (Newcastle United), Jon Burns (Colchester United), Les Bradd (Notts County) and – of course – Bernard Ramsdale (Wigan). Salut! Sunderland offers grateful thanks to the judges, the sponsors and every one of the supporters who agreed to answer my questions as the season progressed – and congratulates the winning trio.
All interviews conducted by Colin Randall