Who are you? An award-winner from Manchester City

Still to come, the view from Abu Dhabi. But let’s begin our build-up to Man City at home on Sunday by welcoming back the winner of the 2009-2010 Salut! Sunderland “Who Are You?” award, Martin Haworth. His responses were described by one of the judges, Mike Amos, himself an award-winning journalist (marginally better than being called an accomplished burglar), as “an appealing mix of passion, knowledge, honesty and occasional humour”. It seemed right to invite Martin, a lifelong City fan exiled in the North East, to do the honours again …

?Salut! Sunderland: Tell us how winning the Who are You? first prize has changed your life.

Thank you very much. It was something as a surprise as I didn’t know about the competition to be the best entry of the season when it – click here to see – was submitted. I wouldn’t say that the prize has changed my life, but it has certainly got me noticed. The prize was being able to spend $150 at Soccerpro.com and once I realised that there were replica shirts on offer, I was like a kid in a sweet shop. I do have quite a few different shirts already, mainly from non-league, but also from different parts of the world. For me the shirt has to look a little different, a little stand-out. So after deliberating for some time, I opted for the shirts from the national teams of Russia and Australia, and I’m wearing the Russian shirt in the photo. As well as being very good looking (the shirt, not me), it’s also just about the most comfortable and easy to wear shirt I have. So what’s 50-year-old doing collecting football shirts? Simply, I go cycling, and rather than wearing cycling gear or t-shirts, I prefer to wear football shirts. So if you see someone cycling in the North East, wearing a Russian football shirt, that’ll be me. There can’t be anyone else with one up here. Because it’s not the usual Sunderland or Newcastle tops that you see so often in the North East, it does generate quite a bit of interest. I just like being the centre of attention!??

Salut! Sunderland is delighted to announce that our friends at soccerpro have agreed to offer prizes for this season’s award, too

But let Martin get back to the questions …

And is this the season when Man City simply must step up to the plate and deliver, after all that Arabian gold?

The pundits seem to think so. For me, a good run in the Europa Cup would do, or maybe win the League Cup. It does worry me that players like David Silva said when they signed that they were coming here to play in the Champions League. Has he “done a Robinho” and not realised which Manchester club he has signed for?

Does the club’s development excite or worry you?

Both. I love the fact that they have the financial muscle to be able to go out and get almost who they want. They are now being a little more realistic about their targets this year. I didn’t like the public pronouncements that they were going to get Ronaldo, Torres and the like. It was obvious that the genuine A-listers weren’t going to come to a club that wasn’t in the Champions League. As the club progresses (hopefully), then there may be a time when the likes of Kaka would come. It showed what folly the move was, when he eventually moved on for little more than half of what City were offering. It worries me, as undoubtedly the club is a rich man’s plaything. What’s going to happen when he gets bored? It could make Leeds United’s troubles look like a slight dip in form by comparison. What could be significant are the attempts to legislate squad size, national make-up of the squad and wages as a percentage of turnover, which could slow up progress. I do understand the reasons behind these moves, but for a club that can afford to pay their way, it’s going to be restrictive. There have always been clubs that can afford to pay more than others for players in wages and transfer fees, it I accept that it has become more acute. That’s the way of the world. Maybe it is because it is “my” club that is most likely to be affected by this, but I really don’t see the need for this additional governance. I blame Platini for a lot of this, and I do wonder if he would have been so enthusiastic for change if French teams performed well in the Champions League. I know that there are plenty of people who are waiting for the collapse, and are ready to laugh at our expense. Quite a few seemed to enjoy them missing out on a Champions League place last season. “City are ruining football” I’m frequently told. I don’t seem to remember the same accusation being levelled quite so much at Chelsea when Abramovich took over. I remember being told that the world had gone mad in the 1970’s when City broke the transfer record and paid £1.5m to Wolves for Steve Daley, who was moved on to Third Division (that’s the First Division in modern money) Burnley less than eighteen months later. We are past masters at wasting money, and they have been the reason for some of the game’s biggest laughs. ??

What would be the minimum acceptable performance in Premier and cups this season??

For me, a Europa League finishing place, a good run in this season’s Europa League competition. They were last in that competition two years ago. I though then that a lot of the opposition they faced were woeful. The first time they met anyone like Premier League quality was Hamburg in the quarter finals, and that was the stage that City were knocked out. That’s why I think that only a good run in this competition is acceptable. The League and FA Cup can be a bit of a lottery, is that much can depend on how kind the draws are. It’s a phrase I frequently use, that cups are not really a sign of quality, as no matter how good you are, you only need a bad ten minutes, concede a couple of goals and your competition is over. That’s not to say it isn’t exciting, but the League is more a sign of quality. I’d settle for more European competition, be it Europa or Champions, and as long as it’s above Tottenham. They are my nemesis, more so than Man Utd. I wasn’t fussed about qualifying for the Champions League last season as I didn’t think that City were ready for it, but to lose it to them, and at our ground was all your worst nightmares at once.

You were a Hughes man. In  what way has his departure affected City’s play and progress and how will he do at Fulham??

It says much for my predictive powers that in my last item, was for the Sunderland game at Eastlands last season, I said that the board would stick with him, and they were issuing statements of calm and patience. That game proved to be his last in charge, and I was very upset at the decision to fire him. So reportedly were a number of the players. Robinho’s attitude certainly didn’t help Hughes’ position. I couldn’t believe the club’s decision to allow him to return to Brazil on loan to Santos in order to get match practice in preparation for the World Cup. He’d patently given up trying at City, and got what he wanted. Santos can’t afford a permanent transfer (and I guess no-one else can go anywhere near the price City paid), so I think we are stuck with him. Seeing him run around in South Africa like a man possessed was galling. If he wanted match practice, the club should have stuck him in the reserves.
Has Mancini done any better than what Hughes would have done? I don’t think so. The timing of the Hughes departure showed that despite their statements the board wanted to get into the Champions League sooner rather than later. I’m sure Mancini was probably told on appointment that a top four finish was his target, and he had a transfer window to make some changes before the end of the season. Yet he didn’t make it. It was theirs to lose, and a dip in form at the end of the season let Tottenham in. The defence needed tightening, and hopefully that has been addressed with the summer signings. They have a number of flair players, but I felt in the games since he has taken over, the approach is more cautious than under Hughes. At least he’s stopped wearing the club scarf in the dug-out, I cannot abide badge-kissing acts like that. It was a bad idea to start with, and then to repeat it until the end of the season was just ludicrous. It became like the party guest that wouldn’t go home.
I think that Mark Hughes has a very tough act to follow. Fulham did better than anyone expected last term, and I fear that will have raised their hopes sky-high. It’s going to be difficult to keep that momentum going and with no Europa League for them this term. Anything less than an excellent finish for them is going to look like failure. I like Hughes’ temperament, and I can imagine that his chairman isn’t the easiest of people to work with. He also won’t have anything like the budget he had at City, so it’s going to be very difficult for him. He did very well at Blackburn and Wales, so he has a track record. I think if he had been given time, that he would have succeeded at City. I hope he does at Fulham. What has slightly irritated me in recent months, is some supporter’s views of the Hughes era seems to have undergone something of a revision. In my mind, he was better than Sven “no plan B” Erickson, but some are almost trying to discredit the progress made under his stewardship. I’ve yet to be convinced that Mancini was such a quantum leap to make the sacking justified If Hughes had to go, then in my mind, there was only one man to replace him, but he opted for Real Madrid instead. Now that would have riled Fergie, having Mourinho in his back yard.

Name the best players you’ve seen in City shirts – and worst?

By a mile, the worst was Bobby Shinton. A classic case of buying a player who scored a lot of goals in lower leagues, and hoping that he’ll be able to do it in the top flight. He couldn’t. So we offloaded him to Newcastle after a few months. There was almost a palpable sigh of relief when he went. George Weah didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in his short stay. It was obvious that he had come for one last big pay day, and by the time he came to us, his best days were well behind him. The best? There are some crackers to choose from. Trevor Francis (when he was fit) was just about at his best when he was at City. It was the first time I’d seen a really top quality player be signed by the club. I remember his debut at Stoke City when we were winning 2-1 in the closing minutes. We were somewhat under the cosh, and the ball reached Francis just inside his own half. I remember thinking “just welly it” to buy us a few more seconds of relief. That probably showed the standard of player we were used to, but he took the ball and ran for goal. He beat three or four defenders before slotting the ball home to make the game comfortable at 3-1. That’s when I knew we had a class act for a change. Hetton-lad Colin Bell was a club legend, although I only saw him play regularly at the end of his career when he was struggling to get fit again. His career was ended before it’s time. Of the current crop, I really like Carlos Tevez, a skilful player who can make something out of nothing. Supporters really warm to players who chase after lost causes and work really hard. You get the impression he’d play the same if he was playing in a Sunday League game or the World Cup Final. I could never understand Manchester United’s reluctance to offer him a deal when the arrangement was coming to an end, their preference being Berbatov. It may have been £25m, but it is beginning to look like a bargain.

Any thoughts on individual SAFC players, or City-Sunderland clashes of the past?

I’ve wracked my brains over this, and not much springs to mind in games with Sunderland, other the game I wrote about last time, which was than my first visit to Roker Park which saw Sunderland escape relegation on the last day of the season. I also remember another encounter in the late 80s at Roker Park, when City won 4-2, including a fantastic strike from a recent signing from Luton, David Oldfield. I had already moved up to the North East by that time, and didn’t get to see City a lot. The reason this one sticks in my mind, is that City’s performance was superb, and I mistakenly thought that “this is it”, that the club was finally on the up, and able to challenge the big boys. It proved to be yet another false dawn. I also remember a game at Maine Road early in the career of Barry Vension, and I remember him coming on during the second half, and had a superb performance. He may have even scored the winner, but my memory could be going.

Hand of heart, where will you finish this season and what about Sunderland and Newcastle??

We’ll probably finish roughly where we did last term, which many will view as a failure. Yes, they have spent a fortune, but it is one thing to get the players together, it is quite something else to get them to play as a team. That’s probably the downside of having so much money available, in that there is the temptation to chop and change if things aren’t happening quickly enough. Players need time to adjust to each other, and those who are playing in the Premier League for the first time are going to take a little longer. That’s going to be hard when the pressure will be on to succeed.
For once the Newcastle supporters I speak to are being realistic about their chances this season. To me, on paper the squad they have now looks weaker than the one that was relegated. Those who go regularly tell me that the spirit at the club is better than it was two years ago. Get a couple of bad defeats, and spirit goes out of the window. The Villa result was a real surprise, but they seem to be losing their better players and aren’t the team they were a couple of years ago. The squad is paper-thin, and I think they will finish in the bottom third. The club are saying that survival is the name of the game, and that’s probably right. It will be interesting to see whether those expectations turn to unrest at being one of the Premier League’s also-rans in a season or so. With the memory of the time they ran Manchester United close for the title still fresh in minds, that can prove to be their albatross. The supporters, like everyone else, will be looking for some sort of progress year on year, and with this squad, they will do very well to be anything other than bottom third. I think that should they survive this term, but that the second season will be even harder, as survival will be a “given”. It’s likely that there will be no additional money available, certainly while the current administration is in place.

Sunderland will be mid-table-ish. Steve Bruce is a good manager, and works well with limited budgets. I was surprised when he allowed Kenwynne Jones to leave without a readymade replacement. For me, Darren Bent needs help up front, and Kenwynne was the perfect foil. At the time of writing, no replacement seems forthcoming. Sunderland’s board seems to allow managers time to see whether their teams are working, which is good, and in the past have been pretty generous with funds. Steve has been successful at his previous clubs, and it’s not inconceivable that they continue to progress to finish in the top six or seven in a couple of years. Sunderland don’t strike me as the sort that would “chase the dream” by throwing money at the team, which is probably why they will still be around long after others have got into difficulties.

?  Give us the season’s top four in order, and the bottom three.

Chelsea, Arsenal, Man Utd, and (fingers crossed) Man City.

Bolton, Wigan and Blackpool. It doesn’t look good for my native Lancashire does it? I was as pleased as punch with Blackpool getting off to a stunning 4-0 win at Wigan. With everyone tipping them for eventual relegation (including me), nothing could have been worse for them to start the season with a bad defeat against one of the League’s weaker sides. They may well go down at the end of the season, but at least they will have the memory of topping the Premiership for a few hours on the opening day. ??

  Does all the money sloshing around in football, with the attendant risk in current economic climes of a really spectacular collapse by a big name, leave you more comfortable with your non-league interests??

I wouldn’t wish collapse on anyone, especially for the supporters. What may have a major effect if enough numbers do collapse, is that the Pyramid becomes unsustainable. That’s a real worry, and some of the changes made in recent seasons by the FA haven’t helped either.

Believe it or not, boom and bust has happened for years in non-league, it just largely goes unreported. Even at our level there are people to throw relatively silly money at football clubs, and pronouncing “Football League in three years” to the press. Then they get bored, or the money runs out, and the thing collapses. There are some big non-league names that have been brought to their knees, or have even gone out of business as a result of chasing the dream. You’d like to think that any football club, professional or otherwise lives within their means. There are checks made by Leagues to check their stability, it still doesn’t prevent some clubs behaving like money is going out of fashion. Often they can be caught out by unforeseen circumstances. It doesn’t help when often without warning, a major sponsor, who has had a long association with a club, pulls out. At our level, there is no queue of companies waiting to take their place. Getting sponsorship at this level is very hard. Clubs tell me that even adverts for programmes at £25 a season are getting harder and harder to find.
Everyone is finding it tougher, but what doesn’t help is the attitude of those who govern the game. To us at our level, it seems that the FA’s sole interest is the Premier League. A few years ago the prize pot for the FA Cup was cut, and the prize levels were adjusted accordingly. What hurt was that the winnings for success in the later rounds were maintained at their existing level, but the previous qualifying rounds were cut. For many clubs this income was the life-blood, and not even petty cash to a Premier League club, but it can be the difference between survival and extinction for a non-league club. What also doesn’t help is the constantly changing attitude towards ground criteria, leaving clubs facing huge bills for facilities that are just not justifiable. Their restructure of the non-league game has been little more than a shambles, denuding leagues as power-struggles between the leagues have ended up with some competitions being a shadow of their former self. The FA has allowed the tail to wag the dog, and the lower levels of the game has suffered as a result.

I don’t really see the game I watch most weeks as having much relation to what goes on at the top end of the game. Such is the game that we will never again see a club rise like Wimbledon did in the 1980s, and that’s sad. The idea that even for your local neighbourhood team, there is a route to the very top. There is still the Pyramid in place to see the progression, but it isn’t realistic to think your local club can make it there. Also the game operates by different rules. Ever since the adoption of questioning refereeing decisions by video replay, or now the talk is all of goal-line technology (yawn), or doubling the number of linesmen, is not something that is going to be open to us at this level. Yet we are supposed to be playing the same game.

And what about the World Cup? Was it as dreadful as we tend to recall, or even worse?

?I assume the question refers to England’s performance in South Africa, as I’d doubt a Spaniard would ask the same question. I was a little hacked off with the amount of times I heard all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about England’s performances. For me, it was all about form. England had an excellent qualifying campaign and that seemed to have been completely forgotten. Those views were tended to be put forward by those who just watched the “big” games, and who asked “which one’s Rooney?”, before going out to put more flags on their car. England had a collective dip in form at precisely the wrong time. Any team that wins it, tends not to start the Finals campaign well. The obverse is also true. Four weeks is a long time for a team at that level to be at the top of their form. England never got going, and paid the price. Despite previous campaigns failing to live up to expectations, once again people were suckered into the hype, and that just increases disappointment when they fail to get to at least the semi-finals. Did you really think England would win it?
Bias aside, I still thought that Capello should have played Joe Hart in goal for the USA game. He had an excellent season at Birmingham, and he seems to have stopped making errors that were in his game during the Ericksson era, that’s just experience. For my money, you should always play the players in form. Robert Green has made daft mistakes before, and I don’t think he is international quality.
It’s not an anti-England thing, but I was glad when they were on their way home from South Africa, as we could put to bed all the hype, and the Johnny-come-lately’s could then go off and get disappointed all over again when Andy Murray didn’t win Wimbledon. I normally don’t watch a lot of these big tournaments, but I really enjoyed watching a lot of the football from South Africa. The Germans were fantastic, and I was surprised that they came so badly unstuck against Spain, losing to a goal scored by a man who looked like he should be in an ELO-tribute band. Does anyone really still have hair like Carles Puyol in the 21st Century? The enjoyment was somewhat tempered by the Final, and particularly the Dutch attitude, which was appalling. To then blame the refreree afterwards is an abidcation of responsibility on the part of the players and the coaching staff. Before the Final I’d wanted the Dutch to win. After thirty minutes, I really didn’t care and almost turned off. A dreadful way to behave in a showpiece game. ?

Will you get to our game on Aug 29/ If not how will you keep tabs and what will be the score

As the game is being played on a Sunday, I’ll be there. If it was on a Saturday, my first preference would be to watch a Northern League game. I’m lucky in that this season that City’s games at Sunderland and Newcastle are both on a Sunday. I’m going to be taking my Sunderland-supporting wife as a treat, and go and take another look at the brick I bought her years ago as a Christmas present. As for the score, I’d like to say a City win, but as I said earlier, in the first weeks of the season, I think there will still be a period of “getting to know” you. So I’m expecting some nasty shocks along the way – and this could be one of them

. * ??Martin Haworth on Martin Haworth: been a City supporter since I was a small boy, and my choice of club was almost by accident. It was one of those “brotherhood” decisions, that kids do, so it could easily have been anyone. At the time (the late 60’s), they were winning things, so I suppose you could accuse me of glory-hunting, although if I was to realise just how short-lived that success was, I might have chosen another club. With City’s ground being a few bus rides away from home, and none of my family were interested in the game, I didn’t make my debut there before my teens. I have a clear recollection of the first game, a Bank Holiday fixture against Liverpool, where the game was a sell out, but people were still being allowed in, and standing on the stairs and entrances. I felt this was all very exciting. Such a pity that they were given a 3-0 drubbing that immediately lowered my expectations. I bought my first season ticket with my first month’s salary, and that was it. I watched them home and away, and throughout Europe. They have often flattered to deceive, or just been plain dreadful. I was mortified when they were relegated in 1983, not because of David Pleat’s fashion sense or dancing skills (yes, THAT game), but I knew that by the time the next season got underway, I would no longer be able to watch City regularly, because I was planning to move away from the Manchester area. It felt like an act of desertion, as I knew that people would ask when I stopped regularly watching City.
Out of necessity, at that time I started watching non-league football when I was based in West Cumbria. Once you come to terms with the drop in skills, I found the whole experience hugely enjoyable. The standard is better than a lot of people think, you aren’t treated as purely a source of income, and officials and players are approachable. You quickly can feel part of it more than just the bloke who turns up and pays at the turnstile.
Since relocating permanently to the North-East in 1986, I’ve really got into the non-league game in a big way. I watch a lot of games a season, and become part of the set up of the Northern League, the world’s second oldest. I’m lucky in that my wife (who is a Sunderland supporter, and used to be a regular at Roker Park in the years before we met), also shares my passion for the game at this level. In many ways, what is happening at City is so far removed from what I deal with week-in, week-out, that it is difficult to think it is the same game. I hope City do succeed in their quest for glory, but I know it is already beginning to get up the noses of a few. The City “likeability” for some neutrals is beginning to fade, and that’s a shame.

Interview: Colin Randall

7 thoughts on “Who are you? An award-winner from Manchester City”

  1. WaxDart sounds as if he’s just sat down on one of his three before getting to the oche. What rattled his cage?

  2. Sorry mate but you sound like one of the old school whingers who were never happier than when City were underperforming. FYI, the last time we were in the UEFA Cup we dispatched Schalke, Paris St. Germain, FC Twente and FC Copenhagen before we lost to Hamburg.

  3. Blyth Spartans, Wax.

    How can you judge whether or not it is unrepresentative if you freely admit to skipping large chunks of it? Oddly enough, when it Bob Willis, City fans complained his answers were short and bland. Martin’s are neither, whatever allegiance he expresses towards non-league football.

  4. I got this far… “Has he “done a Robinho” and not realised which Manchester club he has signed for?”

    Then skipped to the end and saw this…

    “The City “likeability” for some neutrals is beginning to fade, and that’s a shame.”

    Can’t be bothered to read the rest since you “just like being the centre of attention!??”

    This is NOT representative of ANY Man City fans that I know…

    1. There’s only one club in Manchester.

    2. Who wants to be liked for being a loser (any more)? Not me! I’ll happily trade the sympathy vote for some success thanks very much.

    Enjoy going to see Blythe Spartans.

  5. As a neutral, I’d like to see City break the Chelsea/Man U stranglehold on the top two.
    But, I think it’s been bad for football to splash all that cash around. The other clubs just can’t compete and its not really a viable business if you take into account the wage bill against what their annual turnover is.

  6. “Did we think England would win it?”

    No, but even I fancied them to get a goal against Algeria.

    Back to the subject. Absolutely stonking read Martin. Clearly you fancy another 150 quid come May. Brilliant article!

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