Mike Delap*, editor of The Wild Blackburn Rover fansite and a Geordie’s son with curiously little time for Newcastle United, is pessimistic about his team’s immediate prospects under the current manager Steve Kean. But he loyally predicts an away win to spoil Martin O’Neill’s day …
Salut! Sunderland: Were you surprised that Steve Bruce was shown the door before Steve Kean?
If these sort of things were based on out and out form then yes I am shocked but being a Rovers fan and knowing how the club works nowadays I am not at all surprised.
Bruce was living on borrowed time – he had spent a truck load of money with little improvement in the Sunderland teams fortunes.
It was only a matter of time before Sunderland started looking for someone else to lead the team. Having said that if it was a straight comparison and life was fair then Kean would have gone before Bruce. But life isn’t fair.
The Rovers owners have always backed Kean and seem intent on sticking with him through thick and thin. Kean’s win percentage record actually puts him in one of the 10 worst managers in EPL history which after a year (a long time in football manager circles) under normal circumstances would make it an easy call to remove him from his post. But under new owners Venky’s he seems infallible and as safe as houses no matter how bad his record gets.
Even with an awful lot of fan pressure and parts of the media on his back the owners are yet to flinch, they either like him for reasons that are unbeknownst to the normal human being, they are being duped by some of Kean’s fancy talk or he has incriminating pictures of the Rao family.
Either way I feel the current state of affairs benefits Sunderland tremendously and hampers Rovers.
And, if not already dealt with in that response, what do/did you make of their respective managerial performances (Ricky Sbragia was in charge of SAFC when we interviewed you in 2009)?
To keep it short. Bruce’s record was very poor considering the outlay he made. Kean’s record is very poor, full stop.
Your dad’s a Geordie, Shearer and – to some extent – Given were Rovers heroes but you dislike Newcastle; for those who missed your last visit here, why is that and do you think their bubble will burst any time soon?
I am not a big fan of Newcastle because I am not a big fan of Mike Ashley and I do get the feeling sometimes that their fans believe a little bit too much of their own “best fans in England” press. Whether that’s fair or not is up for debate but then that’s my opinion so like it or lump it!
Newcastle though have started very well this season and rightly find themselves in a promising position. They bought well in the summer and despite the initial backlash against Alan Pardew he has proved to be a successful appointment… There is no reason to believe their form cannot be sustained but I do expect them to eventually finish in mid table.
What chance do you think Martin O’Neill will have of lifting us higher than last season’s 10th top finish?
I would say the chances of you finishing in the top 10 are pretty good but only because the league is such a compact race again this year with only a few wins being the difference between being 18th and 7th.
O’Neill will need to spend well (which Bruce retrospectively didn’t) and he will need to man manage the under performing players that are already at the club. I believe the raw materials are already in place at Sunderland they were just being misused under Bruce.
Where will Rovers finish and what is your assessment of their vulnerability so far this season?
Oh god. Whatever I say here will get me some sort of stick!
Here goes – if Kean remains in charge the very sad likelihood is that we will go down. The team seem incapable of keeping a clean sheet and seem to only sporadically perform. The players may well have the drive to keep us up but it’s not looking great.
However with some new ideas in the form of a new manager there could be a change in fortune, the playing staff are of a good quality when the first choice X1 is out there but the squad is a little small. We just need to be better organised defensively and have higher fitness levels… there are too many players picking up hamstring injuries which is the first sign of bad conditioning, something Kean needs to be held accountable for (yes another thing).
Does all the money sloshing about at the higher reaches of our game excite you or make you wonder sometimes whether, glory seekers apart, football is leaving its core support behind?
Got to go with the latter I am afraid. We seem to be in a modern game where the big boys get richer and the also rans are being left behind. It’s great having all this talent in our league but it does make the top five or six out of the reach of the others unless they have an off day or incredibly unlucky.
I am not sure core support and all this extra money are directly linked but with a vast influx of foreign ownership and the “community” aspect of clubs being removed it does detach the supporters from the club. We obviously are a prime example of this.
Looking at the Rovers squad, who is the key to your survival this season and who really needs to be replaced come the transfer window?
You may well have seen a young lad called Junior Hoilett on the pitch who is a speedy, tricky little winger. He’s rather good and is attracting big interest from higher up the league, so much so that he is not signing his new deal and is set to leave the club in the summer barring a compromise/miracle.
But up until the end of the season he could well be the key. He can leave people for dead (not literally) and can spark something out of nothing.
Elsewhere the other linchpins are big Chris Samba at the back who will be a focal point at both ends of the pitch and Martin Olsson who operates from either full back or wing… big future ahead of him too!
From a departures point of view I don’t really think we can afford to lose anybody but three new signings would be ideal. One at right back to help out the ageing and slowing Michel Salgado, a central midfielder with a good engine and a striker to help out Yakubu with the goals. That’s my shopping list anyway.
What have been your own highs and lows of supporting the club?
Highs – Start with the obvious. Winning the Premier League back in 1995, the Worthington Cup triumph of 2002, beating Manchester United 4-3 at Ewood Park, winning promotion back to the Premier League in 2001 at Preston, Steven Reid’s thunderbolt smash goal against Wigan on New Years Eve a few years back and a great day out at Old Trafford for the FA Cup semi when Hughes was in charge, any game that Tugay Kerimoglu was involved in… A genius.
Lows – The death of Jack Walker in 2000, our relegation in 99, losing 7-1 to Manchester United last season, selling Alan Shearer to Newcastle in 96, the current plight of our club and the bad atmosphere at games involving Rovers at the moment.
And what memories – good , bad or amusing – do you have of past SAFC v BRFC clashes?
The worst memory I can remember was getting absolutely schooled 3-0 at Ewood Park in the early 2000s when we looked nailed on for a win that day and losing an FA Cup penalty shootout to you without scoring any of our three attempts on goal.
A good memory would be Craig Bellamy’s (yes I know, sorry guys!) rather excellent header in a 2-0 win at Ewood Park and to add to that a very late FA Cup winner from Benni McCarthy in extra time.
For an amusing moment try Jason Roberts open goal miss in the last minute in a dour 0-0 draw at Christmas time a few seasons ago… Wasn’t very funny at the time but you have to laugh now.
The Eduardo Question became the Walcott Question and is currently the Barton Question (very nearly changing this week to the Larsson Question); that covers diving (in Theo’s case, admitted and apologised for) and feigning injury: what form of cheating most annoy you and what can be done to stamp it out?
I wouldn’t say it was the worst form of cheating but the one that drives me insane is when a player indicates to the ref that someone from the opposition should be booked after a foul. I instantly want to shout expletives whenever I see anyone doing it.
It’s absolutely disgusting and against the morals of the game. Call it a personal hate as I am sure it doesn’t bother some!
The hounding of a referee after a decision has been made in also beyond annoying – Manchester United being the masters of this.
What single step could Rovers or the authorities take to improve the supporter’s experience of football?
This is specific to Venky’s and their last 12 months in charge of the club – talk to us. We’ve seen little communication between the club and the fans who are the heartbeat of any football club.
Without that relationship fans feel like they are being cut apart from their passion and it is something we have had to put up with for over a year now and it is driving most Rovers fans insane.
What will be this season’s top four, in order, and who is going down?
Top Four – 1) Manchester City 2) Manchester United 3) Chelsea 4) Spurs
Going Down (And I am being stubborn here and keeping us up) – Wigan, Swansea, Wolves.
Do you get irritating numbers of people in Blackburn wearing the shirts of those aforementioned top four clubs? Can Rovers ever hope to draw consistently decent crowds again?
The location of Blackburn makes things difficult because within an hours drive people can get to Manchester, Merseyside, Bolton, Blackpool, Burnley, Preston, Wigan and some others I am forgetting right now.
It means there is a small pool of fans to draw on and Rovers do have a very high attendance/population proportion to their credit but it is a constant battle.
When I see people from Blackburn wearing other teams’ shirts it does create a cynic in you but I guess everyone chooses who they want. Without getting back into the top four again we will have the sort of numbers that we draw now for the foreseeable future.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
Sadly I won’t be know as I have family commitments this weekend but I shall be watching as it is a televised one. I shall of course be there in spirit.
I am optimistic chap by nature for my sins so I shall predict a win for Rovers just to be blind – 2-1 to Rovers just to spoil MON’s day.
Mike Delap on Mike Delap: Since you last spoke to me I am now a married man which I am pleased to report is not quite the life ending sentence they make out 😉
I have been a Rovers fan since 1992 and my support has not wavered since my interest began. Most people would assume being a fan from that sort of era would get you labelled as a “glory supporter” but to those who make that accusation I say – “It’s now 2011 and I am still here”.
I am editor of a website called Vital Blackburn which is part of the Vital Football Network and I am author of “The Wild Blackburn Rover” blog which is now 2 years old…
I attend matches whenever I can and I am also a regular in the sore throat illness department such is my lack of singing skills but undying passion.
Thanks for having me back as well. Always a pleasure.
Interview: Colin Randall
* The featured image accompanying this article on the Salut! Sunderland home page is from the Flickr photos of John Bointon