Sunderland v Middlesbrough ‘Who are You?’: a Smoggie optimist in Prague

Thomas Keen: kissing the badge or trying to smell it?
Thomas Keen: kissing the badge or trying to smell it?

All the way from professional exile in the Czech Republic, Thomas Keen*, of half-Guisborough, half-USA stock, tells Salut! Sunderland ahead of Sunday’s Wear-Tees derby of his confidence for the season just begun. He wouldn’t mind taking Jan Kirchhoff, Lamine Koné or Jermain Defoe but is too young to have a clear idea of whether Alf Common would fit into David Moyes or Aitor Karanka’s sides …

Salut! Sunderland: Promotion was won with a solid run, give or take a hiccup or two, last season. Were you always confident of taking one of the automatic spots and do you believe you can emulate Watford and Bournemouth and keep out of trouble?

Thomas Keen I’ll admit it was a nervy time the second half of the season with our poor run of form and Aitor going AWOL for a few days. You never want to count your chickens, so it was an incredible release after that Brighton game… I wept. I think we have a really solid foundation.

We have all of the infrastructure and organisation of a stable club with the best chairman in the game. We have all of the ingredients to become established in the Prem so I hope we can emulate the likes of Watford and Bournemouth from last season and then go on to emulate clubs like Stoke who are starting to attract young, global talents.

You’ve spent nearly £20m (a figure that may well rise by the time we play). Who among the new recruits most excites you?

I’m excited most for Valdés, Negredo, and de Roon. They all have something to prove and they all seem to have the quality and will to do so.

Aitor Karanka has had his moments – that vital match at Fulham lost the season before last when he sent your keeper forward for a last-minute corner, and last season’s spat with Steve Gibson. What’s your assessment of him?

Although Aitor has had a couple moments, all managers make mistakes, and his have been few and far between. He was completely lifted our club to a new level that it probably hasn’t been at in the last decade. All teams from the under 18s through the first team are doing well and he’s attracted top quality backroom acquisitions as well. It will be hard to hold on to him if we stay in the Prem for 1 or 2 seasons.

And of the contribution your chairman Steve Gibson has made to the club?

It cannot be overstated what the man has done for our club. He has been innovative and always fully supports his manager, financially and beyond. He is ready to take Boro back into the big time and make sure we’re here to stay. The man is a living legend in the eyes of all Boro supporters.

Let’s get this out of the way quickly: who is going down this season?

Hull, Swansea, and Palace.

If you didn’t include one of both of our clubs in that trio, where will they finish?

As long as we finish above 18th I’m happy. I reckon we’ll finish 16th.

Much less important but what will be the top four in order?

It’s a toss up this season but I think Conte’s gonna take top honors with Chelsea, followed by United, Spurs, and City.

Alf Common: the first £1,000 player - that's what Boro paid us for him in 1905
Alf Common: the first £1,000 player – that’s what Boro paid us for him in 1905

Which of many connections between our clubs sticks in the memory? If you were old enough, you might say Brian Clough but recent times have given Downing, Arca. Hoyt, Adam J*****n and your assistant manager Steve Agnew among plenty of examples.

For me we never should have sold Cattermole to Wigan before he went up to Sunderland. He was a young up and coming midfielder with potential and once we sold him on we lost a lot of our solidity before being sent down. I know it’s one of Steve Gibson’s regrets.

Catts: 'wish he'd stayed;'
Catts: ‘wish he’d stayed;’

Who have been the greatest players you have seen in Boro colours – or wish you’d been old enough to see?

I wish I was able to see Bryan Robson’s team in its heyday with Emerson, Juninho, and Ravanelli.

And the worst?

Any Strachan team was diabolical. They somehow got progressively worse the longer he was in charge.

Jake welcomes our near neighbours
Jake welcomes our near neighbours

Guess the Score (whoever you support) at

What have been your highs and lows as a Boro supporter?

Losing to Norwich in the playoffs the season before last was tough. That being said, it was probably better timing to get promoted this year. We are more experienced, solid, and we’re in the money with the new TV deal.

Any special memories of Wear-Tees derbies?

None really stand out unfortunately.

What is your impression of Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city, David Moyes?

Sunderland is a town with similar roots to Middlesbrough. We’re both medium sized industrial cities that love their football clubs. I think David Moyes is a decent appointment. He’s looking to establish himself in English football again and Sunderland are looking to establish themselves in the Premier League with some mid-table finishes. He also knows how to work on a budget.

Is there anyone in our squad you’d fancy in yours?

If I had to pick I would go with Kirchhoff or Koné. Aitor loves a solid defensive spine. Although, I wouldn’t mind having Defoe to be honest. It’d be nice to have another proven Premier League poacher to help us stay up.

Diving: a non-issue because everyone’s at it, or still worth fighting to eradicate?

To ignore diving is to ignore cheating. It’s definitely worth fighting, as are disrespectful treatment of the referee – and Sepp Blatter.

Will you be at the game and what will be the score?

Unfortunately I won’t be able to make the match, but I reckon it’ll be a testy 1-2 affair. With the stinginess of our backline, and Koné going out the door… I think we’ll edge it. That being said, your boys will want to prove their worth to Moyes in such a built up match.


* Thomas Keen on himself:

I’m half American half English, with my mum hailing from Guisborough. I’ve been going to Boro matches since I was a kid and always plan to see a home match when I’m back in the northeast. Currently I work at an international boarding school in the Czech Republic.
I have managed to see the Boro play away a few times as well. The last match I saw was away at Craven Cottage last season. This season I’m planning on coming over for a week before Crimbo to see Liverpool and Swansea at home. I just hope I can get tickets!
I read about the Boro multiple times a day and have the Boro+ pack so I can listen to matches when I’m on the road.

Interview: Colin Randall

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1 thought on “Sunderland v Middlesbrough ‘Who are You?’: a Smoggie optimist in Prague”

  1. Eric 012 called me delusional yesterday for saying it’ll be 1-2 to Boro, same as this feller. He’s not saying anything here so mebbe he’s had another think eh Eric lol

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