Last game of the season means last of the 2016-2017 ‘Who are You?’ interviews. We have not one but two from Chelsea supporters (a consequence of Monsieur Salut panicking unnecessarily and fearing we might get none). Mark Williams* comes to us via a Sunderland supporter, his friend and occasional Salut! Sunderland contributor Jim Minton. If you ever need to catch the pair of them and there happens to be an African Cup of Nations tournament on, that’s where to head. They make it each time but be aware the next one is not until January 2019. Book now for Cameroon … and thanks Mark for a splendidly thoughtful set of responses …
Chelsea secured the Premier League title by beating West Brom a week ago. On the day of the 38th and final Premier League games for each club, the Blues will meet Sunderland at Stamford Bridge. Several football predictions go with a victory for the home team.
Salut! Sunderland: As expected, the last game of the season is your party as well as being our wake. Tell me what winning the title again means to you and how it compares with winning or wanting to win other trophies – CL, FA Cup and League Cup?
Mark Williams: Any trophy has the ability to make you smile for the weeks and months that follow. After last year, it has been a pleasant surprise and for once I didn’t back us at the bookies.
Champions League for me was a highlight because we had tried for so long and after my dad turning around the previous year after we lost to Barcelona – telling me we were cursed and we would never win. So when Drogba scored against Bayern, it was a wonderful moment.
In terms of how you feel like your first girlfriend, you never forget your first major trophy. FA Cup 1997 Di Matteo and Eddie Newton and me crying like a 10 year old – I don’t count the Full Members Cup, though if memory serves it was good day out.
Hand on heart, has the Antonio Conte factor – clearly a great manager, plenty of charm, apparent decency – overcome a lot of the traditional dislike neutrals harbour for Chelsea?
Being disliked has never bothered me as a Chelsea fan, and being a fan since 1982, I can say it is a lot nicer to be talked about than ignored. For example, even a gentleman like Ancelotti was demonised by other fans. I was happy to have them all as a manager, Benitez was a singular exception, but that was due to previous form and even winning a trophy made no difference to me; he had to go. Even Bobby Campbell was better and he took us down.
As regards Conte with his luxuriant haircut this year has been different class. He is like a jack in the box and screams like an irate Sunday league manager on a weekly basis.
The passion is endearing as a fan but more impressive was the change to his preferred system and how it made Moses, who went from on loan bench warmer at Stoke into a quality player is superb. The worrying thing for everyone else should be ‘just think what we can do with a full pre-season’. All those from other teams making these “no European football” excuse should remember that.
Conte’s genius was not only on the pitch but being able to keep Terry onside while not playing him. I’ll be interested to see if Terry goes elsewhere next year. I hope he does well wherever he goes and whatever he does. He has been the rock upon which our most successful era has been built on. Regardless of what other people think about him as a defender he has been superb for Chelsea in the last 18 years. I don’t think that can be questioned. England were a worse team without him – though in general they have always been less than the sum off its parts.
Mourinho ended up being a comedy act. As a Chelsea fan, as you saw him do the same mind games year on year – and the worrying thing for everyone else should be that until last year it worked.
But despite the events of his final year he is a winner. You have to accept his antics and the “them and us” mind set. He was let down by two things – his loyalty to certain players and the attitude of others. Ivanovic was a turnstile at right back in the last 18 months and with Terry, the pair of them turned slower than the Titanic. It was proof positive age comes to us all.
The fans that turned on Mourinho this season should remember 2004 – and what it meant at the time.
Costa, Hazard and Pedro have the goals, Azpilicueta, Cahill and Matic the most appearances and Kante is Kante. Tell us about heroes and any villains.
In terms of performances, it is safe to say Kante has been superb and Azpilicueta has been outstanding alongside Luis. Not one player has let themselves down this year. Moments that stood out for me have been Fabregas in the last 10 games and seeing Chalobah with a back heel into the path of Moses against Leicester for the third.
Villains – weird one considering the season we have had. Can’t think of one at the Bridge. Having won the league it seems churlish to complain. Outside of Stamford Bridge, the chairmen that keep employing Harry Redknapp, Neil Warnock and Alan Pardew on a rotating basis. They have been poor for a number of years and still get jobs. In the corporate world their continual employment would be laughable.
Also Arsenal fans who complain about Wenger when he has kept them in the hunt for major honours while they have built their stadium, Their “know nothing” attitude is keeping airplane banner writers in business this season. Without them, the economy in the Midlands would have taken a major hit – when did this become a thing. Did I miss the meeting?
And what about Alonso, one we ought to have tried to keep?
Alonso appears to have been a different player to the one I remember from Sunderland and Bolton. His position is slightly different and he fits the hole perfectly. Should you have kept him? In short, yes – you would never have bought van Aanholt for one. So for that reason alone I am glad you didn’t.
From an impossibly long list of candidates, who have you most enjoyed watching in Chelsea blue – or wish you were old enough to have seen?
Best player from my youth: Nigel Spackman was the man for me and when he came back at the end he still had it. From the modern era: Zola, Hasselbaink and Poyet, Lampard, Terry Ballack (ran on roller skates) and finally the best left back of my generation bar none, Ashley Cole (8/10 every week and had a Ronaldo shaped back pocket).
Players I wish I had seen: Peter Osgood, only seen on TV highlights but strutted around the pitch and scored some stunning goals.
Who should never have been allowed near Stamford Bridge?
Chris Sutton once missed five one-on-ones with Perez against Sunderland in his first game and the guy in the 10th row was in more danger than the goalkeeper. He was shocking. Winston Bogarde never made the stadium so he can’t count
Best and worst moments as a Chelsea supporter?
Best moment was winning the cup final against Middlesbrough in 1997. Everyone remembers their first trophy. I was at the game crying my eyes out never believing we would win anything. There have been high points since. Winning the league for the first time at Bolton and Munich in 2012, but the best moment was winning at the old Wembley.
Worst moment: relegation at the Bridge in 1989 against Boro, 2-0 at home with rioting on the pitch. It was a mess and, as I was 18 at the time, it taught me that football can be cruel. Though looking back we were shocking that year.
My single best moment in terms of watching Chelsea: Makele scoring when I had him at 33/1 and Doug Rougvie running 50 yards to lay out John Fashanu in a melee then shake the ref’s hands and jog off. A weird moment but a highlight on an impressionable mind. We lost 4-0 but I was still laughing all the way home at the absurdity of that moment.
Bring us up to date on news about the stadium and your thoughts on the plans
I am glad we are staying on site with an upgrade to Stamford Bridge. Dates seem in flux but it’s been signed off by the mayor so completion looks to be around 2023 and it will be definitely a different looking place. The stadium has already moved slightly from its greyhound track around the pitch days but staying put is a good thing. AT least we haven’t had our way with the public purse like Man City and West Ham.
I was never really comfortable with the idea of moving to Battersea. The issue will be where do we go for the three years it will take to rebuild the ground, My preference would be Twickenham, mainly because the pubs and restaurants are nicer and there are better transport links. The alternative is Wembley which despite being the national stadium is basically a hole with little or nothing going for it.
What about Sunderland? You have at least one good mate who supports us – did you see our predicament coming? Is it good riddance, or sad to see you go?
Sunderland have been surviving for what seems like years and every March/April, a miracle would happen first under Gus, then Di Canio, Advocaat and Big Sam. I have to say it was probably always coming this year, having watched the pre-season video on a flight to Gabon – where the highlight was Billy Jones shanking a cross behind the goal. The fact they put that in begs the following question: how bad were the things they cut out. I had a feeling it was going be a long season for the fans.
On a personal note I will miss the fans, who, whether they won or lost, always were good for a pint and a chat and less antagonistic than the team up the road near you that went down last year. I won’t miss the FA making the Sunderland away game a midweek fixture – the person that thinks that is a good idea is clueless.
But despite the disappointment, having the opportunity to build again with the £47m parachute payment will be a good thing. I don’t think Moyes is the right man for the job – discussing a relegation dogfight in October [may have been August! – Ed] on Match of the Day never appeared to be the right ideas for building the morale of the millennial wallflowers that make up your team. I would say look at Rowett or Warburton; they’d be ideal for going back up. Though as long as he isn’t replaced by Big Sam, Neil Warnock or Harry Redknapp anyone else should be fine. Keeping Pickford would be key in my opinion and replacing Defoe with a forward who gets goals at that level will make the difference (Chris Wood of Leeds for example) from a hard slog to a walk in the park.
Any other thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans, city and region, David Mayes, Djilobodji?
The only thing I would say Moyes’s ability in terms of player recruitment can be shown by paying £8m for Djilobodji. Still waiting for the police to turn up and charge us for fraud on that one. Also what had Khazri done to be sidelined for so long.
Team, city, fans and stadium: first memory of Sunderland was losing a Milk Cup semi and ripping up my membership in frustration (put my lack of sportsmanship that down to the arrogance of youth) and then in 1992 coming down with some friends who were Sunderland fans in 1992 and John Byrne equalising for “your crowd” and waiting over an hour for them to arrive at the car park post game. Let’s not talk about the replay
As regards the stadium, Roker Park was a little bit different in terms of atmosphere than the Stadium of Light as is the case at all the new stadiums in my opinion.
Either way good luck next season.
Minimum expectations for next season?
Hopefully some of the 4 x FA Cup youth winning team will make the step up. One of Loftus, Cheek, Abraham, Palmer, Brown, Christensen, Aina and my personal favourite Chalobah should make it happen. We have a good squad and these players have a fine future, if not with us with someone else. In terms of performance, finish above Tottenham (their fans’ self-entitlement and belief grates every year) and quarter-final in the Champion’s League would be minimum for me. Though after 2015, where we turned into a pub team with the same attitude, any expectations can wait while we bask in a potential double. I hope Conte stays as he won’t let that happen
How will we fare in the Championship?
Depends on who goes. Defoe is an obvious loss; whoever agreed that contract should be sued for negligence. The Championship depends on how you start and how well the team invests. Moyes or whoever is in charge needs to keep Pickford – a decent keeper makes a huge difference and he could mean that Sunderland are in the top three rather than doing a Norwich. If you can pick up players like Costa from Wolves to give you flair, he has shown he is different class in that league and a pair of centre halves, especially if Kone goes (I understand Kalas will be leaving us this summer and he would be a great pickup) the defence reinforcments are paramount.
Maybe Ndong will settle and become the player the Gabonese rave about. Think he could glide through the Championship midfield if he stays.
Diving: every club has cheats – it is time to stop worrying about it and just get players to do it better or is it still worth trying to stamp out?
Diving or cheating as I call it needs to be stopped but what I find is the refs remember their preseason meeting for the first six games. then they forget and people start rolling about. I am more concerned about refereeing consistency and standards which drop as the season goes on. And if you think it is bad in the Premier League you have Stuart Atwell waiting for you in the Championship where knee high tackles are not only allowed but accepted.
NB: Mark did not answer the question on Sunday’s likely score. It hardly matters but come back here tomorrow and our second Chelsea Who are You? interview contains a prediction
Interview: Colin Randall
Once again, Salut! Sunderland thanks all the opposing supporters who have given their time and effort to make this series such a pleasure to present.