Monsieur Salut writes: as a boy, I briefly loved Peterborough United almost as much as I have most of my life loved Sunderland. There was the romance of a little club battling against official woodentops for entry into the Football League despite astonishing non-league success. Finally, they made it – and continued to excel. I’d even travel to northern grounds to see them – York, Darlo, Newcastle – and I saw them win each time. Now we meet in similar positions at or near the top of League One. Let James Bloodworth* take up the Posh story, including the bizarre tale of Victoria Beckham objecting to a nickname given to the club 53 years before she was born …
Salut! Sunderland: what a fabulous start to the season, I remember seeing you as a possible promotion contender pre-season, but what has gone right?
James Bloodworth: fabulous is an understatement! Steve Evans has been allowed free reign to bring in his players: a luxury not many of his predecessors have had. It’s not the free flowing football that we became famous for in lower league circles over the past decade, but it’s effective! We had 19 signings over the summer, which is absolutely mental and the fact they’ve all gelled and created a solid, hard to beat unit is nothing short of miraculous.
Darragh MacAnthony, your main stakeholder and chairman, is a Liverpool fan and Steve Evans has had a largely uneventful career as a player (his career was shortened by injury) and manager (but let’s not forget his successes at Rotherham) but they are clearly putting together something at your place. Your assessment, including how far they can take you?
It’s been much better than I was expecting. The huge change of direction in terms of recruitment (experienced players as opposed to raw, unproven lads) and the new, more direct style of play felt like it was too drastic to work, but here we are positioned nicely in the league. I would say my mood is one of cautious optimism, as is that of the majority of the fanbase. It’s a long old season and falling apart around October is a Peterborough United speciality though…
On your point about Steve Evans, I would say his career has been far from uneventful. He worked his way up from a Peterborough and District league side to the EFL in 15 odd years. Of the current 92 managers, only Neil Warnock has more promotions – he is a very successful man. However, his fraud conviction for cheating Boston United into the league and numerous touchline bans for appalling behaviour, in addition to his drastic method of management meant he was far from my first choice as manager when the vacancy came up in February. I’m delighted we’re doing well, but it does not change my stance on Evans.
And where does good old Barry Fry fit into the jigsaw?
Ahhh, Baz. He’s our director of football nowadays, and he has earned his salary this year with all the business that was undertaken. He’s a largely unpopular figure amongst our fanbase after a chaotic 10 years as owner which ended in 2006, when the club always felt like it was on the verge of collapse. Some fans still refuse to attend whilst he’s involved in PE2. To an outsider, he looks like a great laugh who’s always good for a quote; to most Posh fans, the nicest thing we can say about him is his name.
As with much of our own revamped squad, I recognise few names in yours. But who has been turning it on, apart from the goalscoring duo of Matt Godden and Jason Cummings?
Grimsby winger Siriki Dembele came in this summer and has been a revelation – lightning quick, skilful and an excellent shot on him. If he improved his consistency and realised there is such a thing as too many tricks and flicks, he’ll be our next big sale. Ivan Toney, who started life at Posh as ‘third’ choice has done very well too. At the time of writing, he’s scored 2 crucial goals and created 6 more, mainly from the bench. We can’t forget our defence either. 2017/18 survivor Ryan Tafazolli has been immense this year, and has directly gained us points with some stunning saving blocks and tackles.
Even as a Sunderland fan, I had a boyhood thing about Posh especially as the club won everything in sight in non-league football but had to wait an age to be allowed into the League, I remember travelling to York, Darlington and Newcastle to see them (winning each time). What handed down memories have you of that era?
It’s looked on fondly. I was told by my grandad years ago about Dennis Emery being the best footballer he’d ever seen, and for fans who lived through that era, he is widely regarded as our greatest player of all time. Sadly, in 1961, Dennis was involved in a serious car crash which cut short his career-and ultimately his life, 20 years later- meaning he fell five league goals short of 200 for Posh. Elsewhere, regular forays into the latter stages of The FA Cup and seeing over 20,000 people inside London Road must have been incredible.
And what have been your own highs – and lows – as a Peterborough supporter?
There’s plenty of highs!! I began regularly attending a few months before MacAnthony took over, so a lot of our success has coincided with my support. The 2011 play-off campaign was a particular favourite. We overcame MK Dons in a classic Semi-Final, and upset the odds by putting three goals past Huddersfield in a mad 7 minutes as extra time loomed. As for worst… I’m confident that it’d be the same for Posh fans of all ages: 4th May 2013. Minutes away from survival following an epic second half of the season, we went from 2-1 up to 3-2 down at Selhurst Park thanks to the shoulder of Mile Jedinak and Kevin bloody Phillips. The result sent us down with what is still a record points total of 54. It hurts to think about it.
Who are the best players you’ve seen in your colours?
Paul Taylor is the most talented. The little Scouser played like a street footballer, and brought joy to all after being plucked from the obscurity of Belgian football. However, the most complete player is George Boyd. Silky skills, stunning goals, a tremendous work rate and and incredible longevity made him man-crush material for all of Peterborough. Honourable mentions for Dwight Gayle and Ryan Bennett.
And who ought to have been allowed nowhere near London Road?
I could write a book on them, but Ben Futcher is the absolute worst. The lumbering centre back was a complete and utter liability, and thankfully only hung around Cambridgeshire for a single season. My eternal Futcher memory has to be a nasty blood injury forcing him from the field and London Road celebrating it like a goal. Dishonourable mentions for fellow crap centre back Exodus Geohaghon and goal shy striker Joe Gormley – they were picked from The Conference and Northern Ireland’s Premier League respectively and were soon sent back there, thankfully.
Cannot believe Victoria Beckham once sued over your rather longer use of the nickname Posh. She failed of course, but what did you make of it and did it affect your thoughts, assuming you had any, on the Spice Girls?
I can’t say it drastically altered my views on The Spice Girls. In truth, the club benefited far more than anyone else; the column inches in national papers and mentions on telly gave us publicity that Barry Fry couldn’t have dreamed of.
Did you see our steep decline coming?
In a word, yes. I feel like the run of good fortune you had under Di Canio, Poyet, Avocaat and Allardyce was always going to be balanced out by something like you’ve experienced. Niall Quinn hit the nail on the head when he once spoke of the ‘gremlins at Sunderland’, and I can assure you it’s as baffling to an outsider as it is to a Mackem.
Any other thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans, past encounters, city and region, Jack Ross?
I do feel for your recent plight. It puts the “problems” of Manchester United and Arsenal into perspective. However, any soft spot I had for you was all but eradicated thanks to Ki Sung-Yeung’s brutal tackle on our star player Lee Tomlin in the cup five years back. Tomlin’s injury started a decline that ended our hopes of an instant return to Championship football. Anyhow, Jack Ross has impressed me and looks to have done a good job at steadying the ship. I think he was an excellent choice and a refreshingly creative appointment, rather than the generic League One/Two manager you could have appointed.
Hand on heart, where will our clubs finish this season?
2nd and 3rd. Not sure of the order though!
World Cup 2018 – a fading memory or something to treasure until whatever happens in Qatar in 2022?
I think it’ll be a memory to treasure. I can’t see Qatar being anything but an unmitigated disaster. Nothing good will come of postponing the season for a World Cup that will end 8 days before Christmas. Beyond then, the expansion to 48 teams seems mental – why try to improve on a perfect format?
Following on from that, we roll on (groan) to the Neymar Question: will VAR eliminate cheating – diving, feigning injury, shirt-pulling, waving imaginary cards as well as goalie disputes – or is it here to stay? And should we care?
DISCLAIMER: I’m a referee, so have a vested interest in this! I was hugely sceptical of VAR when it was introduced. So many decisions in football are subjective, and two top referees can look at one incident and come to two different judgements, neither of which are wrong. I think it’ll stay in some form, but it will need a lot of tweaking. I doubt it’ll affect the third tier any time soon though!
One step the authorities or your club could take to improve the lot of the ordinary fan?
Some sort of cap and/or subsidy on ticket prices from the league. Live football needs to be accessible to all – seated tickets at London Road cost up to £28, which is poor value given the facilities.
Will you make it to the match? If not, how will you keep tabs and what will be the score?
Unfortunately no. I live in Norwich, so most away days have an additional 3 hours of travelling time compared to the average Posh fan, and this being a Tuesday night means it just isn’t feasible. I’m out of range for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire’s coverage, but fortunately I can call my dad on Facetime and get him to hold his phone next to the radio. It’s like I’m in the room! And I think you’ll win 2-1 late on, and Steve Evans will explode with anger.
Click Jake’s image to see all this season’s Who are You? interviews so far*
James Bloodworth on himself: I’m 20, a maths student at the University of East Anglia. Have been going regularly to Peterborough United since 2005 and soon got addicted. I write for the blog www.londonroad.net, the largest independent place to talk Posh online. And I am currently bald after a fundraiser for two mental health charities, Mind and Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). This is a shameless plug for uk.virginmoneygiving.com
Interview: Colin Randall