Salut! Sunderland continues its mission to make the “Who are You?” feature a global exercise, locating a passionate Manchester City supporter on the Iberian peninsular. Simon Curtis*, who runs the City fan site Down the Kippax Steps and a lot else besides, all from his Portuguese exile, tells us of his esteem for all things Sunderland and his belief that few people really begrudge his club its new-found burst of success …
Salut! Sunderland: All went to plan last season – in the end, and after United had seemed too far ahead – but most people we have asked still make United favourites to take the title back. How long will it take for City to amass the same respect/expectation or do you feel it is already there?
No, no, it’s not there by a long way. I think Sunderland fans will appreciate what it feels like to hear United demanding “their” trophy back. This kind of arrogance we can live happily without. It is not in our DNA to career about like the Big Number One. City’s DNA is wonky, as was seen clearly in the way we won the league last season. Nothing simple. Curiously, the respect abroad is greater than at home. We British have a build them up and chop them down mentailty. I was in Madrid for the Real game and the respect – even from the aristocrats of European football – was sky high. I will go to Dortmund and hopefully Ajax too and my mates there talk very realistically of what City might do to their teams. If we ever do the full “Utd Chelsea” thing, please feel free to take up arms and shoot us.
After years of underachievement, you have Gulf riches that pretty much ensure success. Do you ever pause and say, ‘I miss the good old days’?
Every day! John Bond’s death this week has underlined again what fun the 70s and 80s were. The 90s were shocking but have played a part in making City the unique club they are. Sometimes the Big Club Syndrome that we are supposed to buy into just doesn’t work with City. It’s Manchester City for God’s sakes!! We are the undisputed kings of the shot to the foot. You only have to look at the two games between our two teams last season. Comedy, outrage, disaster, farce, hokus pokus and a 93rd minute offside winner!!!
I can never forget the eve of the takeover, having flown back from Abu Dhabi – where I was then working – and seen your pre-Mansour team wallop us 3-0 at Sunderland. Do you recall your precise thoughts when you heard?
Like everyone else, complete disbelief. The Robinho transfer and the attempt at Berbatov at the 12th hour of transfer deadline day were the first bits of evidence that yet another weird part of City’s existence was about to start. Took a long time to actually believe it was happening.
The lavish amounts of Gulf cash available make you the Premier equivalent of PSG, namely a team neutrals like to see lose or at least lose out, at PSG did. Does being envied feel worse than being ignored?
People who know their football know what City fans are all about. We had Southampton fans singing “where were you when you were s***” on the opening day of the season. The simple answer to that was “watching bloody Southampton, where were YOU?!”. Johnny come latelies havent got a clue sometimes. What happened to City could have happened to Sunderland or to Everton or to Villa. It didn’t. We got lucky, particularly lucky when you see Blackburn and Portsmouth. Envy is sad but I can understand it. People who hate City are not from my generation, that’s for sure, unless they follow United of course. Most people I know don’t begrudge City a little time in the limelight. By God, we’ve been through the wringer enough times already.
Last season, we were a little lucky to beat you at the SoL, if only because everyone knows the goal, though pretty to watch, was offside, but most agree we should have won at Eastlands. Were you among the City fans who complained that we seemed to raise our game higher than against United?
Never. I would expect Sunderland to play for their fans, who are solid, traditional supporters. It never crossed my mind. Having said that the defeat at the SoL was one of the bitterest of the season. If you were short changed at Eastlands, there was a sniff of the same at your place! It may have been pretty, but not from where I was standing. Now Steve Bruce has gone, there is no excuse from our side to say Sunderland might be conditioned to lie down and die in front of Utd. I wouldn’t buy any of that nonsense anyway, despite the plethora of ex-unitedites in your line-up (get rid!)
And what do you make of all the Sunderland-City connections: among many others Niall Quinn, Peter Reid, Claudio Reyna, Tony Coton, Dave Watson and, now Adam Johnson?
All bar Reyna bring back only happy memories. However, you have missed perhaps the most and the least important ones. Dennis Tueart, a true City legend and a member of your 73 cup winning side, plus Micky Horswill: ginger, useless and forgettable, but still part of the rich tapestry. Watson came around the same time and was immense for us. The most recent link, Johnson, has been a big disappointment. Not for the talent, which he has in bucketloads, but the attitude, which was wrong on so many occasions. If he had buckled down instead of thinking he’d already made it…. There was Gary Bennett too, I seem to remember!
Do any games between our sides stick in the memory for good, bad or amusing reasons?
Plenty. Off the top of my head, and in no particular order, the 2-2 FA Cup 5th round game at Maine Road on your way to Wembley in 73. A mad mad game which had everything. Also the 3-2 win in the early nineties that put you lot down. The place was heaving that day, with a reported 13,000 Mackems having made the journey to Moss Side. Fabulous atmosphere. More recently the debut of Wanchope and Weah was an electric night in 2000. First home game of the season, 2-0 to us, 2-2, then 4-2 final score, with Quinny and Phillips getting your goals. Also remember us being the first ever league visitors to SoL in 97 with Kinkladze and ten others, as we embarked on the trip down to the 3rd division.
Do you have any particular thoughts on SAFC – the club, the fans, the region?
One of the true, traditional teams. Proper support, as shown by the reaction in last season’s comic ending for United. City supporters will never forget the reaction of the SoL crowd that day. Fantastic. Although the league’s a long shot, would love Sunderland to appear at Wembley. It’s been a long time. I had the same feeling when City played Stoke in the cup final: two proper teams, completely starved of success, good strong, lusty support. Sunderland surely fall into the same category. Would be great to see the red and white stripes coming out at Wembley again.
And is one of the best things about your moneyed status that United now have to consider City and not Liverpool their main rivals?
Not sure about this. It has brought United embarrassment and headaches, which can only be good. I’m pretty sure it’s not just City fans who find them obnoxious, pampered, self-important and spoiled. I think the best thing is that it has broken what was a cartel. I just hope that it hasn’t helped create a new one.
You have star quality galore in the side. Who do you rate most highly and who would you love to see City buy?
For a winning side, you need a good spine and Hart, Kompany, Yaya and Aguero are the main men. Silva and Tevez aren’t far behind but the afore-mentioned quartet make the difference for me. Who would I love to see City buy? That’s strange, because the side is already stuffed with players who I have spent 35 years denying could ever come anywhere near liddle old Citeh. They did, they are here and they are doing the business. Domestically, Bale would improve our left side, internationally I think Ibrahimovic alongside Balotelli would be worth the entrance fee, just to watch the fireworks.
How would past greats, such as Colin Bell and Francis Lee, have fared in such a squad?
Different eras different times. Franny was overweight and would have been chased around by the fitness coach, the aerobics man and the dieticians. He’d have loved that. Colin Bell was a thoroughbred who could have played in modern football. Great great player.
In all honesty, this season’s top four?
I mentioned the creation of a new cartel. I sincerely hope this is not going to happen. For it not to happen, we need the Sunderlands, the Evertons, the Villas and, sadly, even the Newcastles to continue to put pressure on the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool. I don’t want to see a new Top Four, I want to see what we had in the mid 70s. Derby, Liverpool … Having said that, it won’t happen overnight, so this season’s top 4 will be: City, Utd, Chelsea, Arsenal unfortunately (apart from City, of course)
And in case you look down that far, the bottom three – and the position in which you think Sunderland will finish?
I would hope Sunderland can finish around 8th or 9th. You have the potential and a reasonably strong squad. Why not? Bottom three will be Reading, Norwich and Southampton. I’m afraid the promoted sides this year don’t have the same look as the three that came up the year before.
Did the spirit of the Olympics make you blase about the return of football, or couldn’t you wait?
Olympic football is a joke, so in that sense I couldn’t wait. The rest was very special, but a week after it had all finished, I was raring to go. Nothing grips you like the start of the new football season, even in these times of 4th European away kits and matching player-agent tattoos..
Was I wrong to believe after the first three/four games that there was slightly less cheating around, maybe as part of the Olympics factor, and which form – diving, feigning injury, trying to get opponents booked or sent off, shirt-pulling, wasting time etc – most annoys you?
That soon wore off, as witness Welbeck’s dive for Utd the other week. Same weekend Aguero stayed on his feet under a heavy challenge and you think to yourself…..
Worst aspect for me is referees doing nothing about fouling in the box when corners come in; the holding, the shirt pulling etc. That and the need to kick the ball out every time some kid starts rolling around. I know you can’t be too sure, but we have passed a limit now, where players are taking the piss. I hark from an era where Hunter and Lee would get a handful of each other’s shirts and have a good fist fight. Watson, Bobby Kerr, who was that rock centre half you had in the 90s with teeth missing and a skinhead? All this mock horror, pretending to be hurt, time wasting and telling the ref to book an opponent makes me want to puke.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
Will be on holiday down the Portuguese coast, but will find a tv screen and make a fool of myself as usual. My long-suffering family will bury their heads as I leap around cussing at the tv. On current form, I’d take a 3-2 win for City.
* Simon Curtis on Simon Curtis: I run a training organistion for companies in and around Lisbon. This reduces time spent back home but I get back on a regular basis. I started watching City in 1973, ironically, as that’s the season of Sunderland’s greatest moment. Remember well the Cup Final that year and understanding as a raw youngster what magic football could serve up. Went home and away in the 80s and 90s, a real lesson in life, but travel and work has taken me far and wide since then. You never lose the passion though. Down the Kippax Steps is an offbeat look at what has always been an offbeat club. Like Sunderland, you never really tire of it do you? If I could concentrate on writing – I have a journalist pass in Portugal, watched City in Porto from the press box and contribute to various other football outlets – I cannot imagine ever drying up. There’s so much to talk about, so much to write about. I also run the sites at www.monumentcity.blogspot.com (antique MCFC memories) and www.bifanabifana.blogspot.com (about the wonderful world of Portuguese football) and am working on a book about the history of Portuguese football with a journalist friend in Lisbon.
Interview: Colin Randall