Towards the end of the 2015-2016 season, Sunderland went to Norwich and won 3-0 as part of the Big Sam race for survival. We stayed up, they went down. Before the game, we were able to introduce readers to one of the best Who are You? interviewees of the season, Gary Gowers*. So good were his replies that he took second place in the HAWAY awards – he never received his prize, but we are trying to rectify this now.
As Sunderland’s second Championship game takes us back to Carrow Road, it seemed an ideal opportunity to catch up again with Gary, the editor of http://norwichcity.myfootballwriter.com. Sit back for another terrific read in which he lays into the arrogance of City’s squad last season and expresses no surprise at our own predicament. He’d quite like Catts in Norwich colours but is distinctly cool on James Vaughan and Lewis Grabban. All the same, he predicts a top six place for Sunderland (and for his own side) …
Salut! Sunderland: Last season, many probably assumed you’d be battling with Newcastle for automatic promotion but you ended up 10 points short of the playoffs. Was it the loss of key players – notably to Robbie Brady to Burnley – or were there other factors?
Gary Gowers: blimey, not sure where to start. It was a perfect storm of sh**ness that did for us really, starting with a bunch of players who were riddled with an unjustified sense of entitlement.
Some gave off this horrible air of arrogance as though promotion would be a formality and then took the hump when teams they considered smaller than them got in their faces and made life difficult. They appeared genuinely surprised that places like Barnsley and Rotherham turned into battles and came over as a load of Big Time Charlies with no bottle – which is what they essentially were. The manager too lost his way and couldn’t decided what the hell his style of play was and there was more flip-flopping than in Magaluf in August.
Oddly enough the home form was pretty good – I guess their quality was able to shine through against teams who came to defend – but away we were just awful. Oh, and our player recruitment was also absolute cr@p.
I bet you weren’t surprised to see us come tumbling down
Not really to be honest. Most people saw it coming; you most of all I suspect. For once the 11th hour heroics to stave off relegation didn’t kick in and (sorry) didn’t look like kicking in.
And are Danny Farke and Simon Grayson the right men to lead our respective clubs back to the heady heights of hoping for 17th place?
Too early to say but on that particular score we’ve gone for polar opposite options. Farke has no experience of English football; Grayson has oodles. Farke has no idea what a Championship season entails; Grayson knows the Championship better than he knows his own family. Farke’s philosophy is based on a German, continental style; Grayson’s is as English as Yorkshire pudding. Farke speaks perfect English; Grayson… In answer to your question, I’d say we both have playoff potential.
I saw Farke was furious with a sluggish display in a winning friendly at Charlton – sounds familiar given our patchy pre-season form. What are your particular strength and weaknesses?
We’re still finding out to be honest. With nine new players coming in this is a virtually new team and we’re still to discover what they’re good at and not-so-good at. What can’t possibly be worse than last season is our ability to defend, so I’m expecting us to concede fewer goals. And his philosophy is around retaining possession, so I’m hopeful we’ll keep the ball better than we did last season (which shouldn’t be difficult). I suspect one of our weaknesses, especially to begin with, will be a lack of Championship nous.
Did coming second in the HAWAYs (Salut! Sunderland‘s Who are You? awards) in 2016 ease the pain of relegation?
Absolutely it did (although I never received the voucher![Wish you’d said. It will be remedied if possible – Ed]). Am not expecting a silver this time round though. Too much pressure.
Tell us what we should expect in the Championship after 10 years in the top flight. Are the differences in standards and style immense?
It’s a different world! Almost two different sports. The tempo is high octane will little let up and the challenges fly in thick and fast. Players who don’t like it “up ’em” have no place in the Championship. And there are eight more games! If the Premier League is the 800m, the Championship is the 10,000m.
What have been the best and worst of times for you as a Norwich supporters?
How long have you got? The best has to be the first year of the Premier League when we came third behind Utd and Villa. Those were heady days and was followed by a UEFA cup run that took us to Vitesse Arnhem, Bayern Munich and ended in the San Siro against Inter Milan.
The win en route in Munich’s Olympic Stadium was, for City supporters, the stuff of dreams. The lowest ebb was when Glenn Roeder took us down to League (Bryan Gunn technically took us down but it was Rodent who did the damage); that was a $hitstorm of epic proportions.
And the players who over the years have given you most – and least – pleasure in your colours?
The best has to be Darren Huckerby. In his pomp he was unplayable and was one of the few who genuinely did get fans on the edges of their seats. He fitted Norwich City (and Norfolk) like a glove and now works for the club. The least pleasure? Well, when Bryan Hamilton was briefly manager he brought in two Dutchmen by the names of Fernando Derveld and Raymond de Waard. My god were they $hit.
Is cheating (whichever form annoys you most) as prevalent in the Championship and should be doing more to cut it out generally – or just accept it as the way the game is and try to get our players to be better at it?
It seems slightly less prevalent in the Championship, but diving is still there. It may just be that every game isn’t pored over with a fine tooth-comb. It remains infuriating but I don’t really see how it can be eradicated. One thing though… we’re useless at it. Other clubs are so much better at it than us. Watch Fulham.
Best ref, worst ref you’ve had at this level?
There is no such thing as a best ref (is there?) but the worst has to be this plank called Simon Hooper. I’m not a believer that refs cheat and deliberately sway one way or the other, but that therefore makes Hooper the most incompetent tool ever to blow a whistle.
If not fully covered in other answers, your thoughts on Sunderland: the club, the fans, the city and region?
I like Sunderland; at least I do when we’re not playing against you and getting beaten. I got the major hump when you beat us the season Allardyce kept you up and had a touchline scrap with Cameron Jerome in the process and fell out with a few but you’re a thoroughly decent bunch who’ve been through as many hard times as we have. Is it at this point that we do the Friendly Cup joke again? [no, but do read this past Norwich Who are You? with its brilliant Milk cup final anecdote – Ed]
Like you, our few quality players have gone or look like going. Is there anyone in our squad you’d happily see at Carrow Road?
I’d quite like to see Cattermole in yellow and green if not only to stop him kicking the absolute $hit out of us. But you’re welcome to keep Grabban and Vaughan, both of whom have played for us with a definite lack of distinction. Beware of Grabban throwing loads of dummies out of his pram as the season progresses (if he hasn’t already?), and Vaughan’s knees, which are made of cheese.
Hand on heart, where will our clubs finish this season? If not in the top two or even six, who is going up?
I reckon we both have a shot at the playoffs but that’s probably my heart talking, which is notoriously unreliable. My head’s not much better and says Norwich 4th, Sunderland 6th.
Will you be at the game? What will be the score?
I’ve got to go for a City win haven’t I, although I really haven’t a Scooby. Let’s say 2-1 to us.
* Gary Gowers on himself: I’m freelance writer whose day job is being the editor of http://norwichcity.myfootballwriter.com/. Amongst other things I also write in the club’s matchday programme.