We will all have found ways of trying to blot the memory of Sunday from our minds, but I was still thinking about the gruesome nature of our Eastlands capitulation when I went to Marseille last night, not for a Ligue 1 game but – as old folklies do – to see Joan Baez. What would really work for many of us would be the sort of pulsating performance, against West Brown on Saturday, that we haven’t really seen since Chelsea away. WBA arrive with bags of confidence after a robust display against Liverpool. We are what we are, and it’ll probably be a nervy affair whichever way it goes.
Salut! Sunderland is grateful to Chris Lepkowski*, the Birmingham Mail‘s West Brom writer, for agreeing to answer the customary “Who are You” questions. But reading his thoughts on SuperKev made me yearn for a vanished era of prolific goalscoring at the SoL …
Salut! Sunderland: You know West Brom as well as most: many pundits, maybe a majority, have been predicting relegation. But the Premier is tight and the Baggies have had some cracking results along the way. How do you see it?
Albion have put themselves in a position of strength. Unbeaten in six, two victories along the way – they are one of the in-form sides in the League. Playing with confidence, occasional swagger but still prone to occasional defensive lapses. If they can cut out the latter then they will stay up. Failure to do so will prolong their fight, though I still believe they’ll survive.
You’re the main writer on WBA for the Birmingham Mail. Does such a close association give you some affection for the club whatever your own allegiances?
You get an afinity for the people at the club – players, coaches, staff, fans. In the interests of being a decent human being, you want them to do well. Speaking as a newspaper employee, a winning, successful side always helps with Internet hits and newspaper sales so you feed off the success of the clubs you cover.
For how long have you been reporting on WBA, who are the best players you’ve seen at the club and who, if you dare, should never have been allowed near the shirt?
I’ve been covering WBA since August 2001. My first day was spent interviewing a very downbeat Gary Megson on the day Lee Hughes left. Two hours later I was sat at Coventry City’s training ground watching a very downbeat Lee Hughes being unveiled. All very strange. The best players during those years include Kevin Phillips, Bob Taylor, Darren Moore, Derek McInnes, Youssouf Mulumbu, Kanu and Zoltan Gera. Some I’ve chosen for their footballing skills, others for their attitude and devotion to their professions.
There are a few who simply didn’t fit Albion and should never have joined. Luke Moore is the most obvious example. Never seemed comfortable at the club, was seemingly not the choice of Tony Mowbray (the manager who ‘signed’ him) and was to endure a sustained poor spell with the club. His goals’ return was poor, as were his overall performances.
What did you make of Kevin Phillips when he was at the Hawthorns?
Kevin scored 46 in 82 appearances. That statistic includes 11 sub appearances and is skewed further by the fact that Phillips very rarely completed 90 minutes. Had he fulfilled more fixtures in their entirity, it’s feasible to assume that his goals-per-game ratio might have been even more impressive. He’s the best natural finisher I’ve seen during my time covering the club – and there’s been a few. It was a shame he left when he did. He wanted a two-year deal, the club offered a one-year deal with a 12-month option which would be triggered in the event of him making 19 appearances during the first-year. Tony Mowbray was keen to keep him but the club made their choice, as did Kevin. Albion’s response was unfortunate and lacking in class – the statement of his departure being littered with references to his age, his poor scoring record at Villa and frequent mention of his injury problems. Albion were to be relegated by three points. I’m convinced he would have made a difference… Albion’s loss remains Birmingham’s gain.
And do you have any recollections of another Kevin with Sunderland connections, Kilbane, or other links between the clubs?
Kilbane left just before my time so I never got to know him. My colleagues speak highly of him and I have interviewed him twice over the years. A gentleman. Intelligent and not surprising to hear that he’s considering a career in the media. He’ll be well suited.
Were you surprised at how poor we were when we visited WBA?
Not especially surprised. Albion needed an immediate response having lost 6-0 the previous week at Chelsea. The Baggies stopped Sunderland playing and both sides were still bedding in new players. It happens.
Who will finish top four, in order, and who will go down. If not in (either!) list, where will WBA and Sunderland end up?
Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City. Blackburn, Blackpool and Wigan to be relegated. WBA to finish 16th. Sunderland 12th
Last season, it was the Eduardo Question, to the annoyance of Arsenal fan. They approve more of the new tItle – the Walcott Question – since we praised his admission + apology on diving. But what did you make of it and has cheating – not just diving but feigning injury, sly tugs, trying to get opponents booked or sent off – become so commonplace that we should abandon high-minded principles and accept it as part of the modern game?
Walcott basically admitted to what many footballers do and try and hide. I have no problem with his admission, more the fact that he feels the need to bring it into his game. He has pace and he’s a talented footballer. Why cheat? It’s become an unfortunate part of the game. I have no answer on how to solve the problem but I accept that it is an issue.
What was your feeling on the Fifa decision to go for Russia instead of England for the 2018 World Cup?
I’m fairly sure the campaigning and posturing of the respective bids were futile. I wasn’t surprised. On the one hand Russia have yet to host a tournament and England have few supporters among the movers and shakers at Fifa. I was more bothered by the allegations of corruption during the voting process, more than Russia getting a tournament. Good luck to them. Shame because Euro 96 was a wonderful time for this nation.
What one thing should the footballing authorities do to make the lot of the ordinary supporter – or indeed the football writer – a little better?
Clubs are now required to meet certain standards for media. Most comply with this. This might seem like an irrelevance to supporters but it’s our working area and we should be able to work safely and free from hecklers who seem to regard the media areas like the away end (mentioning no clubs…). As for supporters’ needs, reducing ticket prices would go a long way to restoring bigger attendances. Good-natured tribalism is being lost to well-dressed ‘spectators’. This should remain a meat-and-potatoes pursuit, not a summer’s afternoon sat beside Centre Court applauding politely.
I take it you’ll be covering our game. What will be the score?
I actually fancy Albion to get a point. They can score but are prone to concede goals. Sunderland will need to respond following Sunday’s defeat but Albion probably need points a little more. I can see an even, low-scoring game. Match Of The Day to shoe-horn the highlights into the slot just before midnight. On the plus side, Albion fans should be back in time to see it.
* Chris Lepkowski on Chris Lepkowski
I’m 35, been a journalist for 14 years – previously worked for Autosport.com, FourFourTwo.com and Motoring News – before moving to the Birmingham Mail in 2001. I am from the West Midlands, born in West Bromwich to Polish parents, currently live in Walsall and have a four-year-old daughter. If making me a tea please pour milk in before water – that’s all I ask. Hear his extended thoughts on the game here – ed
Interview: Colin Randall