Pete Lynn, aka Wrinkly Pete, writes: Phil Clarke*, is my nephew and, sad to tell, a lifelong Bristol City fan even though his origins, like mine, are in Sunderland. I did my best to persuade Phil to abandon the Robins for the Black Cats last season when he and his youngest son Red made their first ever trip to the Stadium Of Light. Before the match, the family visited the shop where my parents – Phil’s grandparents – met, without which meeting none of them would exist! Best not to dwell on the game itself, as the Lads were Gabbiadinied by Southampton … what follows is a good read made all the better by a wonderful Martin Scott anecdote …
Salut! Sunderland: with your Sunderland connections, you should be among the home fans this Saturday. Give us the background. Looking forward to it?
Phil Clarke: I will be watching City at Sunderland for the first time ever. Very excited, to say the least. It’s not too long ago that the best we got was Walsall or Bury away, during our long spell in the 3rd tier.
Coming to Sunderland brings back treasured memories of my gran & grandad – they worked at this shop on the corner of North Bridge Street and Dundas Street, just a goal kick away from the Stadium of Light, before moving to Bristol in the 1930s.
Both of them would be cheering for Sunderland, as will my cousin James and Uncle Pete, so maybe a draw (something like 3-3 or 4-4) would be the best result. I don’t really fancy walking home!
Seventh top and you’ve been higher, which would be nose bleed territory for us after our woeful start. But you were fifth early last season and finished near the bottom. Is the late summer/autumn flourish more sustainable this time? Stephen Landsown is your billionaire owner, Lee Johnson is back as head coach where he spent a good part of his playing career. Is this the dream ticket?
Top 10 finish for me would be terrific after our horrendous 16/17 season, when we went on a run of nine straight losses – the worst in our entire history – in the middle of one draw in 17 games (Yes, one point from a possible 51!). If Lee Johnson does take us to the next level, the depth of loyalty that chairman Lansdown showed last season will have been one of the greatest commitments ever made.
As with lots of our Championship opponents, not to mention our own much-changed side, I am having to learn quickly about players whose names meant little to me before, though you do have a sprinkling of internationals (Iceland, Bosnia and Herzegovin, Irish Republic, Australia) and Matty Taylor looks a useful striker. Who is doing especially well for you so far this season and where do you need to strengthen?
Our squad seems stronger though, this season. The average age is just 25, boasting 18 English born players and four current full Internationals. Irish star Calum O’Dowda (runs down the wing for me) is showing massive potential, Australian International Bailey Wright is hard as nails and is looking like a snip from PNE. Icelandic International Horder Magnusson and Bosnian Milan Djuric have been in and out of the team due to injury, both great squad players when called upon.
New £5 million signing Famara Diedhiou (pronounced Jay Joo) is on the brink of the Senegal team and is settling in really well. Stand out players so far this season have been Bobby Reid (a local product) and Jamie Patterson (a bargain from Nottingham Forest).
My best moment as a City fan was a freezing January night in 1994. Liverpool away in the FA Cup. An unforgettable 1-0 win against a team including Grobbelaar, Rush, Barnes, Clough and a young, very pretty Jamie Redknapp. Graeme Souness parted company with Liverpool the next day. A Red Army of over 7,000 travelled that night and it was no fluke – we played fearless football and battered them.
My worst moment as a City fan (there have been a few!) was losing 0-1 to Hull City in the Championship playoff final in 2008. Just 90 minutes from the Premier League, a wonder strike from Dean Windass ruined a great day out with my sons. Seven of us travelled in a luxury car that we hired, we had to pay £15 to park it, but that was small feed compared to the £8.50p EACH for Hot Dog and Chips………. “Go on, Dad. It’s only a one off, and we’re really hungry”.
And the players who’ve given you most pleasure in City colours?
Andy Cole and Brian Tinnion. Cole scored a hat trick in 17 minutes for City against Pompey one night – I told the lads to remember every minute, you’ll never see this again – I’ve been right so far! Even though he was only at City for a a short time, we’ve never seen that much talent since. Tinnion was an ever reliable left sided midfielder who never let the team down. A great bloke off the field, too.
Looking for links between our clubs, I know your past players of the season include Martin Scott (very popular at Sunderland) and Jon Stead (a flop) and also Gary Owers. I’ve doubtless overlooked others but do you have particular memories – good, bad, ugly – of them or others who’ve been at both Ashton Gate and Roker/Stadium of Light?
Strangely (maybe due to geography) not many players have represented Sunderland AND Bristol City in their career. Jon Stead was awesome for us, Gary Owers was, too. But one player who stood out was Martin Scott – what a player. Everything you want a footballer to be, one of the best left backs ever to play for City. I met him one night in a Bristol nightclub, after a 0-3 defeat to Palace. A real bad day at the office all round. I was about 22 and I asked him what was the best advice he had ever been given. He said: “There will always be people in life who have more talent than you, but there’s no excuse for anyone to work harder than you do.” I’ve used that a few times since. We couldn’t take selfies back in the 90s, so I couldn’t put it on Facebook!
I always have considered Sunderland as a Premier League team, one of the bigger clubs, particularly the fan base. The numbers that follow Sunderland, considering the mileage, is quite phenomenal. I was a little surprised when you hired Simon Grayson, rather than a more high profile name, but he could be the man to take you back up. Sometimes a reality check in the Championship can be a good thing in the long term. There is literally no league in the world like this one. It sounds like a cliche, but predicting results is nearly impossible. PATIENCE is the key.
How do you compare Bristol City-Rovers rivalries with the Wear-Tyne version?
Derby days in Bristol have been few and far between of late. Rovers have been playing at a lower level than us for the last 17 years, so just two Johnstone’s Paint Trophy clashes in that time – with honours even. I love Derby games. The first fixture I looked for. Nothing compares. Rovers fans always relished the underdog tag. Some of my mates used to dread it. A loss unthinkable…. “How can I go to work on Monday if we lose?” That is exactly what football is about. Even though Cardiff City have taken Rovers place as our “local” rivals, nothing compares to City v. Rovers. I would happily give up 20 points in a season in exchange for a Derby day victory.
City are currently wearing a retro style kit similar to the 1982 strip, with a pin-stripe – causing mixed opinions from fans.
As all of you will have noticed, as you drop a league, the refereeing standards also drop. There are probably only four really decent referees in this division, the rest are just dross. It’s not just my opinion, ask anyone. At least, at long last, the FA are doing something about diving and cheating. Two-match bans are long overdue in my opinion, just time wasting and dissent to deal with next!
You’ll be at the game. Putting aside the diplomatic reference to a high-scoring draw above, what will be the score?
With no bias whatsoever, Sunderland 1 Bristol City 2.
* Explain the photo from outside the stadium, Phil:
From earlier this year, when Uncle Pete took us to the Stadium Of Light for the Southampton game. A 0-4 loss for Sunderland. Everyone sat around us were convinced that relegation was nigh that day, and oddly enough, even when it’s not your team, you can feel the familiarity (I’ve experienced seven with City) and it’s pretty vile!
Interview: Colin Randall