The French Connection strikes again. Monsieur Salut is no more French than Lee Cattermole but has a French wife and city-in-law and spends a lot of time in France. Now our associate editor John McCormick turns out to have a half-French nephew, Anthony Petit*. Despite the name, Tony probably isn’t little at all; he certainly isn’t a Sunderland supporter. To adapt our old Eric Roy chant, ‘C’est Ooh Agh, c’est ooh agh, je suis un Mag y’naagh’. In remarkably good English – his mother’s from Birtley and he has some choice words for Mike Ashley – he upholds the tradition of cracking Who are You? interviews …
Salut! Sunderland: We’re in our customary pickle, you’re stuttering after flattering to deceive. Is this pretty much the best the North East can expect?
Anthony: No I don’t believe this is what we deserve or should expect. If we managed to end up 5th three seasons ago, I believe we can achieve this again. But when your club officially aims for 10th you can’t be surprised by a lack of ambition thereafter. The issue we are both facing is that the people in command prioritise too much the financial side of football over the football and human side. Even if Ashley has sanitised our finances, he has done this by do*b*e-cr*ss*ng all the fans and does not care about the pride we take following our club.
If owners/directors favoured the sports aspect of what we call modern football, I think we would do much better. I have seen and spoken with many fans who have given up their ST because of Ashley’s practices, some of whom had been there for 40 years! Focusing on the manner and results rather than the money would bring people back into the grounds and with those high attendances comes a financial support behind for the clubs, helping the latter to buy top players who would then bring better results and so on and so forth… Call me utopian if you want but I think it could work.
We’ll get to our problems but what do you think derailed Newcastle’s bright run? Just the change of managership or were the signs of decline already ominous?
I think that Ashley’s involvement in the recruiting and squad picking have hindered Newcastle’s performance. He has given a pretty clear message by appointing Carver as head coach and asking for a new head coach instead of a manager. He might be good with managing a company but what does he know about football?
I see Carver is already talking about making exciting summer signings. Will he really be around still and should he in your view?
As we say here “Will he sh***”? Carver has no say to whoever we will recruit. Ashley is too tight to spend over 8-10 million pounds. And his recruiting policy excludes players over 25, so we end up with inexperienced or cheap players. I think he should accept anyone who is skilled, can play at Premiership level, fits in the team and plays at the right position that we need to fill in. Carver is here by default as Pardew has left and because he has the necessary qualifications to sign team sheets. He’ll move in the summer.
What is your current view of Ashley – still a disastrous owner making you long for an earlier era where some success made up for the sleaze, or oddly capable of winning the fans round?
I think my previous answers have already given you a hint of my opinion on Ashley. Even if we get better results or come back in Europe (however unlikely that is) he will be loathed for ever here. I genuinely believed he was keen on bringing good things when he took over but the honeymoon period soon ended when Wise arrived, Milner left and the whole battle between Keegan & Wise started. It’s all gone downhill since.
At least NUFC got one thing right: which midfield Jack to sign last summer. Yours for a free and done well, ours £10m and a flop. I take it Colback’s goal against you at SJP, and the celebration, must have been completely forgiven now…
Well, you can’t call yourself a Newcastle supporter and celebrate against your own. To me he is just a local lad who played for Sunderland and now moved to Newcastle because they offered him more money (I have left a previous company when I found a better job better paid, so I understand the move) but I don’t get his celebration. If he really is a Mag he shouldn’t have done it. And this can’t be forgiven easily. Maybe time will heal those scars.
Who are the finest players you have seen in black and white stripes, and who do you wish you’d been around to see from earlier generations?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I wish I had seen Jackie Milburn and the team of that era play. Three FA cups in five years; I wouldn’t even dream of an FA cup in 15 years now! Having no black & white family members did not help me to attend games in the mid-90s, but I would have loved to see those entertainers play. I was already into football then and could only follow the Newcastle scores on Sunday night in France and see some snippets of the goals when lucky.
And who should have been allowed nowhere near your colours?
Mike Ashley, Mirandinha, Lionel Perez, well… them and all the other shit players who came by, really.
What have been your personal highs and lows as a fan?
Going down in May 2009 was awful. It was my first year as a full season ticket holder (a childhood dream for me) and was not expecting this at the beginning of the season. Losing the last few recent derbies at home were also a major heartache.
A few highs: the 4-4 draw vs Arsenal but winning at Man U last season was pretty special and staying at OT singing for 45 minutes after the end of the game is probably a once in a lifetime occasion. Seeing us winning at Man City and in the league cup this season was also. It was my 6th time at the COMS/Etihad, glad we finally had one win.
Who is the black sheep of the family: our John (McCormick), your uncle I believe and SAFC through and through, or you as a Mag?
No one really. We just follow our teams but I have always seen him as my uncle first rather than a Sunderland fan. He even took me to last season’s derby at the SOL so he can’t be that bad as an uncle. I believe we both give as well as we get when derbies come by. I’d say I might be more of a black sheep, being the French one in the family there, and as only three people are really into football (the 3rd one being another Sunderland supporting uncle), it is not a major topic of conversation except when we all drink together.
Colback apart, who do you have in the likely team at the SoL to stop a fifth successive Sunderland derby win, and how much does it matter to you?
Well, we won’t have a defence so it will have to be through our midfield and forward(s). If Sissoko, Cabella and Ayoze are on a good day, we could get something. Time will tell.
Wear-Tyne rivalry extends from harmless banter to poisonous malice, and passes most of the rest of the world by. What do you make of it?
I think the rivalry should stop right before it gets physical. I can tolerate insults, especially if witty, chants, taunting etc… It’s what makes our derby one of the best and most tense in the UK.
Sunderland’s malaise: whether it pleases you or you take the more pro-region view, what is the explanation for the failure of successive managers to get the best out of players – or are the players just consistently not good enough?
I think my first answer already answered it in some part. The fact Sunderland and Newcastle are close by also hinders a bigger attraction of crowds to the games thus bringing less cash to each clubs, making it more difficult to thrive. As for the failure of the managers, it must be due to their (lack of) skills, choices and the quality of players you have at Sunderland.
Any other impressions of SAFC – city, club, fans – or special memories of past derbies?
I will always remember my first derby when in Newcastle, albeit I cannot remember the first one I attended. It was the 3-2 at SJP in October 2005 and Emre scored a free kick. I was living in Darlington at the time and hadn’t slept much. One of the most pleasant hangovers I have ever had. The worst one was last season, sitting next to my uncle in the Sunderland fans’ zone. I even had to pretend to clap at Borini’s goal not to be caught. I am not even sure if my uncle has managed to wipe the smile off his face since.
Be blunt: what will the bottom three be this season? Less important, the top four and your likely finishing position?
QPR, Burnley and Leicester.
Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Man U.
A poor 12th.
Diving: should we accept defeat and stop fussing, or is it – and other forms of cheating – still worth fighting?
I think rules should be changed and a special ethics committee should review all the major incidents in the games. Diving, time wasting, nasty tackles (etc…), even if noticed or reported by the ref. It mars the game too much.
Best Premier ref and worst?
They are all appalling. Shocking standards for one of the biggest leagues in the world. I think the FA should also do more to help refs with confidence and players/managers coming right to their face. If it can be done in Handball or rugby, why not in football?
One step NUFC or the football authorities should take to improve the lot of ordinary fans?
I support the “twenty plenty” and the “share the tv wealth” campaigns from the FSF. It’s organised by fans, for fans. Those demands are not too farfetched and would help people especially with the stupid increase in prices which are killing the atmosphere in football. NUFC managed to get a few clubs to agree on a mutual £20 ticket price but I am not sure if that was covered by the money handed by the FA and just Ashley trying to show the club was doing something.
Will you be at our game? If not, how will you keep tabs and what will be the score?
Unless I find a last minute ticket, I don t think I’ll be at the game. Even though I have been to a few away games now, the stupid loyalty scheme prevents people from attending away games as people with more loyalty gain from the scheme and then sell the tickets to others… But if anyone here has a spare one, please feel free to contact me!
* Anthony Petit on himself: I am 31 and often describe myself as half French/half Geordie or sometimes half Norman/half Geordie. My dad is French and I grew up for 20 years in Rouen, attending games at FC Rouen (mostly in the 4th division, although we rose to 2nd division but went back straight to 4th division after that, and are now in the 6th division following bankruptcy). My mother being from Birtley, I caught the black & white bug at an early age when playing football with local pals and really started following the team’s results from 1991/92. I moved to the North East in 2005 because I wanted to discover my other roots and because of the sociable side and taste for going out that northerners have. I saw my first game in 2001 (maybe it even was Olivier Bernard’s first game, not sure) it was an interstate cup game vs Lokeren and I hope to see as many as possible before I die.
Interview: Colin Randall