OK, it doesn’t precisely come down ONLY to this. We can lose and even fail to win on Sunday but still stay up. We could lose both games and stay up provided Norwich failed to beat Arsenal. But please, Lads, be sufficiently composed and clinical on Wednesday to ensure the happy ending to the football fairytale everyone outside of the Toon Army and Norwich wants to see. Lose and the tension on Sunday will be unbearable, not that we haven’t been there before.
Our West Bromwich Albion interviewer is young Nathan Carr*. He’s been here before and is still only 17. Nathan likes Sunderland, even if he loyally predicts an away win on Wednesday, and has also – mostly – enjoyed seeing Sess in the Baggies’ stripes. Had the questions been posed later, I’d have asked about the ugly manifestation of corporate power that condemns WBA to playing without their famous blue stripes next season …
Salut! Sunderland: A close run thing but WBA look like being safe. Were you surprised by your predicament and/or ours this season?
Nathan Carr: Our win over West Ham last weekend lifted us onto 36 points, which should just do it. Last season was a particularly memorable one as the club finished in 8th position (our highest ever top-flight finish) and heading into this term, there were some lingering doubts as to whether the squad would be able to sustain such success. I didn’t really forecast a relegation scrap, not at all. But a mixture of shoddy summer acquisitions, severe lack of consistency and generally naff performances have culminated in what has to go down as one of the worst seasons of following Albion in a long, long time. Certainly since I’ve been a supporter (for 17 years). It’s important to learn some valuable lessons from this season and ensure we don’t make the same telling errors again in the next. In terms of Sunderland’s predicament, I had you down as mid-table material but clearly that hasn’t gone to plan. Your recent performances against the “bigger” teams have been encouraging.
On reflection was it a good idea, or corporate football nonsense, to sack Steve Clarke and appoint Pepe Mel?
I’ve had this question posed to me many a time since Steve Clarke’s sacking. No doubt, his tenure was coming to an end and the defeat away to Cardiff was the final straw. Pepe Mel has taken time to adjust and implement his ideas but I personally have faith in him; he’s a great guy and so very genuine. He needs to be given time and freedom in the summer to bring in his own players to suit his own system, but there has been continuous speculation surrounding his future. Reports say our chairman Jeremy Peace is still weighing up the club’s options and Mel himself is in the dark over his job (both short-term and long-term). Would Clarke have taken us to safety with fewer games remaining? Maybe. Who knows? We were definitely on a downward spiral and the team wasn’t functioning properly at all. Mel did really well at Real Betis, he’s hungry to stay and I think the club should back him.
And what is your assessment of a season of Sessegnon?
Believe it or not, Sessegnon is the most expensive player in West Brom’s history. So there has been very lofty expectations for him since his arrival and on the whole he’s contributed quite a lot. He burst onto the scene – scoring on his debut, ironically against Sunderland I believe – and looked right at home. Then an injury hampered his development but he returned a couple of months ago and he’s hit a purple patch of late. One of the first names on the team-sheet, Sessegnon is thriving in a central attacking midfield position (similar to where he was deployed at Sunderland) and he has this amazing ability to manufacture chances out of nothing. There is one negative to his game: he could work on his shooting. Barring that, Sessegnon should be saluted for his contribution thus far.
After staying up, are you fearful or more the same or will Mel start producing results next season?
I for one have plenty of faith in Mel. He’s walked into the club at an extremely difficult period, squeezed out wins against Swansea, Norwich and West Ham and now we look to have survived. Call me crazy, but I have this overriding – and quite frankly peculiar – feeling that the Spaniard will steer us to Europa League qualification next season. Watch this space.
Who has done a decent job for you this season, who has been shocking and what did you make of selling Long to Hull?
Ben Foster has been his usual consistent self, Gareth McAuley and Jonas Olsson (when fit) have been solid at the heart of defence, Youssouf Mulumbu and Chris Brunt have been worthy contributors in midfield and Graham Dorrans is starting to blossom in the starting eleven after a long hiatus from the team. Loan signings Scott Sinclair and Goran Popov have been utterly terrible, free transfer Diego Lugano likewise, while Steven Reid is on his last legs and not cut out for this level anymore. At the time, Long was in a really bad run of form at the club and he wanted to settle somewhere with his wife and newly born child. Hull paid £7 million for his services and I think that’s not such a bad deal.
I know you’ve been here before but remind us of your own highs and lows as an Albion fan?
My personal highs include The Great Escape, when we were rock bottom of the Premier League at Christmas but still staved off relegation under the guidance of Bryan Robson. Beating Wolves 5-1 in their own backyard two seasons ago was incredible, Peter Odemwingie scored a hat-trick and we blew them away. That won’t happen again for a long, long, long time and will go down as one of the greatest Albion games I’ve ever been to. Also, Somen Tchoyi arriving at the club was a big high of mine. He left over a year ago and no-one has really heard of him since but the man, quite simply, is a living legend. Lows? Relegation never left a particularly sweet taste in your mouth. But I’d rather concentrate on the positives than negatives!
Who have been the greatest players you’ve seen in Albion colours? Or, from the past, wish you’d seen?
Kevin Phillips, who has recently retired and obviously was a big hit with Sunderland supporters, was a pleasure to watch live, banging in the goals. Robert Koren, Darren Moore, Zoltan Gera, Youssouf Mulumbu, Paul Robinson and Paul Scharner are others who I had the pleasure of watching and were all special in their own distinct ways. I wish I would had seen the likes of Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis, Tony Brown and Brendon Batson in their prime. That would have been amazingly good.
What thoughts on Sunderland: the Di Canio nightmare, Poyet, the club, the fans?
I genuinely thought Di Canio was going to take you places when he joined as manager – after leading Sunderland to that derby win over Newcastle in his first game in charge – but things didn’t pan out. He’s a very eccentric, exuberant character and I’m not sure the Sunderland players really responded to him very well. Poyet shares some similar traits to his predecessor but is a tad calmer on the touchline and possesses more tactical acumen. Poyet comes across as a good man manager, a motivator and real fighter. We were linked with him but his work was seen as an achievement at Brighton and it looks like he has given you a great chance of staying up. I like Sunderland as a club, the Stadium of Light is one of my favourite stadiums too. I appreciate that football is a major thing in Sunderland and you only want the best for your club. It’s the same at West Brom and I think we’re both similar in that respect.
(Question posed, of course, before Saturday, but we’ll let the exchange stand in any case: Difficult match on Saturday at Old Trafford, then you and Swansea at home. Are we still going down?
I tipped Sunderland to go down before your draw against Manchester City but you have given yourself a brilliant opportunity to climb out of the drop zone. I do think Manchester United will win on Saturday, purely because of the “Giggs effect” – thank heavens you were wrong – ed – and the midweek match with us will have a lot resting on it. Perhaps more for you than us relative to Albion’s result this weekend against Arsenal. For me, Norwich are goners. Cardiff are goners (Solskjaer seems totally inept as a Premier League manager). And Fulham are goners.
And the top four in order?
Baggies: a name derived from the bagmen who used to carry the kit or the product of derogatory Villa references to baggy , protective trousers worn in the foundries? Either way, it’s stuck!
Yes it has stuck, a word etched into the club’s tapestry and one which is most definitely not related to Villa’s derogatory references!
Do you join in Boing Boing goal celebrations?
Of course, it is obligatory. There isn’t much skill to it, just: jump up and down, move arms around wildly.
I don’t suppose you see much of McEnroe at games but what about that other noted Albion fan, Goran Ivaniševi??
I’m pretty sure he went to see his first game against Manchester City at home earlier this season. Ivaniševi? is a really funny, and quite odd, guy but he loves the Baggies so we love him.
Does anything about the modern game truly inspire you?
I think the introduction of modern technology (eg goal-line system) is beneficial even though it seemed to take an age for it to come to the fore. And setting up these pristine, artificial pitches for youngsters to hone their technical skills can only be a positive aspect of the modern game, too. But there isn’t much (I guess you could say I’m a traditionalist).
And what appals you?
I don’t get short corners – they never, ever seem to work and usually the opposition just take the ball off you and counter attack. This never used to happen, I’m sure. I don’t get the fifth and sixth officials in UEFA competition – they never appear to move, initiate any sort of meaningful decision nor help out the actual referee. Lastly, I don’t get all the money involved in the modern game – for example, to go and watch WBA take on City at the Etihad just recently it was £56 for a ticket. Ticket prices, advertisement, sponsorship, Sky Sports…it all revolves around cash. That’s the cold and rather disheartening truth.
Brazil: excited or not too bothered?
Buzzing like every other sane football fan! This edition promises to be spectacular. I was lucky enough to visit Rio last summer – the calm before the storm – and watch a domestic match at the Maracana stadium which will host the final. It’s a fantastic, vibrant city with friendly people and the event, we hope, will run smoothly. Obviously the kick-off times are a bit inconvenient at late times but it’s something you’ve got to put up with. I reckon England will qualify from Group D but the quarter-finals may be as far as it goes.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
I won’t, mainly because it is midweek and a long, long way. However, I will be watching online from home and I predict Sunderland 1-2 Albion. I could never vote against my own team, could I?
I’m Nathan Carr, a 17-year-old West Brom season ticket holder and budding football writer/columnist. I’ve previously contributed to various publications and platforms, on WBA and general football stuff. If I remember correctly, my first Baggies match was at home against Charlton but I can’t remember what season or the score. My family are mad on West Brom so it has just been passed onto me – there’s been some great memories thus far and I hope there will be many more to come!
Interview: Colin Randall
See also: Monsieur Salut on tour at ESPNFC, previewing the match: http://www.espnfc.com/blog/_/name/sunderland/id/3211?cc=5739
Sunderland have a grand history, even if three of the six top-flight titles listed in the club’s honours were won in the last century but one. The red and white stripes worn by generations of players are a strong part of that tradition and I would be horrified at any move – whether by club or sponsors – to change to anything else.
If I were a supporter of Southampton, I would have felt the same when that club’s red and white stripes were ditched. And now, it is reported, West Brom are planning something similar with their kit, replacing those familiar bold blue stripes dating from the 19th century with mere pinstripes on an overwhelmingly white design.
From what I have seen, it looks ghastly. Fans are outraged – 75 percent voting against the new strip in a local newspaper poll – as the club retreats behind a convenient refusal to comment.
Now if anything merits a points deduction, this is it.