The Devil’s Advocate: from Rochdale to Everton, from Kone to keepers

Rob as seen by Jake
Rob as seen by Jake

John McCormick asks: what do you think of the reformatted former Johnstone’s Paint trophy? Did we really need to fork out for a two year contract for a third keeper? Will Victor Anichebe prove to be better than Danny Graham? My answers are “undecided”, “no”, “yes but that means nothing”.

Rob Hutchison has his own opinions. Here he is playing Devil’s Advocate, in which he may take a view directly contrary to your own. You’re welcome to let him know what you think yourself…

Read moreThe Devil’s Advocate: from Rochdale to Everton, from Kone to keepers

Everton Who are You?’: ‘teaching my daughter the cleaner Goodison songs’

Lydia with small Evertonian
Lydia with small but tuneful Evertonian

Football, marathon running, academia and cheese … that’s the heady mix that sums up Lydia Bleasdale-Hill*, our Everton Who are You? interviewee. Lydia, a season ticket holder for 20 years, considers Sunderland her favourite away ground, think David Moyes will – just about – get us on the right track and rates Kevin Kilbane’s cover version of Ice, Ice Baby, whose original performer, Robert Matthew Van Winkle aka Vanilla Ice, is a Texan rapper and almost old enough to work for Salut! Sunderland. Nowt to do with football but we also latched on to Lydia’s professed love of cheese (M Salut’s favourites being Tomme de Savoie, Morbier and the exceedingly smelly Livarot, plus a good strong Cheddar) …

Salut! Sunderland: We’ve had our usual bad start to the season, no wins under your old manager and an annoying transfer window. Do you get the feeling Sunderland’s time is finally up or is David Moyes the man to turn things around?

Lydia Bleasdale-Hill: I think there are enough teams in and around you to see you right, but I think it’ll be incredibly close (even with Anichebe…). I saw Pienaar talked Moyes up as a man to avoid relegation – I think there’s truth in that, but he’s going to need someone on the pitch who is incredibly intelligent in how he leads others. I’ll probably get laughed out of here on my first answer here, but a critical player for us in that respect was Phil Neville. At best he was 6/10 as a player, but he was great in keeping people together. My season ticket seat used to be near the pitch, behind a goal, and he rarely shut up (particularly in coaching younger players). He knew the approach to take with everyone – some needed a kick up the backside, others a friendly nudge – and he rarely celebrated a goal (instead, he would leg it to Moyes to get instructions for how we would set up post-goal). In his peak period for us, we would see an immediate dip in form (including organisation) when he was out of the side due to injury. I think Moyes quickly needs to identify who that player is for him (and keep players fit – hopefully he has progressed since his rumoured archaic training methods, which were often blamed for our players looking knackered at the start of the season).

What about Everton? A strong start for you, two wins and a draw. Were the club right to sack Martinez and even righter to appoint Koeman?

Right on both counts. Martinez had lost both the fans and the players last season, and I was dreading the final home game – he didn’t deserve the reception I knew he was going to get. Not a bad manager and not a bad man, but lost his (stubborn) way without a plan B.

Under Koeman it seems things have already tightened up: we don’t look panicked at the back (even when Jagielka and Williams played together for the first time) and he appears to be instilling a stronger work ethic in areas where it was needed (praising but also publicly noting who needs to work even harder).

Can you recapture relatively recent glory times and will there be pots of money from Farhad Moshiri, previously a shareholder at Arsenal to presumably hardly a lifelong Evertonian, to make it happen?

Judging by our attempts on the final day of the transfer window, who knows! We look willing to spend at least, although I still don’t expect buckets from Moshiri. Having said that, I think there has been a lot of unnecessary moaning when you look at our summer overall: a good deal for Stones, Lukaku retained, and a decent clutch of players in.

Jake: ‘oh won’t you stay – and not just until January?’ …

You wanted Lamine Kone as badly as we wanted to keep him. What has been your take on the protracted will-he-won’t-he saga?

I’m probably unusual in that I paid little attention – the transfer window shenanigans bore me to death.

And your other business. Did you welcome the purchase of Ashley Williams and who else is going to be important for you this season?

Delighted with Williams. Jagielka isn’t a captain for me – quite withdrawn – so having the experience and leadership of Williams will help (although I don’t expect Jagielka to lose the captaincy). Gueye looks great early doors – tidy, reads the game well, and strong – and I think Lukaku will flourish once he’s back to full fitness (although hopefully Baines will be kept on penalties in future cup semi-finals!) Steckelenburg has been an unexpected joy to have in goal.

Bring us up to date on Goodison, a ground many Sunderland fans really like as it inevitably recalls Roker Park, but obviously outdated?

We’re on rumour number 6292 when it comes to a potential new site for the ground. I’ll believe it when I see it.

What have been your highlights and low points as a supporter?

Highlights: watching Jermaine Beckford score a superb* solo effort against Chelsea in May 2011. My seven week old daughter was asleep on me – at her first game – and I’ve never celebrated a goal so quietly or gently! Having been told off by a lad I went to school with for thinking it was safe enough to take her, I’m made up I ignored his judging and can tell her about it now.
*or with a few lucky bounces, depending on your perspective

Being behind the goal when Rooney scored *that* goal against Arsenal. I heard the clink of it hitting the goal – there was a split second of stunned silence, before pandemonium.

Being adopted by various people in my stand (now the Sir Phillip Carter stand, formerly the Park End), when I started going by myself aged 15 (more on that later). They all kept an eye out for me, but never belittled me.

Others which spring to mind: Gareth Farrelly (who loved a long distance effort, which usually ended up in Runcorn), somehow managing to score a beauty (at my end) against Coventry to secure our place in the league (sorry again, Bolton fans); hearing Duncan Ferguson score against United in 2005 (on a crackly Walkman radio on a train); Gosling scoring against Liverpool in the Cup (the Tic Tac goal, which passed me by until the next morning); Cahill consistently being Cahill; Jagielka winning the Cup semi against United on pens.

Low points: given that I started supporting Everton in 1995-96, there have been a number to choose from…getting beat 5-1 in Bucharest (when I flew on a plane which had mismatched tiles on the tailwing – good old Everton travel partners); a 2-1 defeat by Shrewsbury; losing at Wembley to Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final; the “murderers” chants from some of our supporters, which I hope are now gone for good.

Babe in arms
Lydia called her Maya Elizabeth which, added to the double-barrelled surname, struck her as being ‘one way of teaching her most of the alphabet’

And the greatest players you’ve seen in Everton blue (*or wish you’d been around to see)?

I would’ve loved to have seen Dave Hickson play. He was doing the tours of Goodison – and still playing football every week – well into his 70s. A lovely, humble man who had time for everyone, and who still had a vibrancy about him in his later years. I miss him a lot.

Any you’d prefer to forget?
Earl Barrett, Ibrahima Bakayoko, Per Krøldrup (I’m still convinced we signed the wrong player)

Jake: 'get that win'
Jake: ‘3-0 again would be nice but we’d settle for 1-0’

Liverpool is a city with split loyalties even within families but would you say the red-blue rivalry is still as intense as ours with Newcastle (among others)?

Tricky for me to comment on, because I’m not there day-to-day. I still hate the days before those games and desperately want to beat them, but I actually find the atmosphere at games against United more poisonous now. Half my family were season ticket holders at Liverpool and my best mate runs the best Liverpool podcast around, so I find it hard to hate them as such! I’ve also been to a lot of the Hillsborough anniversary memorials at Anfield over the years, and have taught students about it – being welcomed in my colours for those services, and doing that teaching, had an effect on my own feelings about the club as a whole.

Kevin Kilbane, Paul Bracewell, Gavin McCann, Don Hutchison, Louis Saha and others have played for both clubs and Peter Reid, our most successful manager in decades, was a star for you. Special thoughts on any of them (or others linked with both clubs but overlooked in my list)

I’m probably the only person around who loves Kilbane’s rendition of ‘Ice Ice Baby’ . He was a solid player for us.

When Saha was fit and focused on the right things, he was superb. I missed his fastest ever FA cup final goal against Chelsea, because my now ex-husband sent me a picture from a family wedding I was supposed to be at (I had lied to the bride and groom about where I was that day)

And your view of Sunderland – the club the supporters, the city and region and, if not covered earlier, Moyes?

Genuinely my favourite away day. Love the ground, great fans, and had one of my favourite ever away games there (FA Cup replay, 2012). Really hope you stay up, not least so that I can hopefully go next season – it’s one of the first away fixtures I look out for.

What will be this season’s top four?

Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea aaaaaand…Spurs.

And the bottom three (be merciless if you must)?

Burnley and Hull are my favourites – then it’s between Swansea (I think they’ll struggle to score even more than they did last season); Sunderland (sorry); Palace (wishful thinking on my part); and Bournemouth for me. I’m just hoping Watford survive, otherwise my partner will be unbearable!

Haven’t asked this in a while but your outlook on club vs country – which is more important and why?

Club. I’ve no interest in the men’s national side – I put it down to being from Liverpool (although that doesn’t explain why I still support the women’s team)

And diving? So prevalent it may as well be written into coaching manuals or still worth stamping out along with feigned injuries and other forms of cheating?

Continue to stamp out obvious cases. Personally think the balance is about right on that front now.

Not far for you to travel if I am right in thinking you are near Leeds. Will you be there and what will be the score?

I won’t be – as much as I love going, I’ll have my daughter at home that night and I’ll be focused on final marathon preparations (I’m running Berlin for Parkinson’s on Sept 25)

Lydia and her princess
Lydia and her princess

* Lydia Bleasdale-Hill on herself: Live in Tadcaster (between Leeds and York); usually Associate Professor in Law, but I’m on secondment to a University of Leeds institute this year (leading a research project into student resilience and wellbeing); Mum to a loud little person (Maya, 5); season ticket holder since 1996. Initially started going alone (my Dad worked away for years and there was nobody else to go with), now sit with him and the aforementioned loud little person (who has never had a lullaby sang to her, but instead knows all the words to our cleanest songs).

M Salut's preferred cheese
M Salut’s preferred cheese

Cheese? Ardrahan, Cornish Yarg (covered in wild nettles), Epoisses, Reblochon. I wouldn’t like Morbier because (I think) it has some blue in it [ a nice thin streak – Ed], but Tomme de Savoie looks right up my street!


Interview: Colin Randall

* Voting has begun in The Football Blogging Awards. Salut! Sunderland will not get even close to winning but we have been invited to enter. If you feel like casting a vote in our favour, the obvious category is Best Football Club Blog and you can support us at

Sunderland v Everton Guess the Score. 2,000 Twitter followers so two mugs, not one

Jake says: 'have a go'
Jake says: ‘have a go’

Monsieur Salut invites entries for a prize edition of Guess the Score – and announces another little award, to a Sunderland-supporting television presenter …

Mug is one of those words that can jump up and bite you on the backside. So let it be said straight away that it is no part of Salut! Sunderland‘s mission to suggest that supporting SAFC, or following us at Twitter, makes you a bit of a mug. But we do have two beautifully designed receptacles of hot or cold drinks to give away.

Read moreSunderland v Everton Guess the Score. 2,000 Twitter followers so two mugs, not one

Beyond belief: mountains to climb if Koné goes to Everton or Chelsea

Lamine Kone: will he get to keep the shirt?
Lamine Koné: would he get to keep the shirt as a souvenir (photo courtesy of SAFC)?

The loss of Lamine Koné would not only be a huge blow to Sunderland just as we were all hoping for a much better start to the season. If the fans’ worst fears are justified, it would also threaten to bring David Moyes’s honeymoon period to an abrupt end …

STOP PRESS UPDATE: Fans spoke to Koné after training today and the player said he had been “promised a new contract”, reinforcing his agent’s comment that none had been offered. When asked if he would like to remain at SAFC, he replied: “Yeah.”

While thanking Sunderland AFC for kindly sending an image of the new, rather impressive away top, I added a postscript: “Seeing who is wearing it makes me want to cry!”

It was only the slightest of exaggerations.

Read moreBeyond belief: mountains to climb if Koné goes to Everton or Chelsea

The people have spoken: Hull, Burnley and Bournemouth to leave the union

John McCormick:
John McCormick. Impartial, as always

Would you believe that some people, somewhere, think Man Utd  will be relegated? And that others say the axe will fall on Spurs, Chelsea, or Man City. Some even say Arsenal will go down.

That’s democracy for you, so please, please, no histrionics, vitriol or gratuitous insults. There have been enough of them these past few weeks and it’s time for civilised behaviour between gentlefolk, like we always get when discussing football.

Read moreThe people have spoken: Hull, Burnley and Bournemouth to leave the union

Not quite Real Madrid, not quite Barcelona. But better than Swansea and Stoke

John McCormick:
John McCormick. we’ve come a long way, some way yet to go.

It’s been a few years since I’ve done a timely review of Deloitte’s “Money League”, which usually comes out in January or February (it was January this year).

But when there’s a battle to be fought there’s not much room, time or inclination to give some thought to a little piece of meaningless self-publicity, which is what the Deloitte Money League is, entertaining though it may be.

Read moreNot quite Real Madrid, not quite Barcelona. But better than Swansea and Stoke

Relegation poll: Middlesbrough, Hull or Sunderland? Arsenal and Manchester Utd? Vote now

John McCormick:
John McCormick. reading the past, looking to the future

I’m getting a bit tired of the title (and Monsieur Salut should apologise to any reader lured here by thoughts it was a poll on religion; the word inexplicably replaced relegation in the headline when published and still appeared some time later at the site) .

But just because we have some decent players, led by one of the Premier League’s most experienced managers and backed by a tremendous crowd, we can’t assume we’re safe.

Our record is not good. We’ve been one of the survivors for too many seasons and we can’t take anything for granted. Even now there will be some fans somewhere rubbing their hands as they look at the fixtures and thinking ‘Sunderland, that’s an easy three points’.

Read moreRelegation poll: Middlesbrough, Hull or Sunderland? Arsenal and Manchester Utd? Vote now

HAWAY awards: 1) West Bromwich Albion 2) Norwich City 3) Tottenham’s Littlejohn

Jake: 'with thanks to all opposing fans who participate'
Jake: ‘with thanks to all opposing fans who participate’



The judges have spoken. We have winners in the HAWAYs, Salut! Sunderland’s annuals awards for best interviews given by opposing supporters in the Who are You? series. HAWAYs, as you will have worked out, are otherwise known as Highly Articulate Who are You?s.

Another season produced another crop of excellent contributions. And we are again indebted to our prize sponsors, the friendly folk at the famously half-decent football magazine When Saturday Comes and the purveyors of fine football tops at Classic Football Shirts.

When Saturday Comes: 'half-decent' football magazine, entirely decent Who are You? co-sponsors
When Saturday Comes: ‘half-decent’ football magazine, entirely decent Who are You? co-sponsors

For 2015-2016, the voting ended with a runaway victory in first place and a tight battle for second.

Dawn Astle, daughter of the late WBA legend Jeff, was the clear winner, our voting system giving her 38 points, 16 ahead of the nearest rival. Dawn wins a subscription to When Saturday Comes and her interview will be republished here tomorrow.

Jeff's daughter Dawn and granddaughter
Jeff’s daughter Dawn and granddaughter Taylar before an FA Cup game at Reading

“An outstanding piece,” said John McCormick, associate editor. “For me, this was WAY ahead of the rest. “Well written and heart warming,” added Peter Lynn, aka Wrinkly Pete. Both had her in first place, as did Monsieur Salut while our deputy editor Malcolm Dawson placed her second, with Pete Sixsmith including her in his “highly commended” group.

“Another excellently scripted piece from a true football fan,” said Malcolm. “That her dad was one of the greats just adds to the relevance and her tireless work for the Jeff Astle Foundation deserves as much publicity as possible.”

Salut! Sunderland's friends at classic Football Shirts are
Salut! Sunderland’s friends at Classic Football Shirts, and co-sponsors of the HAWAYs, invite you to take a look at their special Euro 16 pages by clicking anywhere in this sentence

Scant consolation for relegation but Gary Gowers pipped the Tottenham Hotspur-supporting Richard Littlejohn, unrivalled master of Mr Angry columns in the Daily Mail. He collects a £25 voucher towards any purchase from Classic Football Shirts.

Gary Gowers at Wembley
Gary Gowers at Wembley
Richard Littlejohn
Richard Littlejohn

For Sixer, who chose him for first place, Gary “sums up the ‘niceness of Norwich’ which will be missed next season. He fully understands the difficulties of keeping a (relatively) small club with no major financial backers in the top level and supports the manager who almost kept them up, but not quite. Lovely quote about Defoe and his entourage – ‘Norwich is a small city and would struggle to accommodate them all’. Just good writing from start to finish.”

Malcolm’s winner would have been Littlejohn: “Well written piece as you would expect from a professional journalist. Realistic and humorous. Liked the Wayne Bobbitt reference but, like Sixer, you won’t catch me buying a Daily Mail.”

Richard will win a suitably designed mug, which is unlikely to change his life.
If another of our usual sponsors responds belatedly and positively to our cap-in-hand approach for prize sponsorship, we will find another worthy candidate for a special late award. Contenders in that category would be Sam Myers (Everton), who won marks from Wrinkly Pete for declining to name any player who should never have been allowed to wear his club’s shirt; the Exeter City pairing of Paul Sussex and Neil le Milliere and Watford’s Ben Clarke.

Paul “Sobs” Dobson, the star A Love Supreme chronicler, was on his own in selecting Ben in any position and had him first for his interview, “a good appreciation of how their recent achievements have been accomplished and not getting too rose-tinted about the future”. Of Gary Gowers, Sobs said: “Realistic to the point of … well, I’d never be that realistic about a Sunderland team!”

Our thanks to the sponsors and to the judges, but also to all – or almost all – the interviewees we found during the season. There were honourable mentions for both Swansea City “Who are You?” candidates, Newcastle United’s Adrian Darnell and one fan from each of the Manchesters, United’s Chas Banks and City’s David Mooney.

We had perhaps better not adopt Sobs’s idea of an additional award for the most irritating interview of the season, and there are no prizes for guessing which two (this and that) he may have had in mind.

* Each of the top three interviews will be reproduced in the coming days. All interviews in the 2015-16 series can be seen at

M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake
M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake

The ‘Who are You?’ Awards frontrunners: West Brom, Tottenham … and Exeter

Jake: 'with thanks to all opposing fans who participate'
Jake: ‘with thanks to all opposing fans who participate’

It is that time of year. Salut! Sunderland is preparing to make its annual HAWAY awards, honouring the best of our “Who are You?” interviewees among opposing supporters. The interviews ahead of each match often reach the highest standards (the answers, I mean with due modesty, not the questions) and we are delighted to offer awards to the best as voted by our panel of judges.

Read moreThe ‘Who are You?’ Awards frontrunners: West Brom, Tottenham … and Exeter

Sunderland season reviews (1): the rocky road to survival

John McCormick:
John McCormick
looking forward to next season

It’s time again for Salut! Sunderland writers, regular or occasional, to look back on a season that carried the now customary threat of relegation before bursting into life with another of our extraordinary late escapes. The reviews will appear pretty much in the order they are received – feel free to have a go if there’s something pressing on your mind – and end with the thoughts of our indefatigable chronicler Pete Sixsmith. Accordingly, we start with associate editor John McCormick

Read moreSunderland season reviews (1): the rocky road to survival