Regulars here will recognise the nom de guerre UTD111 as belonging to a Newcastle-supporting occasional visitor to the comments section of postings concerning our two clubs. It seemed logical to invite Mick Gray – the other North-eastern Mick(ey) Gray and the man behind the username – to step forward and take the “Who are You?” chair ahead of the Wear-Tyne derby. Mick runs the UTD111 site and came up with some great answers …
Salut! Sunderland: The stadium name has technically gone, you have an owner many of your own fans despise and yet the football hasn’t been at all bad. What do you make of the state of the club just now and what are your thoughts on Pardew?
We’ve had the announcement about our new shirt sponsor for next season – Wonga, who have also bought the ground naming rights and are reverting it to it’s proper name – St James’ Park. Personally, I’m very pleased about that. I reckon it’s much easier to name a new stadium than it is to rename an existing one like ours which has a long history and tradition.
State of the club? It’s now being run along tight business lines – great for the accountants, not so great for the fans. The club is expected to be in profit soon. Woopydoo. However most United fans were expecting the squad to be strengthened in the summer transfer window to build on last season’s relative success – but apart from Vurnon Anita coming in, it didn’t happen. If the price isn’t right for players we identify, we walk away. These days the emphasis is on the academy and also bringing in players in their early twenties to develop. Has to be better than wasting money on over-priced has-beens which we were guilty of in the past – and we have a top class scout in Graham Carr heading up the talent spotting team.
Alan Pardew has taken the team forward within the constraints of the resources he’s been given. He was, of course, given two awards as Manager Of The Season for 2011/12 – one of them was from his fellow managers, which says a lot – so I’m not going to argue with that! He’s a bit of a Harry Redknapp though when you shove a mike in his face – just wish he would stop talking when he’s really run out of things to say sometimes!
This is a match to which supporters of both clubs attach huge importance. I’ll address the banter v poison question soon but purely on the fixture itself, and the return, are we all taking these derby games too seriously?
I think we do. You hear stories about how people react to this particular result – especially a defeat. Depression, kicking the cat, being a misery with family and friends, phoning work for a sickie etc I saw some statistics once about the impact of an adverse result on the productivity of firms in the losing area. Unbelievable when you think at the end of the day it’s a football match! It’s always a good feeling to win the derby and beat your local rivals – but these days I get almost as much satisfaction from beating the southern media darlings like Chelsea and Man Utd
Where should the line be drawn between legitimate rivalry and real malice?
When it starts to get nasty, basically. Banter and rivalry is at its best when both sides are being humorous, point scoring, taking the mickey – and at it’s worst when it turns to hatred, aggression and violence. How can you “hate” people you’ve never met? Whether we like it or not, there are bigger issues in life – health, job, family, friends to name but a few.
Whether both sets of fans like it or not, we have a lot more in common with each other than we have with areas like the south of England. The North East of England always has a fight on its hands to be recognised and given credit on the national UK stage. The government is a long way away in London and our perception is that it doesn’t always seem to care about our issues or problems. There are also lots of people, for example politicians and folk in the media, only too willing to take every opportunity to put us down and stereotype us – and us stereotyping each other and squabbling about who’s the biggest fish in our little pool just plays into their hands I’m afraid. So it’s great when our region does something positive and shows that we’re just as good as anyone else.
I’m a Newcastle person first, and a North East person second. If Sunderland are playing anyone but us, I like to see them win as it’s good for the region. I’m fed up with the Manchester teams, Chelsea, Arsenal etc getting shoved down our throats by the media. I’d like to see one of our teams, preferably both, up there doing something special.
The North East with two teams in the top ten, or top 6 even, would be much more interesting for all of us in terms of our local rivalry – and would help put the region on the national map.
I know many United fans won’t agree with me but personally I’d rather see both Newcastle United and Sunderland up there at the top of the Premier League than teams (and their crowing fans) from London, Liverpool or Manchester. When we were 3rd and 4th in the Premier League for a long time last season, the media were making a point of actively ignoring us. The “let’s have a look at the top of the Premiership” discussions would talk about the teams above and below us and we became “Invisible United”. When we did get mentioned on the odd occasion it was to write us off – “yes but they haven’t played anybody yet” or “they’re punching above their weight”. I got just as annoyed as anybody else about that treatment, but it was just another symptom of the way the North East is treated in general.
I know loads of fans on both sides will disagree with what I’m saying, and I’m not pontificating here – I’ve been as bigoted as anyone in the past, but now I’m older & hopefully wiser and appreciate the bigger picture.
A lot of United supporters coming to this site last season said there was no position in which SAFC had the better player. Did you agree with that assessment and, whatever view you took, has there been any change?
I remember that, and I chipped in at the time. I think Pete Sixsmith still isn’t speaking to me to this day! Basically, I could see where the Newcastle fans were coming from. At the time you ran that story we were doing very well and sitting in 4th place, I think. We hadn’t really replaced Jose Enrique at left back – and were playing a right-footed winger at left back in Ryan Taylor. So I would probably have dipped into your squad there. Sessignon also might have made it into my team, if I hadn’t forgotten about him (which is why Pete got annoyed!). Apart from that, well you have to remember we were in the top 4 or 5 for most of the season so our players must have been doing something right! Things are different this season. Martin O’Neill has brought in some good players who would command a place in a “joint” team. But at the end of the day, it’s human nature to favour your own team, after all, they’re the players we see playing more often and know best.
By the way, I’m putting Steven Fletcher in my fantasy football team this week, because whenever I do that to a forward they stop scoring!
And a last question on such issues: many players have done well for both clubs, sometimes having to put aside personal allegiance. Do you have first-hand or received wisdom on any of them – Bracewell, Chopra, Clark, Given, Moncur, ‘Pop’ Robson, Shack, Venison, Waddle and Stan Anderson spring to my mind?
As an older fan – I saw all of that list play except Shack. Bobby Moncur has to be my favourite – great player and the last United skipper to lift a significant trophy. Bryan “Pop” Robson was a good player, as was Barry Venison. By the way, Robbie Elliott who played for both clubs is doing a 1,500 mile bike ride for cancer charities, starting this week in Lisbon and visiting all the cities where Sir Bobby Robson was a manager. If anyone would like to support this great cause just Google “bike for bobby”. There’s also an offical single by the Quireboys downloadable from all good outlets. That’s the advert over!
That’s out of the way! We were reminded of our limitations against Man City; what lessons did you learn from the similarly heavy defeat to Man United?
We learned what we already knew – that we can’t play teams like Man Utd with reserve central defenders and goalkeeper. No disrespect to James Perch and Mike Williamson, but if Coloccini and Taylor had been playing, the first 2 goals wouldn’t have happened. And if Tim Krul had been playing, the third one wouldn’t have gone in either. The fans knew we needed to buy an extra central defender in the summer to cover potential injuries and suspensions – and the club allegedly went after Douglas, but couldn’t agree a fee. It’s games like Man Utd where the owner’s business model and transfer policy restrictions come back to bite us.
But we know that when our first team is on the pitch, we can equal Man Utd or anyone else. We proved it last season drawing 1-1 at Old Trafford and thumping them 3-0 at St James’ Park.
Who is the best NUFC manager you have known as a supporter?
The best has to be Joe Harvey – the last manager to win a significant trophy. My favourite though was Kevin Keegan – who produced such a great attacking side – Ginola, Shearer, Ferdinand etc The team Sky dubbed “The Entertainers”. Going to the match in those days was such a phenomenal experience – the football was just brilliant.
Who are the best players you’ve seen in B&W stripes, who do you wish you’d seen and who should have been allowed nowhere hear the ground?
Best? Wyn Davies, Jimmy Smith, Tony Green, Peter Beardsley, David Ginola, Alan Shearer spring to mind, but there’ll be others I’ve forgotten to mention. Out of the current team I rate Hatem Ben Arfa and Tim Krul as our biggest stars.
Wish list? I would have loved to have seen Jackie Milburn, Frankie Brennan and Bobby Mitchell but sadly I’m too young!
We’ve had so many players who I would put in the last category – the most high profile was probably Michael Owen. They really are too many to list, but I’d like to give special mention to Marcelino aka “Marcelimpo” – the only player I’ve ever known to have a season ticket for the Physio Room! Not a player I know – but also mention of Denis Wise. What that man was doing anywhere near our club is beyond me.
Where will each of our clubs finish the season?
Both mid-table in my view. We might have been higher if our owner had built on the squad that did so well last season, but his failure to let anybody near the cheque book means we are short in key areas – especially defence – and we will lose games because of it. We were lucky with injuries last season but have already lost too many key players this time around.
I’m a plastic Celtic supporter so a big fan of Martin O’Neill and I think Sunderland will continue to improve over time. He doesn’t transform clubs overnight but he always produces teams which do well – and I think Sunderland are on the rise as long as he is your manager.
Give me the top four in order, and the bottom three.
Top four – I don’t think anyone can displace Chelsea, Arsenal and the Manchester clubs. In order I’d say Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal.
Bottom three – I’d say Reading, Southampton and QPR, although QPR may escape if they sack Mark Hughes in time, in which case I’d say Norwich.
Did the success of the Olympics make you blase about the return of football or couldn’t you wait?
Have to say I wasn’t really into the Olympics – I only watched the opening ceremony and the Ladies Beach Volleyball – couldn’t get excited about the Olympics in general but I found the beach volleyball erm stimulating. It’s such a fascinating and complex game tactically don’t you thinK?, I could watch it for hours. From a sports perspective, summer is about Wimbledon for me, then I always start looking forward to the footy season and no way could the Olympics distract me from that.
What are your feelings about cheating? Too widespread for anyone to get on a high horse or needing to be stamped out and quickly?
I’m fed up with players diving all over the place when there’s the faintest bit of contact. I actually feel sorry for referees as they face an impossible task and don’t have a chance really. It’s all very well TV cameras showing things in slow motion from every possible angle but the ref has to make a split second decision with a crowd howling in his ear. I think the rule about “only give it if you (or your linesman) definitely saw it” should be applied to the letter – but it doesn’t really allow justice to be done in every case. I’m reminded of the joke about the Man Utd fan who rings his friend after a game to find out what the score was. “0-0” says his friend. And the first bloke says “so who missed our penalty?”
And where do you stand when it comes to club vs country?
The club employs the player and pays his wages. I think the club comes first. I’m not an England supporter, but I seem to talk to a lot of fans who are, yet can’t be bothered with England for whatever reason. Maybe it’s the poor role models – the Terry, Rooney, Cole thing? I don’t know.
Will you be at the match and what will be the score?
I rarely go to away games these days, so will be watching it on the telly. Score? A lot will depend on whether our defence is back and up to match speed – at the time of writing, this isn’t clear. I’ll go for a scoring draw 1-1 or 2-2.
* Mick Gray on Mick Gray. I’m early-retired, live in Northumberland and am the main writer on the rather excellent “UTD111 – Total Newcastle United” Blog (http://www.UTD111.com/Blog) which I run.
I also share responsibility for running the UTD111.com Forum (http://www.utd111.com/forum) with threee friends.
I started watching Newcastle United in the sixties with my dad, as you do. We stood in the popular side which was open to the elements and when it rained you got soaked. I used to go to Roker Park for the derbies and remember we went for some other games specifically to see Jim Baxter play. I graduated to a Leazes Ender and when they pulled it down, moved to the Gallowgate End. I’ve had a season ticket for SJP for a very long time and now sit in the East Stand with my sister. My wife’s from Sunderland and sometimes comes to the game if my sister can’t make it. I visit your blog whenever you mention Newcastle United in your articles as it makes you show up on our bit of Newsnow!
Thanks for inviting me to do this! Whatever the result – “Keep Calm And Carry On”.
Interview: Colin Randall