Sunderland’s involvement in the early stages of the FA Cup or Carling Cup far too often sees us massively underperform. We all hope this time for a nice little run to go with some upward movement in the Premier League table that the wonderful win over Man City signalled. Robert Graves*, not from the Dead Poets’ Society but manager of the Peterborough United Supporters Football team, boldly goes for 2-1 to Posh and “really big boys” – the cheek of it – in the next round …
Salut! Sunderland: As I write, Peterborough are seven points off the top six, seven above the relegation zone (it has changed in their favour since). How does this fit with your minimum and maximum expectations when the season began?
To be honest, given the experience we had the last time we were in the Championship, I think every fan has to be pretty happy with the way this season is panning out. We had a bit of a minor wobble recently, but we’re still just about looking up the table rather than down it. At the end of the day, our minimum and maximum expectations were probably the same before a ball had been kicked – to keep ourselves in the Championship and build the foundations for an extended stay at this level.
And what is your assessment of the current state of the club and Darren Ferguson’s return?
I think both the club, particularly our chairman, and Darren have learned some lessons from what went on when Darren originally left for his ill-fated spell at Preston. Both sides are now much more aware of the benefits they offer the other, and I can’t see us experiencing anything quite like that again for a very long time thankfully. It’s certainly made us a stronger outfit overall in my opinion – there is a very clear vision in terms of the way that Darren wants his teams to play football at all levels, and in terms of the way that both he and the chairman want to work to bring players into and through the club. It’s the youth setup more than anything that has me smiling again – after a long break it really does look like we’re on the brink of bringing some real quality through the system and into the first-team setup.
What were your gut feelings when Sunderland came out of the hat with Posh?
It was a bit mixed really – every lower league fan wants to draw a Premiership club at some point in the cup, but if you don’t get one of the really big boys – Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea – then the next best thing is either one that you think you can comfortably beat – Blackburn, Bolton – or somebody local like Norwich. Sunderland aren’t really one of the biggest names, but you don’t strike me as the kind of side that’s going to roll over and let us beat you easily either – especially now that you’ve got O’Neill in charge.
The FA Cup has lost a lot of its historic allure. Do you regret that or do you, too, care much more about the league these days?
I think it’s a real shame that the cup appears to have slipped down in terms of priority for some clubs – but it is just for some clubs. For folks like Posh I think the emotion is still there just the same as it always was. I’m certainly expecting this tie to have that ‘magic’ feeling about it so who cares what other clubs worry about.
I have written – at this link – about a boyhood fling with Posh. That boyhood was long ago, and the fling was quickly over, but do you sometimes come across others who recall that era of Midland League dominance and the banging of head against wall to gain admission to the Football League?
Yeah, we have some fans who are old enough to remember that period – it must have been a pretty special time to be a Posh fan. It’s not quite so obvious now, but I still think traces of that kind of stuff goes on – just look at the way parachute payments are handled for clubs who drop down out of the Premiership for instance. Absolutely nobody could say that does anything other than create an unfair playing field for the rest of the teams in the Championship – it clearly gives them a huge advantage in terms of heading right back up again. Even worse, it can sometimes encourage those clubs to keep on spending money at an artificial level they just can’t sustain if the success doesn’t come.
What have been your highs – Old Trafford vs Huddersfield must be among them – and lows as a supporter?
The recent play-off success was certainly a great day, but for me our Wembley success in ’92 will always be the one I’ll remember most fondly. In terms of lows, in modern times our relegation from the Championship was a hard one to take as I genuinely felt like we had a squad that was better than that. Still, that was just a trial run and we’re making a much better job of it now having that experience behind us.
Who is the best player you’ve seen, or wish you’d seen, in Peterborough colours and who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
The best player I’ve seen in Posh colours is a tough one to call – one of the contenders is George Boyd from the current side. If he had a yard more pace I have absolutely no doubt he’d be playing at the very top level now. He can be sensational on the ball, and is one of those that just creates that buzz around the place when the ball goes to him. Looking a bit further back we had the likes of Simon Davies & Jimmy Bullard – both great players that went on to have top-level careers in the game. Of course, it’s also hard to forget a certain David Seaman. The list of players that should never have pulled on a Posh shirt is just so long – it feels like we’ve had way more than our fair share of duffers. Take a bow Dave Rogers, Scott Cooksey, Zeke Rowe, Liburd Henry, Peter Shearer, Ahmed Deen, Dennis Pearce and plenty of others that I’ve thankfully long since forgotten.
And which of your current squad could make it in the Premier?
Well I just mentioned George Boyd so he’s one that I think could do it if given the opportunity, but I also think Ryan Bennett is another who will go on to play there. Lots of clubs are already watching him, and he’s just broken into the U21 international setup. A dark horse might be Paul Taylor – he’s packed more than enough into is relatively short career already, but on his day the lad can be near unplayable.
And what are your thoughts on Sunderland: club, fans, area? Did you ever go to Roker Park and have you visited the Stadium of Light?
This is where I show my ignorance and say that I really don’t know a great deal about you other than that you have great support, are currently paying good money to Wes Brown each week and are too good to go down. I’ve never been to either stadium either – sorry, but you’re just too far North and I’m a soft southern lad.
Can anyone stop Southampton and West Ham in the Championship (yes, maybe Boro or Cardiff can! – ed)? If not, who else will go up and who is for the drop?
Southampton are certainly looking a solid bet for promotion right now – I’d not bet against them finishing top of the table. West Ham are flattering to deceive a little in my eyes – scraping games by the odd goal and not looking anywhere near as fluent as the Saints. Big Sam will undoubtedly throw some money around in January though so that could make all the difference one way or another for them. In terms of the drop, my money would be on Coventry, Forest, and Bristol City. Yes, I am expecting Doncaster to pull themselves out of it although I’m not sure if that’ll be a good or bad thing for the game given the approach they are taking.
If you didn’t mention Posh in your last answer, where will you finish up?
I think we’ll be comfortably mid-table this season – my money would be on something like a 10th placed finish. We’re certainly capable of putting a run together and challenging a little higher, but I don’t want to jinx it with any predictions here!
The Barton Question, which used to be the Eduardo Question and may soon have a spell as the Osman Question: that’s feigning injury and diving covered (plus, with Osman, falling-over-and-claiming) but what form of cheating most irks you and how would you deal with it?
Time wasting. It gets right on my nerves and I hate to see it. I remember one game a few seasons back against a De Matteo-led MK Dons and they were wasting time right from the very first whistle. Drove me mad as I really, really don’t like it and it’s not what I’ve paid my good money to see. In terms of stamping it out, I’d like to see referees get tougher – why do players only ever get booked for it in the second half of games, and why do keepers appear to be issued with final warnings about five times before the ref finally pulls a now useless card out in the 91st minute. Book them early and cut it out before it has chance to take hold.
What is your honest view of all the money sloshing around a few clubs in football? Ruining the game or you only wish Peterborough could get their hands on some?
A bit of both, I mean who wouldn’t want what’s going on at Man City to be going on at their club really? That said, I think it’s vitally important that clubs without that cash don’t get sucked into the same thing – cut your cloth according to your means and don’t expect anyone else to bail you out. I’m certainly not a fan of this current trend just to drop into administration leaving a lot of unhappy local businesses behind.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score? And if you’re predicting a Peterborough win, who would you like in the next round?
Absolutely I’ll be there, and I’d encourage anyone else who can make it along to be there to. There aren’t many grounds with standing areas left now, so come along and enjoy it while you can! As for the score, I’m going to go with my heart rather than my head and predict a 2-1 Posh win. Goals from Taylor and Sinclair. I’d have usually had McCann amongst the scorers, but I think he’s going to miss out through injury which is a big blow for us. In the next round – I’ll go with our chairman and say that it’s about time we played Liverpool at Anfield.
I’ve been a Posh fan for almost as long as I can remember – my granddad took me along to my first game and I’ve been hooked ever since. I’m a season ticket holder and also try to make it along to at least a handful of away games as well each season wife allowing! I’m also the manager of the Peterborough United Supporters (PUSFC) team that plays in the IFA national fans league. It’s a friendly league, made up of teams representing over 60 different club all the way up the footballing ladder, that’s designed to encourage fans of all ages, races, and backgrounds to come together on a match day and play against the team of supporters representing your opposition that afternoon. It’s all about building bridges and having some fun – and I’ve made some great friends through it that I otherwise would probably have never even had reason to meet. Sunderland aren’t currently represented, so if anyone out there reading this fancies putting a team together and getting something going you’d be more than welcome to join in!
Interview: Colin Randall