The players have been sunning themselves and getting to know one another better in Dubai – some SAFC fans thought they should, on balance, have been made to do their bonding on Roker sands – but it’s back to football on Saturday. Salut! Sunderland is delighted to welcome another thoughtful opposing supporter, Nathan Carr*, who has told us all we need to know about West Bromwich Albion ahead of Sunderland’s visit to the Hawthorns. Nathan, who contributes to the BT Life’s A Pitch fanzone on the Baggies (see footnote for link), is spot-on with his remarks on Cyrille Regis and is also an understanding soul, as his defence of Liam Ridgewell – he of diving and toilet humour fame – shows …
Salut! Sunderland: Odemwingie inexplicably tries to escape downtable to QPR, Popov sees red for reinventing hismelf as El Hadji Diouf and Olsson falls out with the fans. All forgotten after the team’s Anfield heroics without two of the three?
Indeed, those three incidents haven’t exactly covered the club in much glory over the past few weeks but the West Brom fans are of a loyal breed and despite the extent of Odemwingie’s behaviour, he will be accepted again. But it will take time. Popov has apologised, as to Olsson, and the win at Liverpool will work wonders in terms of trying to eradicate that friction from the team.
Overall, you must be chuffed with the continuing progress that seems to be maintained whoever is in charge. Is Steve Clarke at the Hawthorns to stay and is he the man to lead Albion to greater things?
The progress has been quite remarkable. No longer nicknamed as a ‘yo-yo’ club we are steadily improving and are argueably one of the most well-run clubs in England. Steve Clarke has impressed as a manager and person. He appears to have the players on his side and with him at the helm I expect more fruitful years ahead.
And what would represent greater things for a club of WBA’s size and budget? Midtable safety and the odd cup run or can you go further?
There has been a tendency from the supporters to expect a little too much following our recent success. We must not forget where we have come from and that finishing mid-table is a fantastic feat. The next step is to perhaps move into the top ten zone and try and break into the Europa League – a competition some at the start of the season were predicting us to reach. Maybe out of our sight now.
If you did not deal in detail in your first answer with the turmoil into which the club seemed recently to descend, here’s your chance.
We have always been quite a well-respected and professional club that are rarely in the media spotlight for the wrong reasons. So the recent Odemwingie saga and Popov spitting-incident are thoroughly uncharacteristic. They have damaged our reputation. But to be fair to the manager and hierarchy, they have coped with the issues exceptionally well under immense pressure.
Let’s look back to a different age, before players were so handsomely rewarded and so carefully scrutinised: who are the Albion players you wish you’d been around to see?
I wish I was around to see the likes of Tony Brown, a goal-getting striker of great nonchalance, and Cyrille Regis, another forward with electric pace and astounding power. ‘Bomber’ as Brown was known, is an iconic figure within the club and his exploits will be long remembered. Regis was not only special for his footballing ability but his strong protests against racism in the game (something that featured very prominently back then). He paved the way for black footballers and is a true great for that.
And who are the best you’ve seen – and the worst – in Albion colours?
The best: Jason Koumas was a sublime player in his early stages of his Albion career. He was creative, illustrated a exquisite first touch and was an all-round great individual to witness. And also Darren Moore, a no-nonsense central defender, who became firm fans favourite during his time with us. The worst: Somen Tchoyi was pretty diabolical. An erratic first touch, no footballing brain and a lazy attitude that got him nowhere. Not to forget Nathan Ellington, as well, who was a lost soul with a complete lack of motivation and enthusiasm on the pitch. He was also not very good at football.
Your highs and lows as an Albion supporter?
There have undoubtedly been more lows than highs. The lows are perennial relegation to the second tier and losing to Derby in the Play-off final at Wembley with Giles Barnes – who we went onto sign – getting the assist for their goal. The two ultimate highs are pulling off the great escape, winning on the last day of the campaign at home against Portsmouth after being bottom at Christmas. It had never been done before. And beating arch rivals Wolves 1-5 at their place last season was truly historic and something that is likely not to occur anytime soon (mainly because they are dogging it out in the Championship).
Hand on heart, is there anyone in the SAFc squad you’d love to see at the Hawthorns?
I think Sunderland have got some good players. Steven Fletcher – a former Wolves player too – is an absolute goal machine and I’d have him with us despite his horrid roots. Stephene Sessesgnon is also very gifted and his innovation in midfield would be heralded.
What will be this season’s top four in order, who is going down, winning the cups? And where will our two clubs finish if not already mentioned?
Top four in order: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham. United have the edge this season as City have slipped up on too many occasions. Sir Alex is clinical. Going down from bottom upwards: Wigan, Reading, Southampton. Roberto Martinez has done a terrific job with limited resources but there time is up while Reading cannot keep pulling off late wins and Southampton’s decision to sack Nigel Adkins will prove costly. The cups are very close to call. I fancy Bradford to take the Capital One Cup crown and a dominant force from perhaps the Premier League to snatch the FA Cup. I think we will end up in 12th and Sunderland just ahead in 11th.
Your impressions of Sunderland: club, fans, manager, region?
I have no real malice towards Sunderland. It’s a historic club with a tremendous set of supporters and has truly became a stable top-flight outfit now. The Stadium of Light is a very good stadium and we don’t have too bad a record there. Martin O’Neill is currently in a transitional stage with Sunderland and his ideas will take time to be implemented.
The cheating question: has diving and the rest become so commonplace that we may as well accept it as part of the modern game or, if not, what do we do to stamp it out?
It’s a tricky question. Personally I think officials must start becoming more ruthless with players who deliberately dive. Stronger punishments need to be brandished for simulation as this will surely help act as a deterrent for other professionals looking to dive. If there is contact, then a player should try his/hers upmost to remain upright. Both teams with the same number of full men makes for a better all-round spectacle.
Leading on from that top some extent, were you more embarrassed by Liam Ridgewell’s fairly blatant dive at the Stadium of Light or his slightly unsavoury £20 note trick?
I wasn’t necessarily embarrassed by either of those two incidents. Ridgwell’s alleged ‘dive’ was a tough one for the referee to call as his position was slightly blocked and there is some contact in the box. It was harsh but the spot kick from Romelu Lukaku was brilliantly placed. As for his £20 note trick, it was merely a personal joke with a teammate and the hyperbole surrounding the media-inflicted situation was uncalled for. It was rather stupid but humorous at the same time.
What one step should the football authorities or WBA take to improve the lot of the ordinary supporter?
To improve their overall enjoyment and motivation to attend a match, they could make ticket prices significantly cheaper. Today’s modern game is terribly institutionalised and with the current economic state of the game, the expensive ticket sales are ridiculous.
The club versus country debate: who wins for you and why?
Club for me. There is something extra special about following your club. You seem to have more of an affinity, bond, obsession if you like with them. It seems more of a tight-knit community and the notion of following your local – or reasonably local – team around on a regular basis is a more special feeling than sporadically supporting your country by attending the odd away fixture in Luxembourg in a meaningless qualifier. I’ve given up on England anyway.
Will you be at our game and what will be the score?
I will be attending. Prediction: Albion 2-1 Sunderland.
* Nathan on himself:
I’m a young West Brom fan with a home season-ticket. I contribute to BT Life’s A Pitch fanzone on the Baggies – http://www.lifesapitch.co.uk/fanzones/premier-league/west-brom/
Interview: Colin Randall