Monsieur Salut writes: Every few months, a satellite US radio station Sirius XM, asks me onto a late show (late for me) to talk about the latest woes afflicting Sunderland. That is where Andrew Caulton*, an Englishman in New Hampshire with fingers in lots of football pies, heard me (twice). We met again at Twitter, where he revealed his lifelong West Brom allegiance and readily agreed to sit in the ‘Who are You?’ hot seat. His recollections of the 1973 cup run and of coaching Calum Davenport, who played for us on loan, are priceless.
It is another long read but Andrew seems the sort of bloke you could happily natter with for hours in the pub …
Salut! Sunderland: New Chinese ownership, a couple of wins and, just as we thought you were among our best hopes of finding three clubs to do worse than Sunderland, you’re 10th as I write. Will it last?
Andrew Caulton: The takeover was truncated, only sanctioned after the transfer window, but had a big effect on it. Pulis “wanted” five and the acting GM said a trifle optimistically that Tony asked for five and got five. But as with Xmas when you are a kid, sometimes the gifts you want aren’t always the ones wrapped in paper.
Tony Pulis divides supporters – our star writer Pete Sixsmith once said appointing him might bring to an end his 50 years of supporting SAFC – but by and large gets results. Where do you stand?
One thing I really like about Pulis is his searing honesty….(that opinion may not be shared at Palace, and now Pulis owes 3.5m as a consequence}. Ayom, and Robson Kanu were most definitely not on Pulis’s Summer Santa list – but Matt Phillips and Nacer Chadli were. They offer WBA pace, power and athleticism in positions previously filled by the likes of ex-Sunderland Sessegnon and new Sunderland signing Victor Anichebe. I’d say, as every Baggie fan would I imagine say, a huge upgrade.
No Baggie would wish the worst on Victor who if you judged him on games v Sunderland would make him a really good signing, but six goals in 55 games really does tell a tale. The fact Sess and Victor were released on frees, and apart from a late bid by your boys for Victor, the lack of interest in either “mercurial talent”, who were signed by Steve Clarke three years ago on deadline day after potential Baggies returnee Romelu Lukaku went to Everton rather than us, provoked this perhaps risk-laden venture. Our two mercurials scored 14 goals in 134 games with precious little in terms of assists.
I’ve spoken to Stan Collymore recently – he presents his former TalkSport phone-in out here in the US where media interest in football is huge. Against all odds, I back Pulis, always have, and with us safely esconced in 10th [though after playing Sunderland it would have meant, we have played the bottom three and five out of the bottom seven, so eight points from six is pretty par for the course. You cannot coach 1,000 games and not get relegated without having nous, having realistic aims, without focusing on preparation.
Pulis has all of these, he prepares his teams extraordinarily well, and although the football fails, at times to excite, we are always committed and strong.
Part of my belief in WBA’s future, is manifested on our latest signings, [particularly Phillips and most partiularly Chadli, huge upgrade]. Pulis has brought in some fantastic signings. Darren Fletcher was the key for me, bringing class, experience, leadership, nous and above all else, quality. Don’t think we’d have a cat in hell’s chance of getting ex-Mackem Jonny Evans without Fletch being there.
Pulis skillfully got rid of Lescott who was really good in his first season with us, after seeing his sell-by date, and backed his judgement hugely, passing Lescott on to Villa, and we got a huge upgrade who was six years younger. Lescott is known as “Agent Lescott” for going undercover and purposely messing up our local rivals.
Also the Pulis effect allowed us to get Rondon – massively key signing. Any bloke who regularly commits to local Stoke charities and climbed Mt Kilamanjaro in the off season has my respect. When Pulis was at Stoke he was hated by the Baggies fans for his reviled style of play but we could never, ever beat them.
Is the Berahino saga finally over and will WBA at last see him become a club fixture?
Such a talent, but his future is as complex as his background and character though to spend your formative years in war-torn Burundi, and your dad getting killed in the fighting, would affect anyone. The saga, for a club wounded by the Peter Odemwiggie deadline day shenanigans, is simply tedious. And we are talking of a player who I felt was our most natural finisher since ex-Sunderland icon, Kevin Phillips [what a tremendous player and bloke]. Berahino’s head got turned massively. I think he may have fitted in well at Spurs, was denied a chance to join your Newcastle, due to the correct theory of not strengthening a rival relegation team.
Where Berahino goes, honestly who knows, but perhaps pointedly, the Baggies fans seemingly have never created a song for him, even in his positive days. The recent booing of him though, as a current player, is in my lifetime unprecedented in its vitriol.
Fletcher, Chadli, Brunt, Phillips spring to mind but who for you are the key players at present and where do you have weaknesses?
The attacking triumverate of Chadli/Phillips/Rondon is fearsome with potent pace, perfect counter attacking tools. Rondon is as good any centre forward in the Prem, is in fantastic form, leads the line exceptionally well, works tirelessly, considering WBA seldom have more than 35 per cent of the ball. His record is exceptional. Pulis always builds teams with solid spines, no different at WBA….Foster/Evans/McAulay/Yacob/Fletcher/Rondon, exemplifies this.
Jonny Evans is no stranger to Sunderland and is the best defender I’ve ever seen at WBA. As with Darren Fletcher, he was a huge upgrade for us. West Brom buy into Pulis’s organisation and system of play really well. Phillips and Chadli will only help the counter attacking strategy Pulis employs. Set pieces we are very good at, no surprise as Pulis defers the attacking full back option, in favour of strength.
Weaknesses? We can be got at from wide areas through lack of pace, play a very deep line at the back, thus negating the chance of attackers like Defoe, getting the wrong side of the defence. A lot of Baggies fans would say our weakness is Pulis with the type of football he employs..[Pulisaurus], I think with these new signings, Pulis will adapt accordingly. Goalscoring is obviously a concern as well.
Do you rate James McLean and were you sad to see Sessegnon go?
McLean cannot be faulted at all for his effort and application, works his proverbial socks off. But I think at the highest level, he is limited by the quality of his crossing and temperamentally he can be beyond fiery, utterly reckless. McLean seemingly cops abuse from all fans not Irish or Baggie based. His refusal to face the flag is similar, to a degree, to what is going on over here, with 49ers QB Colin Kapernick and US Women’s soccer team star Megan Rapinoe taking a knee during US anthems at the moment.
The word mercurial was designed for Sess. On his day, he is good, but he has a terrible goal scoring record, plus no one having a clue on the pitch about his final ball led him to becoming a bit of a liability. It took him a long time to find a club.
You are a curious mix of really liking Mackems but being a Baggie. Explain how you could almost be on here as a Sunderland fan
I’ve had a soft spot for Sunderland since about, well it was 1973. I was at a schoolboy international at Wembley [still got the splinters from the wooden benches!]. It was the cup semi, [think you were playing City (no, it was Arsenal, City were 5th round) – Ed) and were winning at half time. I recall a frisson of pleasure over that. Then of course the final v Revie’s simply machine-like and hated Leeds was incredible. If you weren’t around then, and also if you were 11 like I was, this seemed the impossible match of mismatch. Even the traditional TV cup final coverage, from 8.30am, showed the differences. Leeds were manically serious, scary even but Sunderland, particularly Billy Hughes, even pre-game, were all about fun. The game needs no comment to Mackems!
My personal connection with Sunderland, was during Ricky Sbragia’s days. You were struggling, looked like relegation fodder, then Sbragia signed a lad called Calum Davenport on loan to shore up the defence. I coached Calum for four years, have always been very close to him, so I know how much he got from this loan spell and how much you guys got back in return. Sunderland stayed up; sadly, Calum’s career didn’t stay up – you’ll remember he was later the victim of a knife attack. Also my dad used to mend Cloughie’s car, but that’s another tale and was in Derby.
My family connection with WBA is that I followed my big brother there. I’m from Burton (what a tale that is this season), my dad is a Derby fan. So as kids, as Baggies fans, we went with my dad to see Cloughie’s Derby, from 1970-75. Saw both League Championships, and the Damned Utd days so have been exposed to some pretty good stuff.
Best Baggie moments?
Taking my American wife and two kids to Liverpool home game (I fly back from the US to see a game every year), helping put WBA on the map in the US, where I do a lot of US national radio work promoting the club. I arranged for Darren Fletcher to do a 25-minute interview, coast to coast. But the best, wasn’t one game, or one run of games, but the better part of two seasons 77-79 watching our three black players, Brendan Batson, Cyrille Regis and above all else Laurie Cunningham, change the face of English football.
Back in 1978, there were 50 black players in 92 clubs. We had three of them starring for us. Their collective panache, bravery and talent, battered down the doors of racism with utter grace. I’ve witnessed many famous clubs’ fans treat our amazing talents with such a level of degradation. To see this team at its prime, YouTube Man Utd 3 West Brom 5, see the talents and hear the crowd. It was avery different world. These were ground breakers, special, special players.
My worst moments were around this time as well. I’ve never, ever seen us win a trophy and perhaps never will [just cannot recall 1968 Cup Final win]. Losing a cup semi to Ipswich, John Wiles incessant head bleeding after the clash of heads for Ipswich’s opening goal and losing in the EUAFA Qtr Final to Red Star Belgrade, after beating Valencia, with world cup winner, Kempes in the team. The Valencia game was the death knell for Laurie as a Baggie, as he destroyed them in the first leg out in Spain, hugely impressing the Real Madrid bosses who signed him at the end of the season. RIP Laurie, easily the most gifted player I’ve ever seen.
Who are the best players you have seen in Albion colours. Feel free to mention Jeff Astle, Cyrille Regis and Bryan Robson
Laurie for all the reasons above. Loved Robbo, hated his perm, gutted when he signed for Man U.
Any you could have done without?
We’ve been in some tough situations, had many wilderness years. But honestly, forget the talent, few players wind me up more than Anelka – a ridiculous liability last season.
The Hawthorns – one of a dying breed of old-fashioned top flight stadiums. and no plans to move. What does the ground mean to you?
The Hawthorns has an edge, you are close to the action, every game is an exercise in how pressure encompasses you. Victory is sweet, and can be rare. Defeat just makes the mood more angry and filled with despair. You are close to the action and when the place is rocking, it’s a fantastic venue.
Now, any further thoughts on Sunderland – the club, city, region, fans, David Moyes?
Loved Bob Stokoe, loved Billy Hughes, loved Jim Montgomery. When you are 11, despise Leeds with every passion and an underdog like Sunderland can beat them, you never forget it, and consequently you have a soft spot for them. I recall Calum Davenport going on loan there and chatting with him, about this being a great opportunity. Calum loved the reception, the challenge and the fans…who knows, if he’d signed, full time, would he still be playing now?
Moyes, I felt would be a good fit at WBA. Who knows where this goes now.
Is there anyone in our current squad you wouldn’t mind taking?
Easy. Jan Kirchhoff, your best player.
Top four in order? Bottom three?
I run a comp on national radio out here in the US. Going to predict the same as my picks in August: 1 Man C 2 Chelsea, 3 Arsenal 4 Man U. Relegated: Hull, Burnley, Watford [looks like a couple of errors so far – last season, pre season, I’m sorry but I predicted Sunderland to go down. It looked all over until Bung Sam weaved his magic.
Best ref, worst ref?
Roger Kirkpatrick (one for the teenagers) Worst? None – it’s a really hard job, made copiously harder by cheating, faking brats.
How will you keep tabs on our game?
Every game is live in the US. The early kick offs are a breakfast treat.
* Andrew Caulton adds a little more detail: Hopefully I’ve given you plenty of chew on. First heard you on the radio here on a show that I contribute to a lot, hosted by two US legends and great lads, Tony Meola and John Harkes. Both coach now to varying degrees of success.
Burton-born, I live in New England but get back to see one game a year.
Grown men speak to the Astlegates, place their hands on Jeff’s hands, ask for help from the higher powers to win today’s game. It’s such a fitting tribute. I got to know both of Jeff’s daughters really well and arranged a US interview for them to highlight head injuries/concussions/brain injuries in football. It’s a massive deal here. Kids cannot head the ball in games until they are 12 (the rule began this season].
I go to the MLS to see local team New England Revolution play. It’s not the Baggies but you follow your local team.. About 30,000 in a 70,000 stadium, home of NFL wunderkinds, the New England Patriots. The comfort is incredible, the range of foods, pre/during games fantastic. They make great Margharittas that you buy in the ground and sit sipping during the game. And with no relegation it’s a fantastic night out.
Interview: Colin Randall