Last time we played Man City, we persuaded Bob Willis, Sunderland-born but a lifelong City fan (his family moved when he was a baby), to preview the game. A fat lot of good that did us. A three-nil home defeat, and – back from the desert for the weekend – we were drenched by torrential rain coming away from the SoL. Oh, and City fans complained that the interview wasn’t interesting enough, which sounded a bit like a Mrs Richards moment from Fawlty Towers.
Taking no chances this time, we decided once again to raid the ranks of the Abu Dhabi Media Company editorial staff for the return game at Eastlands. Nick March* knows how to string a few words together.
We should, of course, be approaching Man City away with the cushion of four or six points from the last two home games. We know what happened to them. Nick, in the first of Salut! Sunderland‘s two previews of Sunday’s game, tells of his fondness for Sunderland, tut-tuts at the deepening gloom among SAFC fans about the remainder of this season and even predicts that we’ll snatch a draw…
I have to admit to a soft spot for Sunderland, as the first cup final I watched on TV was the 1973 final. It was magical. I imagined every Wembley final would be that good. But it’s more than one vintage final that makes me like your club.
There are some more common ties that bind the two sets of fans: you Rokerites know as well as we do what it is to suffer the ignominy of relegation to the third tier of the league, be reborn and then watch your hopes turn once more into dust.
Like City, Sunderland fans are also very familiar with the sensation of not really going anywhere fast or worse still, years of only seeming to go backwards. We’ve both had our share of dreadful managers too; for your Howard Wilkinson, I give you Phil Neal, Frank Clark, John Benson, Alan Ball.
And then there’s the stadium thing. When City moved to Eastlands in 2003 I was certain it was going to transform our fortunes and I’m sure when you summarily dispatched a dreadful City team on opening night at the Stadium of Light you felt the same way too. Only good times were ahead, weren’t they?
And where once you were the “Bank of England Club” we are now the ones bristling with new money, desperate to join the Champions League party. But I’m not holding my breath. Knowing City, our invitation will probably get lost in the post.
Now your questions:
This has been an extraordinary six months in the life of Man City. How do you rationalise all that has happened?
It’s not hard to stay grounded even when you support the richest club in the world. We are, after all, still the same old City. We always get knocked out of cups by lower division clubs (Forest and Brighton) and we still lose to teams in the league that I think we should be able to beat (Boro).
Are you surprised that there has not already been a much greater effect, in terms of performance?
Not really. The only extra spending that happened in August was signing Robinho and one man rarely makes a team. There is always next season though and the faint hope of further progress in the UEFA Cup this year.
Is Mark Hughes the man to lead the club forward in these new circumstances?
I’m not sure. He did a great job at Blackburn when he was given time, had a supportive board and was allowed slowly to improve the team. I am sure when he took the City job he felt like he was jumping into a similar role and would be given a couple of seasons to build a decent side. The job is now completely different though: instant improvement is the name of the game, and he has struggled to manage expectations while not really improving the team when compared to Sven-Goran Eriksson. I also think a bigger name manager might be better able to manage the bigger names in the dressing room.
Where did you expect City to finish a) before the season began b) at the point the takeover was announced and c) now?
a) mid-table mediocrity.
b) I thought we’d be shooting for the blue moon: the cup, the Champions League, the world. Anything was possible, wasn’t it?
c) mid-table medicrity.
And what did you make of Roy Keane’s decision to walk out of Sunderland?
Completely unsurprising. He is of the new breed of wealthy former players who are managing clubs because they want to, rather than because they need the money. It was clear he’d stopped enjoying the job and it’s not like he hasn’t done this sort of thing before, is it?
Where will SAFC finish the season? If you don’t think we’ll go
down, who will?
Sunderland definitely won’t go down. My three for the drop are: West Brom, Boro and Portsmouth.
Do you think of Man United in much the same way we think of Newcastle? Or are you too grown up for such things?
I used to hate United, but I think I must have mellowed with age as now I just think they are so far out of our league (and everyone else’s for that matter) that I rarely get upset when they win and we lose. I do get wound up on derby day though.
What have been the highs and lows of supporting City, and who for you are the City greats?
The highs: being one of the 18,583 at Maine Road when we beat Huddersfield 10-1 in the old Second Division; the first 18 months of Kevin Keegan as manager – we scored 108 goals in our 2002 promotion season and beat United 3-1 at home the following November; beating United 5-1 in Sept 1989 and thinking Fergie was about to get the sack; Mick McCarthy (dare I mention his name?) scoring a bullet header to earn a draw in the Manchester derby in 1986; winning the League Cup against Newcastle in 1976; beating Gillingham on penalties at Wembley in the playoffs in 1999 and no, I didn’t leave the ground when we were 2-0 down with seconds to play; Denis Law’s backheel to send United down in 1974; the club’s golden generation of youth players in the mid-1980s (Paul Lake, Andy Hinchcliffe, Paul Moulden, David White, Steve Redmond, Ian Brightwell) who were the only bright lights illuminating some pretty dark days.
The lows: going down two divisions in three seasons (1996 and 1998); losing to York City away in the old Third Division; losing 3-0 away to Wimbledon in April 1996 under Alan Ball; going down in 1983 after being beaten by Luton and having to suffer seeing David Pleat’s brown shoes and beige suit on BBC Sport pretty much ever since; losing more cup quarter-finals than I care to remember and not reaching a proper cup final since 1981 (you can’t really count the 1986 Full Members Cup Final… and we lost that); the boom-and-bust years of Peter Swales as chairman and the whole, sorry Francis Lee era, which is conclusive proof that you should be careful what you wish for.
The City greats: Colin Bell, Francis Lee, Mike Summerbee, Tony Book, Joe Corrigan, Alan Oakes, Tommy Booth, Dennis Tueart, Dave Watson, Peter Barnes, Asa Hartford, Paul Lake and latterly, Gio Kinkladze, Shaun Goater, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Ali Bernabia and Richard Dunne.
Dennis Tueart, Tony Towers, Peter Reid, Niall Quinn, Tony Coton, Claudio Reyna….and there’ll be many others – players and staff – linked to both clubs. Are any of them special, for ny reason, to you?
Dennis Tueart is a particular favourite of mine for scoring a fantastic winner in the League Cup final against Newcastle. He was the very essence of a Seventies footballer: the fur coat, the fast car, the dolly bird and the fantastic feet and then he went off and signed for the Cosmos and played with Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Carlos Alberta. They don’t make them like that anymore.
From the same time and the same Sunderland cup final team was Dave Watson who was a colossus in defence in a good City side. From more recent years I saw Niall Quinn’s debut for City and he clicked from the moment he pulled on a blue shirt. Plus he has “disco pants”. Need I say more?
And don’t ask my why because they were hardly greats for either team, but I used to look out for how Dickson Etuhu and Jeff Whitley were doing when they were at Sunderland.
How will you follow the game on Sunday and what will be the score?
I’ll be at work, so probably on the BBC website. I rarely tip City to win and when I do they normally lose, so let’s go with an entertaining 1-1 draw.
Nick March on Nick March
I was born in Withington, south Manchester, which is a City heartland. My dad’s job moved down south in the mid-1970s but by that time, I was a died in the wool City fan. Frequent trips back up to Manchester made me a regular on the Kippax throughout the mid-1980s and I was a season-ticket holder at Maine Road and at Eastlands on and off from 1989 until 2006. I stopped going regularly when I became disillusioned with the brand of football we were playing in the make-do-and-mend Stuart Pearce era. I don’t blame Pyscho though, as he was barely given any money to improve the team. I’ve travelled plenty of miles over the years following the Blues, up and down the M1 and M6 but now I’m more of an armchair fan.
Been supporting Manchester City through thin and thin for more than 35 years. Where once you could find him on the Kippax about half way up, or on the front row of the top tier of the West Stand at Eastlands, he now watches most matches from the comfort of his sofa.