You’ve got a lot of nerve………..one of the best opening lines from Bob Dylan, who never played for Sunderland so far as is known but did make himself the absolute hero of one son of Sunderland who became a great success story of his own. The line is taken from his favourite Dylan song.
If Salut! Sunderland announced that it had interviewed a cricket captain with strong Sunderland links, most people would start looking out for the Paul Collingwood feature.
Well, consider the first part of that announced. But it’s not Paul.
Approaches have been made, and – who knows? – the ace Durham County Cricket Club all-rounder and SAFC nut, may one day find time in an incredibly busy life to answer a few questions for us.
In the meantime, we are extremely proud to be able to bring to you Sunderland-born Bob Willis, a giant among England cricketers of the modern age, an in-demand sports broadcaster, Dylan fan extraordinaire – changed his name. for heaven’s sake, to read, in full Robert George Dylan Willis.
Born in Sunderland though he was, on May 30 1949, Bob is sadly not one of us. Not, that is, when one of us means being a Sunderland fan. He is a lifelong supporter of Man City, our opponents on Sunday, save for the first few months of life before he was whisked away to what I always call the north-west Midlands. Let’s face it, a baby in Sunderland would surely know all about its duty to be Red and White through and through, so he cannot have been a Blue then.
No matter, Bob readily agreed at desperately short notice to do a Q&A for this week’s Who Are They? feature. For Salut! Sunderland, it’s comparable to getting Alan Price as a Celebrity Supporter interviewee (and that started out as an interview for Wear Down South, magazine of the London and Southern England branch of the SAFC Supporters’ Association).
So here – once we get the small matter of eight for 43 against the Aussies at Headingley in 1982 out of the way – are Bob’s answers; we cheated a bit and just asked loads of questions (more than for average Q&A, but reaped dividends with Bob on Bert Trautmann, dodgy Blues ownership and the stick-in-the-mud folkies who called Dylan Judas for going electric (did he perhaps have Salut! Live folkies in mind?)…….
How does a lad born in Sunderland end up as a Man City supporter? How big a soft spot do you reserve for SAFC?
Left Sunderland when I was six weeks old and moved to Manchester. My first footballing experience was sitting on the white wall behind Bert Trautmann’s goal at Maine Road. My Dad was a fan of Sunderland so I kept in touch with their results until he died in 1982.
Have you seen games between the two clubs over the years? Do any stick out in the memory, and if so why? Have there ever been mixed loyalties in your mental approach to such ties?
Yes played at senior level for Guildford City and Corinthian Casuals in goal. Only stopped playing when I was selected for England in November 1970.
You captained England. Did it get any better than that for you while playing?
Nothing was better than Headingley 1981.
Depending on how you answered 3), is there a footballing achievement that might have made you as happy?
Of course it would have been nice to have kept goal for Manchester City.
To what extent have you actively followed City? What have been the highs and lows as a supporter?
Went regularly in the 50s until we moved to Surrey in 1956. Went to the League Cup final when we beat Newcastle. A lot of fixtures clash with cricket commitments but I follow them in London if I can get a ticket. I’m not a lucky mascot because last season I saw them concede nine goals at Fulham and Chelsea.
We both got off to disappointing starts, v Liverpool for us, Villa for you, and then improved greatly on the second weekend. What do you think of our respective clubs’ prospects for the season?
Bottom half but no relegation worries.
Have you been to the Stadium of Light. If so what did you make of it? Of Sunderland itself? Or if not, had you ever been to Roker Park (eg for the famous FA Cup tie in 1973)? Same follow up questions.
No have only been back to Sunderland once in the early 1970s. Haven’t been to either ground.
What do you make of each club’s activity in the transfer market in the run-up to the season’s start (and any since)?
There aren’t any good players available under £20 million so generally both clubs just get second-raters. I thought Steed Malbranque played well for Spurs last year and was surprised they sold him.
Do you hate Man Utd in the same way Sunderland hate Newcastle? Or are you more grown-up about such things?
I thought they played attractive football last season. I don’t mind watching United but it was great to do the double over them.
Any memories of the many players and/or management linked to both clubs? The list is long – Tueart, Quinn, Towers, Coton, Horswill, Dave Watson, Peter Reid and there are many more.
A mate of mine, Lance Hardy, is writing a book about the 1973 Cup final so he reminds me all the time about players who played for both clubs. Quinn, Watson and Tueart are the ones I remember most.
Are you confident, undecided or downright uncomfortable about ownership of Man City? Did Sven have to go?
Disgusted by the Thai crook. I don’t think Sven’s a brilliant manager.
What are your thoughts on Roy Keane?
Hasn’t had the players to make any real impression in the Premier League. The jury is still out on the long term effect he will have on the club.
What are you up to these days?
Full time with Sky Sports commentating on cricket.
Do you still have family in the North East?
Club vs country. I suppose in cricket, County v Country. In either case, who wins for you?
The finances are totally different in the two sports. They dictate it is club for football and country for cricket.
Will you be there on Aug 31? If not, how will you keep in touch?
No I won’t be there but will keep in touch via Sky.
Who will win ? What score?
1-1 – City aren’t very good on the road.
*** And the bonus music question:
Dylan is your musical hero. Define his greatness, share your best Dylan tracks/moments and say what you think/thought of the furore he caused by going electric.
Simply the best singer/songwriter of all time. Royal Albert Hall – the electric half was fantastic. Favourite track is Positively 4th Street. The folky protest brigade were stuck in a time warp.