It was late in Mick Harford‘s career before he was able to play, as he had always wanted, for Sunderland, the home town club he’d supported from boyhood. With Don Goodman and Peter Davenport alongside him, it might have been the stuff of dreams. It wasn’t to be; after just 10 starts and two goals, he was back on his travels. Now Mick* is assistant manager at MK Dons, our opponents in tomorrow’s third round of the Capital One Cup. He is still a Sunderland fan and always will be, but once again – as when he scored a first-half hat trick against us while at Derby in 1990 – he wants to break our hearts …
Salut! Sunderland: MK Dons v Sunderland. You’re a Mackem: was this a dream draw for you
Absolutely. At every club in my career, I have always hoped to be drawn against Sunderland and I loved playing against them in league games. They are my team and I have fond memories of supporting them as a young lad. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a good draw for all concerned.
Will you have lots of friends and family there shouting for your team (MK Dons) to be beaten
Yes. I have lots of friends who are still travelling around the country following the club (SAFC). They are a loyal bunch, really get behind the team and there has always been a great following away from home. There are supporters’ club branches all over the country and I’m certainly expecting a big Sunderland following at this game. And yes, I am sure there will be friends and family and they’ll be shouting for Sunderland.
It is a compliment to say you are the classic much travelled player, with bags of goals at Luton, Lincoln and Birmingham but just the two in a brief spell at Sunderland. Was it a matter of regret that you came so late and so briefly to Sunderland?
Of course. I was born and bred in Sunderland, was a fan and had trials under Jimmy Adamson. I played for the youth team, scored a few goals and was very disappointed not to get an apprenticeship. But that’s football and I understand it. You have setbacks but you just have to move on. I loved playing against them so to play for Sunderland was even better and though the time I had there was short, it was very enjoyable.
What did you make of Terry Butcher as a man and as a manager?
I knew him from England days. A faultless pro who loves his football and has done a good job wherever he’s been. Absolutely a good man to work for – honest, straight-talking, the sort of thing we look for.
You played with Don Goodman, Kevin Ball, Gordon Armstrong> Any memories good or bad of any of your fellow Sunderland players?
I remember great spirit in the team. Unfortunately, as it turned out, I was not there for very long, did a job and would have liked to stay longer but then moved on. But I took some great memories with me.
How many goals did you score against SAFC and did any of them ever give you mixed feelings?
Quite a few. I remember scoring a hat trick, all three before half time, at the Baseball Ground (when Derby beat Sunderland 6-0 in the League Cup – ed). But no, no mixed feelings at the time; you’re a pro and go out to do your job. I was paid to play football. There must be a number of players who’ve ended up playing against their home town clubs and scoring. But I did get a bit of stick off the fans. I also scored a few goals for Birmingham against Sunderland, again to the annoyance of Sunderland supporters.
What have been your best experiences in football?
As a Sunderland fan, beyond doubt the 1973 FA Cup Final. It was the first time I’d been to Wembley and to experience all that as a young lad of 14 remains one of the best times of my life. These are memories, like Monty’s double save, that will stay forever. As a player, it has to be turning out for England at Wembley. On management, let me just say it is a great honour to help run a club. I am very happy at MK Dons; it’s a fantastic club.
And do you consider yourself a SAFC fan or as a professional do you have to overcome hometown roots and emotions and just concentrate on your own club?
They are my team and always will be. I have been proud to be a part of wherever I have gone in the game. Obviously as you get older the fanaticism wears off a little but it’s still the first result I look for and I always want them to do well.
Tell us about MK Dons, what sort of club it is, your impressions of the players and the supporters
It is a new club, a new generation of fans and the chairman (Pete Winkelman, best known for his success as a pop producer – ed) has done an amazing job in keeping the club alive and moving forward. There is a great set-up here, it’s very professionally run from top to bottom and I am hoping we can go forward, perhaps get to the play offs and win promotion. That would be a great achievement.
Is there anyone in your present squad who could make it a the highest level?
Without naming individuals, which wold be unfair, we do have a group of players we try to coach in the proper manner and have a good approach to and knowledge of the game and there are three or four who could go on to have good careers playing at a much higher level (strong>NB: the MK Dons defender Gary MacKenzie has twice been called up to Scotland squads, though awaits his first cap).
And what realistically can the club achieve?
With the infrastructure and general set-up, the way things are progressing, who knows? One day we could achieve our aim of playing in the Premier League. It is one step at a time but if there is one chairman capable of leading us there, it is him.
Best player in your judgement ever to play for SAFC?
Colin Todd. He was a natural, a fantastic reader of the game, very quick on the ball, technically superb and had a great career.
After the euphoria of the Olympics, a lot of people – even football fans – were so impressed by the sportsmanlike spirit of the Games that they were less than enthusiastic about the return of football. Did you understand these feelings and what were your own?
That is a difficult question to be honest. I am very proud of what everyone did at the Olympics in terms of how they all conducted themselves. I loved the Games, the ceremonies were amazing and I was proud of each achievement in the various events. Football is a completely different sport. We’re all different but don’t forget there are a lot of people in football who have done a massive amount of good for others, some of which never gets promoted or sung about.
Am I right or naïve to think there is – so far – a little less blatant cheating; diving/trying to get opponents shown red or yellow cards, shirt pulling, feigning injury this season AND is it something we need to accept or fight to eradicate?
I hope it can be stamped out. Years ago, we played a different game. If we got knocked to the ground, we just wanted to get up again. You didn’t want to be outmuscled. But you cannot expect people to be perfect all the time. We all do silly things, good things, bad things.
Where will MK Dons and Sunderland finish in their respective leagues this season
Hopefully we will get into the promotion places. I am sure Sunderland, with Martin O’Neill in charge, will be top 10. they can certainly do well.
What will be the Premier top four in order?
Man United, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal.
And what will be our score in our game?
The same as against Blackburn in the last round. 2-1 to MK Dons.
* Mick Harford on Mick Harford: Used to go home and away as a lad. I’d hitchhike to away games with a friend and maybe jump on a coach to get home. We’d just get back as best we could. If I missed a game, I felt guilty.** From Wikipedia. Mick’s career in the game prior to joining MK Dons as assistant manager to Karl Robinson, the youngest manager in the Football league …
1977–1980 Lincoln City 115 (41 goals)
1980–1981 Newcastle United 19 (4)
1981–1982 Bristol City 30 (11)
1982–1984 Birmingham City 92 (25)
1984–1990 Luton Town 139 (57)
1990–1991 Derby County 58 (15)
1991–1992 Luton Town 29 (12)
1992–1993 Chelsea 28 (9)
1993 Sunderland 11 (2)
1993–1994 Coventry City 1 (1)
1994–1998 Wimbledon 60 (9)
Total 582 (186)
1988 England 2 (0)
2004–2005 Nottingham Forest (caretaker)
2005 Rotherham United
2007 Queens Park Rangers (caretaker)
2008–2009 Luton Town
2010 Queens Park Rangers (caretaker)
Interview: Colin Randall