Ryan Cunningham* was the first to respond when Salut! Sunderland put out a pre-season appeal for warm, witty, wise or just garrulous Palace (and Cardiff and West Ham) fans to volunteer for the “Who are You?” hot seat. Here, he shows himself to be a passionate Palace fan, overjoyed to be back in the Premier, unapologetic about the controversial goal that sent the 2004 playoff semi to penalties (remember Jeff Whitley? He – Jeff – tells Monsieur Salut he does, with some shame) and sure his team can survive …
Salut! Sunderland: We both lost our opening home game 1-0, you to top four candidates, us to mid-tablers we should expect to beat. What lessons did you learn from your defeat?
I think the Spurs game was the ideal first test for us. We clearly showed them too much respect and by the time we realised that there was 10-15 minutes left, we’d left it too late. We now know we can compete at this level if we are organised and provide cover for each other when needed. I liked the fact that a Ian Holloway team was able to play something other than 100 per cent attacking football and at times we looked great.
Kevin Phillips and Marouane Chamakh each had a quarter of an hour or so. Has SuperKev still got it and will Chamakh ever get it?
I’m really looking forward to seeing what Chamakh can produce given a bit of game time. I remember when Arsenal first signed him and thought he looked the ‘mutts nuts’ so if he can rediscover that sort of form, I genuinely think we could have our next Andy Johnson/Attilio Lombardo here.
As for the Evil Pixie Kevin Phillips, I think he can come on for the last 15/20 minutes for another couple of year and still be as lethal as he has always been. He has that turn and precision type shooting that can’t be taught, it’s natural and he’ll never lose that. He’ll definitely bag us 5-10 goals this year, we just need to make sure we have another big scorer in the team.
You have arrived in the Premier as favourites to go back down again. I take it you believe you can make the pundits eat their words but were you surprised to be promoted and did it come too early?
Of course we believe we can stay up! It’s not going to be easy and we’ll need to show the organisation, passion and belief we showed against Spurs every week. Not forgetting a big old chunk of luck
We are surprised to be here, last season was odd in terms of our hero Dougie Freedman walking out on us when we were playing so well, it could have affected the team badly, but fortunately they stuck together and battled on.
Is Holloway the man to stabilise the club, keep you up and aim to solidify your presence in the top flight?
He has to be! He hasn’t had it easy bless him. He came into a team that was playing so well and he couldn’t really change anything. So it’s only really now we are seeing his style and his team. If the way we played against Spurs is the blueprint to what we’ll be like, I’m very excited.
How far can he, or anyone else, realistically take Palace?
Lets face it, we’ll never win the league. I look at the likes of Fulham, Stoke, yourselves, and Southampton as sort of what I’d be happy with. In my lifetime we have never had mid-table mediocrity in the top flight! However, Swansea and this year maybe Southampton have changed that. They’ve raised the bar for how much a side can quickly improve.
Football supporters often develop irrational prejudices; some Sunderland fans are too good at disliking Selhurst Park, or remembering the push on Mart Poom that led to your goal, and a penalty shootout, in the 2004 playoff, to be affectionate towards Palace. Are you conscious of any antagonism between the clubs?
Let’s firstly clear up the ‘push’ on Mart Poom. If you watch it carefully he assaulted Neil Shipperly, he launched himself at him and came of worse. The red has said if we hadn’t scored it was a clear penalty. And also, nobody likes Selhurst Park, we love it that way.
As for any bitterness between us, there’s nothing from us as far as I’m aware, but after those Play Off’s and all the drama, I understand that you probably enjoy beating us that little bit more.
This was the Palace fans’ choice when polled for the Centenary XI: Nigel Martyn (1989–96); Kenny Sansom (1975–80); Chris Coleman (1991–95); Jim Cannon (1972–88); Paul Hinshelwood (1974–83); John Salako (1986–95); Geoff Thomas (1987–93); Andy Gray (1984–87,1989–92); Attilio Lombardo (1997–99); Andrew Johnson (2002–06); Ian Wright (1985–91). Which of those could you with now?
All of them?! Haha, most of the defenders, Jim Cannon was a rock and a pure Palace man. Lombardo, Wright and AJ up top and we’d have the best strike force in Europe, if not the world!
From that list or not, who do you feel is the best player to have graced Palace colours, whether or not you’re old enough to have seen him? And who should have been allowed nowhere near them?
Attilio Lombardo is the best player by a mile I’ve ever seen at Palace. How we signed him we still never know. God bless that Bald Eagle. Wilf Zaha will always be remembered by us too. We sung ‘he’s just too good for you’ but the truth was he was too good for us to!
Worst player? That’s a tough one, we’ve had more s*** come through the doors at Selhurst than you’ll find rotting in the sewers beneath London. If I had to pick one… Ade Akinbiye, no wait… Shefki Kuqi, no… James Scowcroft, no… Alan Lee, or even… Oh I can’t choose just 1!
Your own highs and lows as a supporter?
High, promotion this time round, we weren’t meant to make the Play Offs, we weren’t meant to beat Brightscum in the semis (man that was sweet!) and then we weren’t supposed to beat Watford at Wembley. So it made it all the more sweeter.
Low, I would say those Charlton pikeys sending us down, but I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction, so I’ll go with the administration days and seeing us being mugged by teams with money buying our best players and paying with buttons. Football can be a cruel cruel game.
Who will finish in the top four, in order, and who is going down? If not mentioned, where will our teams finish?
Top 4 – Chelsea, City, Spurs, United.
Going down – I can’t choose. I think there will be a lot down there. The 3 that came up will certainly be in a relegation battle, I think Mark Hughes at Stoke will be a disaster for them, as I’m sorry to say I think Di Canio will be with you, Newcastle are a total shambles yet again, West Brom and Norwich could be dragged down there too. So any 3 from that list.
Club versus country: which is more important for you and why?
Club, no doubt. The so called Superstars and their constant lack of anything remotely passionate for the national team means I too, no longer care.
Which feature of modern football most inspires you, and which makes you angry?
Our academy at Palace is constantly rolling out class, local kids. I like that a lot. The players only caring for money and not showing any passion and fight makes me angry.
Will you be at our game? What will be the score?
* Ryan Cunningham on himself: I’m a 29-year-old father of three girls, all of whom love Palace. I’ve played and scored from 30 yards at Selhurst, which aside from my kids being born is the best moment of my life!
Yeah I should be there, I’ll take a draw. Maybe even a sneaky win.
I work for BSkyB, but not in the glamorous parts!
Being a Palace fan was kind of forced upon me by relatives, it would have been a lot easier to have supported Man Utd though! But my first taste of live Football was at Selhurst at the age of about 7, and I’ll never forget the first time I walked up the stairs into the stand and saw all that red and blue, and it all looked so big and amazing, I was hooked straight away. Never looked back since then.
Interview: Colin Randall
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