Gary Gowers at Wembley

Gary Gowers at Wembley

This is our second re-run of a winning interview in the HAWAYs, Salut! Sunderland‘s annual awards for the best Q&As with opposing fans for the Who are You? series. Gary Gowers, a Carrow Road regular since the age of six, editor of NorwichCity.MyFootballwriter.com and the Norwich City voice at the Metro newspaper, came second (see announcement of awards at http://salutsunderland.com/2016/06/haway-awards-1-west-bromwich-albion-2-norwich-city-3-tottenhams-littlejohn/0.

Thanks, Gary, for some great answers. Sorry you had to go down but naturally over the moon it was you, not us. Here is the interview as published before we went to Carrow Road, beat them 3-0 and set ourselves up for survival. As our deputy editor Malcolm Dawson put it when awarding high marks to Gary’s entry, ‘Gary Gowers 9/10: cos his name is nearly Gary Owers (lol) … Another good piece from a fan with no airs and graces or illusions who sees his club like we see ours’ …

Salut! Sunderland: So it may all – or much of it – come down to this game. When you walloped us at our place in the second game of the season, and lost only two of the first seven, was relegation the last thing on your mind?

It was at the time although in reality we all suspected that come crunch time we’d be sniffing around the league’s nether regions – and here we are! In truth, we have the 20th biggest budget in the Premier League so despite plenty of bravado, we knew that 17th place would in itself be a significant over-achievement.

Let’s not beat about the bush. This question usually appears much later in the list, but give us the bottom four in order (but keep your NCFC-SAFC score prediction for your answer to my final question).

OK… here goes 17th: City 18th: Sunderland 19th: Newcastle 20th: Villa. The heart is 100% certain; the head only 50%, so… well… you know…

Gary wins a £25 voucher towards any purchase at Classic Football Shirts

What has gone wrong with Norwich’s season and what, occasionally as in recently, has gone right?

When we click we look decent but the difficulty has been churning out those performances regularly. We had a spell of playing well but, courtesy of individual errors and general incompetence, found ourselves invariably pointless and – as is often the case – eventually the performance and confidence levels suffer. And for a while we were just plain poor. But it boils down to quality and we just don’t have enough of it. To succeed we need to be operating at 100%; if it falls much below that we’re in trouble. Other clubs, with more ample resources can dip below and still win games; we can’t and don’t do that.

The signing of Swiss international, Timm Klose in January was however significant. He added an injection of quality, leadership and composure just when it most needed but – in true Norwich City fashion – he’s knackered his knee at a time when we need him most. He’s unlikely to play on Saturday.

And Sunderland: I suppose you saw our latest struggle coming – or were you surprised that we couldn’t build on another late escape act?

I did wonder if Advocaat’s miracle at the end of last season may be the start of something but clearly it wasn’t to be – and here you are again. But more importantly, having been here before you’re better equipped than any of us to handle the jangling nerves and out of control bum cheeks. There’s something that irritatingly tells me you’re destined to see it through…… again.

Happy with Alex Neil and Ed Balls?

Yep. While worlds apart, both are fighters and for a club of our stature it’s a quality that’s an absolute must. Most sensible City supporters (about 75% of them) can see that Alex Neil has more than a little something about him and must be given time to mould a squad of his liking. The other 25% are best ignored. Ed, who has been very low-profile since his appointment as chairman, is a City die hard but, for fairly obvious reasons, has divided opinion. Those who vote blue despise him and question how a man who (apparently) was singularly responsible for the economic downturn can run a football club – the rest see him as an intelligent, well-qualified, City fan who can comfortably chair a board of directors.

What about Delia and Stephen Fry – are they are important figureheads of Norwich support or sideshows?

Delia’s far more than a figurehead. Without the financial help of her and her husband (Michael Wynn-Jones) Norwich City FC wouldn’t be in existence, so to describe her as a sideshow is just nonsense. She’s had her moments, and has made mistakes aplenty, but you can keep your oligarchs and oil-rich sheiks; we’ll stick with Delia thank you very much.

Stephen Fry is no longer on our board and has now reduced his involvement to ‘ambassador’, which means… he spreads the word… I think.

Jake: 'not for the squeamish'

Jake: ‘not for the squeamish’

Looking at the starting lineups against us, only Ruddy, Howson and Brady also started v Newcastle though Hoolahan, Jerome and Redmond all came on as subs. as Neil got it right with so much change, who are now the key men and where are you still weak?

As mentioned earlier the injury to Timm Klose was a major blow. With him in the side we look solid and composed at the back – without him we don’t. Therefore if you’re looking for weaknesses/gift-horses/accidents waiting to happen, then look no further than our central defensive pairing (God I hope I’m proved wrong) because the Bassong/Bennett combo has proved anything but reliable. And until recently we had the propensity to collapse and implode like the England middle-order of old.

Where Alex Neil has got it right recently is pairing Gary O’Neil and Jonny Howson in central midfield, both of whom have shone in our recent upturn. O’Neil is a wily old fox whose decision-making is usually on the money (a couple of aberrations aside) and Howson is just quality. And as a side, buoyed by the influence of Klose, we’ve been a little bit tougher, both mentally and physically.

Each of the Norwich, Newcastle and Sunderland (me) bloggers at ESPN FC recently predicted 17th place finishes. That’s understandable and loyal but if worst came to worst for Norwich, would you bounce straight back again?

It’d be tough. We know only too well from recent experience that the Championship is a bitch to get out of and requires a completely different mentality and skill set to the Prem. With Alex Neil at the helm we’d at least have one who appears to have the measure of the division but there’d be some big-name departures and a lot of it would come down to recruitment – something we’ve struggled with over the last few seasons. There’s also the factor of there being a North-East giant plus Villa down there next season, thereby making it that little bit tougher. If I’m really honest, to bounce back again at the first attempt would be a big ask for City.

Tell me the best thing about being a Norwich fan and the best you’ve experience following your team.

I’m proud to support a provincial, community club that has a habit of doing things (at least in our view) the right way – unlike a small club to the south that ripped its local suppliers off to the tune of 5p in the £. There’ve been times when we’ve barely had a pot to relieve ourselves in but we’ve soldiered on, with the help of Delia, Michael and others, and are now debt-free. We’re still poor in Premier League terms but we play to full houses every single week and did so even when we were in the third tier. We’re a one city club; we have the oldest football song in the world and care not one jot that every other club takes the mick, and because we’ve had our fair share of wretched times we know how to enjoy and celebrate the good ones. Oh… and we’re the current holders of the ‘Friendly Cup’ – the pièce de résistance. What’s not to love?

Last season’s win at Wembley in the play-off final takes some beating for a day out but the best has to be beating Bayern Munich in the Olympic Stadium in October 1993 in the UEFA Cup. John Motson famously described it as “fantasy football”. I was there. I agree with Motty.

And the low point/s?

We had some twonk in charge for a while called Glenn Roeder. Bit by bit he dismantled the club until it was a shell kept afloat only by a group of loanees/mercenaries who were simply not fit to wear the shirt. Although poor old Bryan Gunn was officially charged with taking us down to League One it was Rodent who did the damage. On the opening day of the League One – still with poor Gunny in charge – we lost 7-1 at home to Colchester. It was horrible. The worst.

Apart from that it’s been plain sailing (ahem…) although every defeat by 1p5wich is like a dagger through the heart – albeit they haven’t occurred for a while. And the club’s financial meltdown of the mid-90s wasn’t much fun either. Rotten on the field – in even bigger bother off it.

Best players you’ve seen in Norwich colours – or wish you were old enough to have seen – and worst?

Impossible to name just one. In the 70s, Martin Peters, who was just 31 when he joined us, was imperious in the centre of midfield, majestic even – just as you’d expect from a World Cup winner (the recent news that he’s now suffering from Alzheimer’s disease is a pure heartbreaker).

In the late 80s/90s Ian Crook took Peters’ central midfield playmaker baton and ran with it. Well, not so much ran, but took a perfect first touch and pinged it onto a sixpence from forty yards. He was pretty much unheralded outside of Norfolk but on his day he was brilliant.

And of late, look no further than Darren Huckerby. Now an adopted son of Norfolk, Hucks virtually single-handedly took us from Championship to Premier League in 2003/04 and thrilled, entertained and delivered in equal measure throughout his five seasons at the club. He now coaches in our academy.

Steve Bruce or Martin O’Neill. Who means most you and why?

Martin O’Neill shades it because not only was he was a brilliant player during two spells at the club, he also then threatened to be a brilliant manager. Unfortunately his time here was cut short amidst City’s financial crash of the mid-90s but the signs were that he’d have taken on a thrilling journey if the money hadn’t run out. Brucie will always be revered in these parts. He scored a winner against 1p5wich in a League Cup semi-final. Say no more.

Which Sunderland player if any would you welcome in your squad?

In demand by all our opponents

In demand by all our opponents

Easy one – Jermaine Defoe. We’ve lacked a goalscorer for well… almost ever, and he’d be ideal to give us a cutting edge in front of goal that’s been missing. But Norwich is only a relatively small city and I doubt would be big enough to accommodate his entourage of PAs, nannies, butlers, chauffeurs, shoe cleaners, bum wipers and masseuse. He’d score a goal or two though.

Other thoughts on SAFC – the club, the fans, the city and region, Big Sam?

I like the club and the fans, in part due to the aforementioned Friendly Cup, which dates back to the spirit of bonhomie that accompanied the 1985 Milk Cup final. There’s been a bond ever since (as least there has from this end) and compared to your noisy, boisterous neighbours you’re a pleasure to do business with.

In truth I’ve never been big on Big Sam. Have never been a fan of his football, nor his bullish approach to anyone who dare question him or his methods, but he does know how to set up a team to win games of football and survive a relegation fight. And that makes me nervous.

Hardly matters to either of us, except for remaining matches against us, but what is your prediction for the top four?

Not really fussed to be honest but it is healthy to see Leicester and Spurs upsetting the great and the good. I’ll go for 1) Leicester 2) Spurs 3) Man City 4) Arsenal

Diving and other forms of cheating: so widespread we may as well just try to get our players to do it better, or still worth fighting to eliminate?

I think it’s unfortunately one of those things we just have to reluctantly accept. It’s now so embedded in the game, to try and stop it would be futile. But it doesn’t mean we have to like it. The thought and image of Alex Neil trying to teach the players to cheat better is hilarious and would never happen. Besides they would be useless at it.

One step the authorities could take to improve the lot of the ordinary supporter?

Twenty’s plenty was a worthy campaign and although it didn’t achieve its ultimate aim it did pave the way for the £30 cap on tickets for away fans – and that’s good. The next step – a more difficult one – is to try and protect the interests and pockets of home fans. Cheaper ticket prices all round is crucial if live televised games are not to be played out in half-empty stadiums; something that Sky, BT and the Premier League are starting to worry about. Fans are the game’s lifeblood. They have to come first.

Best ref, worst ref in the Premier?

Mike Dean has proved something of a lucky charm for City and for that reason alone he’s the best ref in my opinion. Alan Pardew thinks it’s Michael Oliver apparently. I disagree.

The worst? Blimey, where to start. Well there was once this bloke called Simon Hooper. He refereed just once in the Prem (City v Palace on the season’s opening day) and was absolute rubbish. He hasn’t been seen in the PL since – thank God. And then there’s Lee Mason, and Clattenberg (who admires himself just a little too much).

WIll you be at our game and what will be the score?

Yep; I’ll be there. I dare not even contemplate a City defeat, so I’ll put that to one side for now. That just leaves a draw or a win. Well, a draw wouldn’t be the end of the road for both sides so expect it to be tentative, twitchy and probably a bit cautious. But (and this is my heart ruling my head) our recent win against Newcastle suggests to me that City can handle the big occasion, and therefore I’m going for City 2, Sunderland 1 in a real nail-biter.

Gary Gowers on himself

Gary Gowers on himself

Finally: a bit on who you are, what you do, your history of supporting the Canaries and anything you’d like to plug.

Born and raised the wrong side of the Norfolk/Suffolk border, I’m part of a long line of Canary die-hards, and have been a Carrow Road regular since the age of six and a season-ticket holder since my injury-prone, amateur playing days ended. I’m editor of NorwichCity.MyFootballwriter.com and am the Norwich City voice at the Metro.

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by – and principally for – supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

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