Nikhil – a big soft spot for SAFC

WHILE SITE IS DOWN, COPY AND USE THiS LINK TO SEE THE INTERVIEW AT OUR FACEBOOK GROUP:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/salutsunderland/permalink/2116379651754062/

Nikhil Vekaria* put heart and soul in to answering our questions in the Bradford City Who are You? only for the site to crash. We are still working on getting it back into operation – it was impossible even to see yesterday so today’s visibility was an improvement even if you cannot then do anything – read a full article, post a comment – from the home page!

Once we’re back, Nikhil’s thoughts will get their proper airing. His comments on Sunderland are heartwarming …

Salut! Sunderland: We have three goes at it and cannot beat Walsall. You hammer them 4-0. A result waiting to happen or a flash in the pan?

Nikhil: A bit of both I think! We’d definitely been improving in recent weeks and had started to score goals (2 away at Peterborough in the cup, 3 against Plymouth and then 4 in the cup replay).

However, we also had serious issues at the back, shown by the fact that we hadn’t actually won any of those 3 games. Despite this, the mood around the club has been generally improving since it was announced that Edin Rahic had left and I think due to this, there was a reasonable amount of optimism going into the game with Walsall.

This, coupled with improving performances over the last few weeks probably meant that a win was coming, although I doubt anyone really expected us to hammer them 4-0!

If it can kickstart your season, what is needed for a god run and what had been going wrong so far?

I think the hope is that it will kickstart our season! I mentioned above that the atmosphere around the club has improved since Edin Rahic left and I do believe that this confidence from the fans will hopefully filter down to the players as well. In terms of on the pitch, we have been improving going forward and look a lot more likely to score goals, but I’m sure most fans would agree with me saying that we need to tighten up at the back before we’ll be able to put a real good run together.

As for what’s been going wrong- where to start?! The appointment of Michael Collins at the start of the campaign was an absolute disaster and unfortunately, he was completely out of his depth. This set the tone for the season and the animosity towards the boardroom which had begun to grow from January onwards really started to come to a head. Before we knew it, players who looked on paper to be decent signings, looked completely out of their depth and the club was in the relegation zone and then rock bottom. In all honesty, we didn’t really look like turning it round until the last few weeks…

Your assessment of the job David Hopkin is doing and whether the ownership is geared to propelling City higher…

I think Hopkin has done a reasonable job. I was very impressed with the appointment and was pleased that we were going for a manager who had experienced so much success in his previous job- rather than someone with recent failures on their record.

The team has looked slightly improved ever since he took over, but this wasn’t translating into results (which stayed pretty much the same) and if we’re being completely honest, many other managers may have been sacked had they had a similar start.

However, Hopkin was working under difficult circumstances and came into a club where fans were seriously unhappy with the ownership and the team looked totally bereft of any confidence. It’s taken a bit of time for him to turn it round and we’re still in serious trouble, but hopefully the last few weeks have shown that there’s enough there for us to somehow salvage what looked like a nailed-on relegation and survive.

As for the ownership, the noises from majority shareholder Stefan Rupp have been positive since Rahic departed and the return of Julian Rhodes to the boardroom is a definite positive. I’m certainly willing to give Rupp a chance and some of the players we signed this summer suggest there is a bit of money there, but it’s the future transfer windows and the resources that Hopkin is allowed which will really show if he’s in a position to propel us up the leagues.

Best times you’ve experienced as a fan?

The 2012-13 season- by an absolute mile! The FA Cup run in 2014/15, where we beat Chelsea and then yourselves was also an incredible experience for a fan, particularly the comeback from two goals down at Stamford Bridge.

However, after so many years of underachievement and the struggles of League Two, the 12/13 season, where we reached the League Cup final, beating three top-flight sides along the way, and then sealed promotion at Wembley was a year I’ll never forget! It was an incredible season to support City and gave me some of the best moments of my life- I find it hard to imagine that there’s much in football which would top it!

And the lowest points?

I’m young enough to have unfortunately missed the Premier League years, which also means that I’m not quite old enough to remember our rapid decline and fall down the divisions. Being stuck in League Two for as long as we were felt quite hopeless and for a while it was hard to believe that we’d ever get out.

However, if I had to pinpoint a particular game as a low point in my time following City, it’d have to be the League One play-off final in the 2016/17 season. I honestly felt that we were good enough to go up that season. Stuart McCall had us playing a great brand of attacking football and we had a really strong squad at League One level. I headed down to Wembley full of confidence that I’d be seeing us in the second-tier the next season. The defeat, in a game that we more than held our own in, really hurt, as did seeing some key members of the squad depart the following summer.

Who has give. You most pleasure in your colours?

As a fan, the whole 2012-13 team gave you everything you could ask for. They cared for the club, cared for each other and you really got the feeling that they’d have ran through a brick wall for each other and the supporters. In terms of individual players, Gary Jones will always be adored at the club for his leadership in that season- he epitomised everything that supporters want to see in a player.

For a perhaps more left-field choice, Omar Daley was someone I always loved watching in the dark days of League Two. He certainly wasn’t as talented as some of the players I’ve seen down at Valley Parade since, but in teams that were lacking in pretty much every area, he was always a bright-spark; someone who’d run at players and wasn’t afraid of doing something a little bit different.

We’ve also had some super talents on loan, who have been great to watch over the years- Jordan Pickford, Josh Cullen, Reece Burke and Adam Reach to name a few!

And who would have been allowed nowhere near Valley Parade?

Take your pick! When I was a kid watching us in League Two, we had some really poor teams and other than a few exceptions, I think most supporters would be more than happy to forget pretty much everyone from most of those sides. As for the opposition, Steve Evans has never been particularly welcome at Valley Parade!

What did you make of our sharp decline?

It was a real shame to see, although I can’t say I was surprised at your initial relegation from the Premier League. You’d obviously just about survived for a number of years and I think most neutral fans would have said they definitely saw that relegation coming (which I’m sure a lot of your own fans would agree with too!).

However, your relegation from the Championship last season did surprise me. Although I didn’t necessarily think you’d be fighting for an immediate return to the top-flight due to the highly competitive nature of the league, it was a shock to see you drop down to League One.

I think as a supporter of a club who has experienced a similar decline, it was a real shame to see and I’m sure most fans would sympathise with your current situation.

Any other thoughts of Sunderland  – the club, the fans, the first game earlier in the season , Jack Ross

I have always liked Sunderland as a club due to the fans and support that you receive. Even watching Premier League games on TV, it was always very easy to see that you’re a really passionate set of supporters and to see that the club means so much not only to the fans, but the City as a whole. I think there’s certainly something about a one club, working-class city which can make you have a bit of a soft spot for somewhere and I’ve always liked to see you do well because of that. I also think the fan initiatives of buying tickets for those less fortunate to attend the game on Boxing Day says an awful lot about the people of Sunderland and I have a lot of respect for that!

I thought your victory in the first game earlier in the season was fully deserved and although we didn’t play that badly, you could certainly see a gulf in class between the two sides. As for Jack Ross, I’d never watched his St Mirren side, but I know he was regarded as having done a very good job there and he appears to be continuing it with yourselves- but I can’t really say I know too much else about him.

Hand on heart where will our two clubs finish?

Sunderland- 2nd. I think you’ll finish behind Pompey and just above Luton and Peterborough.

As for Bradford, if you’d asked me two weeks ago, I’d have said somewhere between 22nd and 24th. However, I’m more optimistic now that we can survive and I’ll go with 19th- although the game against Scunthorpe on Saturday (21st Dec) is huge and if we lose that, I’ll be much more pessimistic again…

The enduring question. Will diving and other cheating ever be eliminated?

In short, no. I don’t think you’ll ever eliminate it as long as the punishments remain as they are. If you’re a player in the 90th minute of a derby and the scores 1-1, why wouldn’t you dive? The worst that can happen is that you get booked (or maybe a 3-game ban afterwards), but if you do get that ban- you’ve likely won a penalty that has won you the game!

I think teams care too much about winning for it ever to be truly eliminated and although it is unfortunate to see, it would be a real shame if football ever lost that competitive edge.

Will you be at our game? What will be the score?

I will be, yes. I’m driving up with a few mates and having never been to the Stadium of Light before so I’m really excited to see it! The fact that there’s already been 36,000 tickets sold means I’m optimistic for a really great atmosphere.

As for the score, as much as I’d love to see us cause an upset, we simply never seem to turn up in the ‘big’ league away games and I can’t see our albeit improving side being much of a match for you. 3-0 Sunderland.

* Nikhil Vekaria on himself:

I currently live and work in Sheffield, after finishing my degree here last year. However, I still have a City season ticket and try to get back as frequently as possible. I’ve always gone to home games with my dad (ever since he took me to Stuart McCall’s testimonial) and it’s a great chance to spend some time with him and the lads who sit next to us. I’ve also followed us all around the country and although I don’t manage to get too as many games now as I used too, I still hope to get to 8-12 away games this season.

Interview: Colin Randall

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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