Photography: Action Images


Bird: Because Adnan Januzaj has lived here for five years we should not turn him into an Englishman

Ball: The most important thing about young players is their attitude

Dunn: It will be hard for Manchester United not to brand Old Trafford

Cass: Everyone thought Joe Kinnear was the most idiotic appointment anybody could ever make, but Mike Ashley still did it

Harper: I think we’d win the World Cup if we had a team of taxi drivers

Young: Martin O’Neill said Ireland will look through the Guinness drinkers of the Barclays Premier League to see who is qualified

The latest FWA Live, sponsored by Barclays, was held at Lumley Castle in Chester-Le-Street, Durham.

The panel comprised Simon Bird (north-east football correspondent of the Daily Mirror), Kevin Ball (Sunderland’s senior development coach), Andy Dunn (chief sports writer for the Sunday Mirror and FWA chairman), Bob Cass (Mail On Sunday), Steve Harper (who joined Hull City last summer after 20 years with Newcastle United) and Colin Young (Daily Mail). The MC was FWA executive secretary Paul McCarthy.

The second half of the event saw the panel answer questions from a packed audience. As usual, no punches were pulled.

I am petrified by thought of Joe Kinnear – what is he there for?

Bird: [the main recipient of Joe Kinnear’s infamous foul-mouthed tirade at a press conference in October 2008 when he swore 52 times]: He’s Mike Ashley’s best mate, they meet in the pub. Mike wants some eyes and ears at the training ground to know what’s going on. These days, if you are going to do a transfer deal, it’s a very complicated thing because there is so much to negotiate and I don’t see how Joe Kinnear is the right man to do that. He’s there as a spy for Mike Ashley, to check on what’s happening, not as serious figure as director of football.


McCarthy: Does anyone take him [Joe Kinnear] seriously, Colin?

Young: Mike Ashley takes him seriously. I was not alone in fearing for Alan Pardew…it just seemed to be a natural progression if they had a poor start, you sensed Pardew was one bad result from the sack and Kinnear would be the next manager. Thankfully the barriers seem to have be drawn with lines in the sand for people’s roles fairly well established. That has given Pardew a little more security. I think that has been reflected by the quality on the pitch because players need that security, too.

Cass: The appointment of Joe Kinnear reflected what Mike Ashley thinks of the people who support Newcastle United. He was saying: “It’s my club, I’ll do what I want.” And he does what he wants. The local papers took him on and Ashley doesn’t give two monkeys for them so there was only one outcome [he banned them]. If he wants to appoint Joe Kinnear then he will. The rest of us, we all thought it was the most idiotic appointment anybody could ever make, but he still did it.  Any job at Newcastle is there at the whim of Mike Ashley. Alan Pardew, anybody. If he wants them out he’ll get them out. He can do what he wants, he can appoint Joe Kinnear, it’s the way he runs the club.

McCarthy: When you were at the News Of The World, Andy, you spent a day with Joe…

Dunn: There is no doubt Kinnear still thinks he still belongs in the game. He loves it and believes he has something to offer. The majority may think he’s deluded, but he believes it and he’s convinced Mike Ashley of it, too. What I will say is Ashley is not daft, you don’t build the business he has or do as well as him commercially to make decisions purely, as Bob suggests, to piss people off. There must be some method in what he’s doing. If he annoys the fans by doing this, maybe he wants to remind them he’s running the club, he’s doing it his way and he has to think it’s a successful way. He’s not a respecter of heritage or tradition, he’s a businessman, but I cannot believe he doesn’t think there is some benefit to be had in appointing Joe Kinnear. Maybe he does want someone who is his eyes and ears – businesses tend to think they want someone like that.

Harper: He was there briefly as manager when I was there. Yes, he is quite a likeable guy, but if he was going to be Newcastle United manager again he would have been be by now. If Alan Pardew does lose his job then Joe Kinnear might be interim, but he won’t be next manager. Ashley will appoint somebody.

A lot of Newcastle United fans would ask about the Hall and Shepherd families taking so much money out of club. Mike Ashley, for all his faults, took the club over when they were not doing very well, he came in at a time when Newcastle were on their knees…

Cass: There have been arguments between [Newcastle United] fans and board ad infinitum. Newcastle were never winning anything when John Hall took over [in the early Nineties] and his regime lifted them them to heights they had never experienced in their post-War history.

Bird: They paid themselves about £600,000 a year and with shareholdings it came to £1.2 million a year. One thing you can say about Mike Ashley is that he spent £133 million in buying the club, he cleared the debts and put £140 million into the club interest free.

Cass:  He would probably take the chance to make money if right offer came along, so let’s not think he’s doing it for the benefit of his health. He’s a philanthropist just like the Halls were. I, personally, persuaded John Hall to come into Newcastle United. Under the Hall regime, they brought Kevin Keegan into the club, they came second [in 1995/96 and 1996/97 in the Carling Premiership]. All the good things that have happened since…don’t run down what the Halls did for Newcastle United Football Club. OK, they took money out of it, but the Halls gave Newcastle a team they’d never had before [applause from audience].

Harper: When you are qualifying for the Champions League people will over look the accounts. When it’s not going too well, that’s when you come under more scrutiny.

What does Steve think about the Hull Tigers? Owner Assem Allam wants to change the name…

Harper: The fans can say they do not want name changed, but if you own a club you can do what you want.  My contract says I signed for Hull City FC. Whether he is a visionary and knows where football is going I don’t know. He’s trying to change the brand awareness to put Hull on the map and I would be surprised if it goes through.

Dunn: There was a major furore when Vincent Tan [Cardiff owner] changed the colours of Cardiff. There is nothing more fundamental than that and clearly people were unhappy, but they got promoted and they are seeing Cardiff play Manchester United and Manchester City. Protests only surface you are not doing well. When you move like Arsenal or Manchester City did, it is not rebrabnding a stadium because they were new grounds. Going forward, it will be hard for Manchester United not to brand Old Trafford.

McCarthy: Is there any loyalty in football?

Young: In this region football is an essential part of people’s life. There is something unique about the area…you sign up a contract for life with the club [you support]. The lack of respect from the current regime at Newcastle has caused so many problems. If they [players] move only for money then their loyalty is to their back pocket.

Harper: Newcastle’s structure is to find young, cheaper players, improve them and sell them for more money. Cheick Tiote, in first season, was brilliant, then he had a few people in his ear telling him how good he was and  in training he started to go walkabouts, trying things he can’t do. Once he was on the left wing, Coloccini stopped the game and said: “You play here,” pointing to central midfield. Now he is back to winning the ball and giving it. In July 2009 [after relegation to the Championship] we were battered [6-1] at Leyton Orient [pre-season]. The players had a meeting after the game and we said to everyone: “Tell us now, who does not want to play in this league? Just put your hand up and we’ll tell the manager.” A few put their hands up and we said to them: “Just give your all until you go,” but we knew rest were totally committed to Newcastle United.

Cass: I have reported north-east football for nearly 50 years. I’m fed up with failure. I’d like the teams to start winning. Kevin Keegan said he thought Newcastle United fans would rather see the team lose 4-3 than win 1-0. I was at that famous game [at Liverpool] when Newcastle lost 4-3 and I didn’t feel any great elation. Winning 1-0 wins you the title, losing 4-3 gets you relegated.

I’m a Sunderland fan, do you you think smaller clubs get the worst of refereeing decisions?

Ball:  No I don’t think so. It’s what people would like to think and at times and we tend to look at it this way to make us feel better.

Dunn: It seems that way often because bigger clubs have more of the game, they attack more so a referee would have to make, say, half a dozen decisions for Manchester United in the opposing penalty area and perhaps one for the team they are playing against. The law of averages suggests they are going to get the benefit of any decision because they put themselves in that position more often than their opponents.

Harper:  I think it’s more a home and away issue than big and small clubs. You think you might get a penalty at St James’ but maybe you would not get it away from home. Andy made a very good point when he said the better teams have the better players so create more chances in and around the penalty area, so they will get more penalties.

What more could be done for England at a younger level to help the senior side?

Harper:  I think we’d win the World Cup if we had a team of taxi drivers because every taxi driver I have had is a brilliant player, an unbelievable footballer tactically and technically.

Young: Are England really expected to win the World Cup in Brazil? It will be drummed up by media that England should be competing, even coming back with the World Cup. The reality is no European team has won it in South America and given the quality of some of the opposition we’ve already seen at Wembley, if England get to the quarter-finals I’d say it would be a good campaign. On a wider basis, in the German and Spanish leagues 80 per cent of the players are German and Spanish, in the Barclays Premier League 80 per cent of the players are foreigners. This is something we must look at.

Cass: Roy Hodgson has done what he was appointed for, getting England qualified for the World Cup. As far as winning it, we have no chance. We are not developing young players, the kind of young players who will enable us to win the World Cup.

Ball: A problem is giving them their chance. There are special ones who come through like Jordan Henderson at Liverpool. I’m blowing my own trumpet here because when he was 17 I said Jordan [who was with Sunderland between 2008 and 2011] would play for England [he has seven caps]. Generally, I don’t think we have a good enough pathway to the first team for young players. Results these days make it difficult to give younger players their chance. We allow them to drop down to lower leagues too quickly and the technically good find it difficult to survive whereas the more physical players can. The most important thing, though, is their attitude. If they have a poor attitude they aren’t going to make it. They must have the attitude to make themselves better. I remember Michael Bridges when he was a young player at Sunderland, what I liked about him was that he was cock-sure with a fantastic talent. People would say to him: “You’re a great player.” I would say: “No, he’s not yet. He has the potential to be a great player.” Sometimes we put that label on young players too early.

Dunn:  At the Liverpool FWA Live event, [Everton coach] Alan Stubbs said one of their problems is they have a lot of good young players yet agents come in and want them to have a contract for two grand a week at 17. They’ve not played in first team, but still want two grand a week. If you give them that contract, what will their mentality be?

Ball: Do they need agents at that age? I don’t think so. If you give a player too much too soon it can dull his appetite for the game.

Should Adnan Januzaj play for England?

Bird: I’m not sure if we should go down that road. If you’ve come here as a youngster, fine. But because he’s lived here for five years should we turn him into an Englishman? No.

Young:  [New Republic if Ireland manager] Martin O’Neill said they will look through the Guinness drinkers of the Barclays Premier League to see who is qualified. It’s what Ireland did to great effect in the Jack Charlton era. In other sports fewer questions are asked, why football seems to be above that I don’t understand.

Dunn: Januzaj [born in Belgium of a Kosovan father and an Albanian mother] has no single national identity. If in five years he wants citizenship why shouldn’t he play for England?

Cass:  If he scores the winning goal in the World Cup final I won’t care where he comes from.

You should only be able to represent the country you were born in.

McCarthy: Mo Farrah [who came to England from Somalia when he was eight]? That is different to adopting someone because they could make the England team better.

He [Farrah] is not English. It demeans world sport if you can bring people in from other countries.

Harper: If a dog’s born in a stable it does not mean it’s a horse. If someone with, say, Scottish or Irish parents was born in England, they would be no less Scottish or Irish.

How worried should we be by the recent match fixing allegations?

Bird: It is worrying,  but I do not see it happening at the top level where the rewards are so great. I think we are talking more spot fixing like sendings-off rather than the match. It’s easier for player on £300 a week to be bribed by 10 grand.

Dunn: They are more likely to target Conference games where 10 grand is a lot of money. But it could creep up the pyramid and there are players in financial difficulty who could be targeted. The person who can influence most is the referee.

Cass: If you are going to fix a game there is only one player who can do it – the goalkeeper.

Gus Poyet wants total control over transfers at Sunderland. What’s going on?

Ball: That’s above my remit, I do not have any idea how the first team take things forward.

Bird: Poyet told us he has three targets for January and if he rejects a player and they [Sunderland have a director of football, Roberto de Fanti] sign one, he won’t be Sunderland manager.

What is the panel’s view on [Sunderland chairman] Ellis Short?

Young:  He is trying to do things that are right for the football club. He felt Martin O’Neill could not get the points [to survive relegation last season] and made a fairly unusual appointment [Paolo di Canio]. The gamble paid off by virtue of staying up, but it subsequently backfired. I don’t know who is advising him, who is putting these names forward. Behind the scenes, the loss of Niall Quinn was massive, to lose that influence on a daily basis was always going to be big for a club like Sunderland. There are criticisms to be made of Sunderland just like Newcastle.



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