On the Grill - "I suggested Chris for our last two appointments" - Rob Mason on Coleman and his Sunderland 11

Recently, I spoke to a club legend off the field: Rob Mason. Rob, as I’m sure you’re all aware, is the club historian and former editor of the official programme, junior black cats magazine and the Legion of Light. The latter two no longer exist after Rob, unwillingly, left the club at the end of last season. Not only that Rob is a decorated journalist and more recognised for his 30+ books, all of which are a great insight to the club and all are a great read. 
WAW: First of all what are your first memories of football matches?
Rob: “My first ever game was a youth game in the 1966/67 season, which my dad took me to, after that I was completely hooked. My first 1st team game we were 4-0 by 27 minutes and we won 7-1. We stood behind the goal in the Roker End as we couldn’t afford the seats; we’d go in the Roker End whether rain, snow or shine, I never missed a game at Roker Park. From 1967 when I was nine I was going to games every now and then but from towards the end of the 1969-70 relegation season I started going to all the home games and saw my first away game at Carlisle in October 1970.”

WAW: What were the best games, in your opinion, at Roker Park?
Rob: “28th December 1935, a bit before my time, we beat Arsenal 5-4, they’d been league champions for the previous three seasons and in the process of going for their fourth but Sunderland took the title off them and this match went a long way toward that. In my memory, it’d have to be the game v Man City in the ’73 cup run, although there’s been a few good ones!”
WAW: What have been your best memories at the Stadium of Light? 
Rob: “The first game against Ajax and then of course the first league game, a 3-1 win over Manchester City, Kevin Phillips’ debut. The games at the end of the Allardyce season are up there too, the 3-0 win over Everton to stay in the Premier League and the 3-2 win over Chelsea was absolutely fantastic. Other games have to be the 4-1 thrashing of Chelsea with the Quinn and Phillips braces. We drew 2-2 with Man United in the late 90s; Roy Keane had a fantastic game, one of the best performances from a visiting player. The Kieran Richardson free kick v Newcastle in 2008 was a great game and the play-off game against Sheffield United when Lionel Perez made a brilliant double save. The league game against Sheffield United earlier that season was also a cracker. The 2007 3-2 win against Burnley was tremendous, Carlos Edwards’ screamer has to be one of the best at the SoL.”
WAW: What are your three favourite Sunderland goals?
Rob: “3rd favourite would be Phillips’ chip v the Mags in the rain. That game signalled a change in football in the North East, changing from their dominance under Keegan in the early 90s. 2nd favourite would be Ian Porterfield’s FA Cup winning goal v Leeds in 1973 – that one needs no explaining! Finally, my favourite Sunderland goal would have to be Billy Hughes’ strike against Manchester City in the 1973 cup run at Maine Road, the one assisted by Dennis Tueart. That’s the goal I’ve run through my head to take my mind off what’s happening every time I’ve been to the dentists since then!”
WAW: As the programme editor; which captain was the best to interview?
Rob: “Bally without a shadow of a doubt. Kev was a great communicator and always gave the captain’s notes considerable thought; you could ask him one question and he’d effectively answer six or seven other questions. If you respected Bally, he’d respect you, all the quiet things he does for the club too. He’s got to be the best captain in my time doing this. Others would have to be Steven Caldwell and Gary Bennett.”
WAW: Who was your favourite manager in your time as programme editor?  
Rob: “No question, Peter Reid. I’ve worked with a hell of a lot of managers, I done the programme manager notes since the mid 80s and I liked most of them but Reidy has to be the best. The only exception to that was David Moyes, which I found very difficult. Denis Smith from a fans point of view as well though, he took over at our lowest point in history and took us from Division 3 to the top division.”
WAW: You mentioned Reidy there; did Premier Passions portray Reidy well as a manager?
Rob: “Yes and no really, I mean a television company can record 100 hours and only show 6 hours, they’ll only show the most noticeable bits. You could have a conversation with Peter without him swearing though! I spoke to him on the phone once and he was driving and he was perfectly fine in mid conversation, all of a sudden he went ballistic because he came to a toll road!”
WAW: On the subject of managers, what were your thoughts on McMenemy and Smith?
Rob: “We paid a huge sum to bring Lawrie McMenemy and I think everyone was happy with the appointment, although it proved to be a disaster for both parties. He had a good track record with Southampton, winning the cup in 1976 as massive underdogs; he tried to replicate what he done there by buying veterans but it just didn’t work out. Smith offered to pay compensation, out of his own pocket, to York City if he didn’t get promotion! Thankfully for everyone he did win promotion. He bought John MacPhail and John Kay, which gave us a rugged and solid defence. He also brought in Marco Gabbiadini and that made Eric Gates a better player, as he’d been poor before Marco’s arrival. 
WAW: As a fan of the club, who have been your favourite players?
Rob: “There have certainly been lots! Monty, Kevin Ball, Dennis Tueart, Len Ashurst, Gary Bennett, Gary Rowell, Julio Arca have got to be up there. Although they were before my time John Dillon, who played in the 60s and then people like Nick Sharkey became really good friends. I’m flattered to be a honourary member of the SAFC former players’ association too.”

WAW: What's your opinions on Chris Coleman? 

Rob: "I suggested Chris for our last two appointments. He believes we can change and he must have his eyes on promotion next season. Chris might give unlikely fresh starts to players who the fans might not have but he's a very capable man and he knows what he's doing. He needs a squad with commitment and ability, if they lack too much in one area they need to go, it's not always easy. Aiming for promotion will depend on a million things and every fan has their own opinion. We don't need a massive budget, look at Huddersfield who got promoted on the fourth lowest budget in the league; we need luck with injuries, commitment and good organisation, all of which I think Coleman can bring to Sunderland." 
WAW: If you had to pick a Sunderland 11 of players from the teams you’ve seen, who’d be in it?
Rob: “In goal would be my favourite Sunderland player ever: Jim Montgomery, Dariusz Kubicki at right back with Len Ashurst at left back. The two centre halves would be Charlie Hurley and Dave Watson with Bally in central midfield with Gary Rowell, who played most of his games there in his early career with us. On the wings would have to be Billy Hughes on the right and Dennis Tueart on the left; Quinny and Super Kev up front is a strike partnership unchallenged.”
WAW: If you had to pick a Sunderland 11 of all time, including players before your era, who would you pick?
Rob: “That’s really a tough one! However, Jim Montgomery must be in goal, that’s saying something as that puts him over Ted Doig from the 1890s. Right back would be Charlie Gladwin from the 1912-13 season, Dave Watson again at centre back with Charlie Thompson from the 1912-13 season. At left back would be Warney Cresswell, he played in the 1920s. My midfield three would be Len Shackleton, Jimmy Connor and Raich Carter. Winger Connor was said to have been the best player seen by former SAFCSA historian Billy Symonds who watched Sunderland in the 30s. The attacking line would consist of Charlie Buchan, Dave Halliday and of course Bobby Gurney. There’s no ball winner in the midfield but I don’t think anyone would get the ball off this team. If they did that is a rugged defence!”

Thank you for reading and a massive thank you to Rob for chatting with me. Rob now lives in Scotland and cannot get to all the away games like he used to but still makes every home match. Rob has put a great amount of time into writing books about Sunderland AFC, from goalkeepers to players of the year and you can buy some of Rob's books on Amazon. Some links below;

Share your thoughts on Twitter @WeAreWearside or with me @ethan_thoburn.

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