On the Grill: "I just wanted to produce for the fans" Ethan meets Lee Howey!

Recently, I spoke to former Sunderland centre half Lee Howey. Lee played over 75 times for Sunderland between 1993 and 1997, scoring 8 league goals. He was signed by Terry Butcher but played most games under Peter Reid. Most of his appearances under Butcher were off the bench before a good run of games under Reid. Born a Sunderland fan, Howey lived every fan’s dream to pull on the red and white shirt. 

WAW: What got you into football and who were your heroes growing up? 

Lee: “There was nowt else to do really! At the time you either played or you didn’t, I used to just kick a ball around with my mates and then eventually realised I was half decent. When I was 11, I played at Wembley with St Cuthbert’s school in a 6-a-side match in the Smith’s crisps tournament before England v Scotland schoolboys. As for players, Gary Rowell was my hero, Shaun Elliott, Stan Cummins and Joe Bolton I also looked up to.”


WAW: What were your first memories of going to the match?

Lee: “We played Man United in 1974 in the old Second Division, it was a 0-0 draw and it chucked it down with snow! 

WAW: What was it like to turn professional and then sign for Sunderland, your hometown club?

Lee: “I signed for Ipswich but I got injured when playing and I was told I’d never play again at the time. I left to get it treated and John Lyle asked if I wanted to go back and play for them but Sunderland had offered me a trial. I was going to play in a reserves game for Sunderland against Newcastle, and after that, if I wanted to, could go back down to Ipswich. We ended up beating them 4-1 and I managed to grab a goal; I signed the contract at the full time whistle, something I’d always dreamt of.”

WAW: How did it feel to play for Sunderland and then to score your first goal?

Lee: “I used to suffer from terrible anxiety when I played for Sunderland, I never felt that when playing for other clubs; I think it was because I just wanted to produce for the fans, being one myself. My first goal was in Gary Bennett’s testimonial against Rangers, at the Fulwell End. I scored my first competitive goal against Birmingham, a left footed curler and it really mattered – I was so proud afterwards.”

WAW: You played most of your games under Peter Reid and were a feature in the Premier Passions season, was that a good reflection of Reidy?

Lee: “Yes! Peter was the best manager I ever played under and Bobby dealt with the day to day stuff. Reidy was great tactically, in training and on the pitch, we played some exciting football in that era.”

WAW: After Sunderland you moved on to Burnley, what were your experiences like after Roker Park?

Lee: “I signed for Chris Waddle at Burnley and it just didn’t work out for him there. Reidy didn’t want me to leave but I wanted first team football. I ended up finishing at Northampton which was a good experience before going into non-league.”

WAW: Being a Sunderland fan yourself, what are your thoughts on the transfer situation?

Lee: “The fact is we’re shopping in the bargain basement rather than M&S so we have to trust Coleman with his opinion, and decisions. The business he’s done so far we cannot really make a judgement on, as we haven’t seen much of them; LuaLua hasn’t played in over a year but Clarke-Salter looks tidy and is certainly an improvement at the back. We certainly need to sell to buy, I think Ndong is out the door but we only have until Wednesday to wrap anything up.”

WAW: You mentioned a departure there, can you see anyone else leaving and what do we need to bring in?

Lee: “I think Ndong will be the only one to go out, hopefully Rodwell will leave and that may free up some wages. I think Kone will stay until the end of the season at least; he’s been making the right noises recently and says he’s dedicated to the team, but we certainly need commitment not just from him, but everyone. I think we need a goalkeeper, although Ruiter has improved, we need a back up, as none of us trust Steele. Priority has got to be a striker as Maja and Asoro need help up front, we need experience at both ends of the pitch; I think Chris Martin would be a great signing if we could get him.”

WAW: Do you think playing the youth players is the right way to go?

Lee: “To be honest, from the under 23s games last season, I think anyone who could make it is around the team now. Robson had a great game against Hull as did the two lads up front but overall, I think anyone who could make it has made it.”

WAW: Where do you think we’ll go from now?

Lee: “I think relegation is possible but the league is so close and I look at the situation as glass half full so any slight change can change the course completely. Coleman has a system and we have to invest in it and believe in it. A couple of new faces can completely change our season. I think it’s incredible we actually got Chris. We sacked Grayson at the right time, he was a good appointment at the start of the season for me but his hands were tied and just couldn’t get the players to play for him.”

WAW: If you had to pick a Sunderland 11 of players you played alongside and grew up watching, who’d be in there?

Lee: “In goal Shay Given, closely followed by Tony Norman, at right back would be Shaun Elliott, the two centre backs would be Ord and Allardyce with Joe Bolton at left back. In the midfield would be Stan Cummins, Claudio Maragoni, Chris Waddle and Gordon Armstrong, he’ll like that! Up front it’d have to be Gary Rowell and Frank Worthington.”

WAW: You have your new book out ‘Massively Violent and Decidedly Average’ can you tell us a bit about that?

Lee: “It’s not like any other autobiography, in fact it’s a memoirs rather than an autobiography. It doesn’t just focus on the good times, I talk about the dressing room bust ups, not always including myself, the fights and arguments with managers. It’s what people want to read about, a few funny stories and that sort of stuff, as well as life outside of football.”

WAW: How can we pick up a copy of your book?

Lee: "I’m doing a book launch at the Peacock (formally the Londonderry) on Monday February 5th at 7:30, you can get a copy there or email me lhowy69@icloud.com.

You can contact Lee on Twitter @lee_howey69 or like his Facebook page, where you can also get a copy. I’d like to thank Lee for talking to me and answering so honestly, all the best to him with his new book that looks great.

You share your thoughts on Twitter with me @ethan_thoburn or @WeAreWearside

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