On the Grill: Former SAFC midfielder lifts the lid on horror injury & fractured relationship with manager

Kieron Brady played for Sunderland for five seasons between 1989 and 1993, playing over 40 games and scoring seven goals before his career ended early at the young age of 22 due to injury; in his short career Brady also represented Ireland internationally.


WAW: What are your earliest memories of football?


Kieron: “Playing incessantly in my back garden. Whilst this, in the main, did not offer game time as such it was wonderfully rewarding in allowing me the chance to constantly work with the ball and no doubt was of benefit in terms of pursuing a career.”


WAW: Who were your heroes growing up?


Kieron: “As a huge Celtic fan it would have initially been Kenny Dalglish, then Charlie Nicholas before he, like Dalglish, went to England to advance their careers. Beyond that however it would, without doubt, have been Maradona. He still, even with his well publicised issues, would still be an idol of sorts. In the main, my heroes would not be footballing people as such.”


WAW: How tough was it to become a footballer?


Kieron: “At the risk of sounding conceited, it was not. I appreciate that in interviews there is an expectation of humility but, equally, there is a desired honesty from any interviewee and, in hindsight, becoming a professional footballer required no conscious effort whatsoever. I do, however, believe that if I were able to maintain a career I would have had to make sacrifices to become a top, or world class, player on a consistent and annual basis. 

The compliments I have been fortunate enough to receive over many years have mostly centered around 'outstanding natural ability' or 'God given talent' and, in any walk of life; those blessed in such a manner can often ascend to the top of their field without much endeavor, certainly at a conscious level. It is one of the 'benefits' of natural talent and it is not different simply because it is football.”


WAW: What was it like to be expected to perform and what was the feeling like when you scored?


Kieron: “Being as young as I was I think I did not sense the expectations and that is not a bad thing. I was lucky that I got man of the match in my first 1st team game at Roker Park and the fans were incredible with me. That helped me no end and I have them to thank as much as any manager or coach for providing me with the confidence that allowed a career, even as brief as it was. Scoring is special, particularly decisive goals.”


WAW: What are your recollections of the West Ham and Port Vale games?


Kieron: “In respect of the former it would be elation that I had not only performed well but that we had won such an important but also entertaining game. West Ham were competing with us for a play off spot so to beat a competitor was pleasing but there is little doubt that my performance was very pleasing and to score my first goal for the club added to it. 

Denis Smith was complimentary to me afterwards but even then it felt it was with some reluctance. I was then made aware of the comments of others, Liam Brady who had played for West Ham in the game and subsequently kind remarks from various quarters who had been at the game. I am glad also that my family was present to see it and, all these years later, I am humbled that it seems to have been enjoyed for so many Sunderland fans. 

The Port Vale game was memorable but not with the same optimism as it were, we were performing poorly in the league and although, of course, scoring two as we came from 3-0 down to get a draw, is a happy moment at a personal level it was not set against a backdrop of the team moving in the right direction.”

WAW: What was your relationship with Denis Smith like?


Kieron: It was fractured, intimidating and, ultimately, nowhere near as productive as it should have been. I have to acknowledge that I was not living as an athlete should on a consistent manner, my diet was poor and social habits were incompatible with getting the best from me, both mentally and physically. That, however, was contributed to by his attitude towards me; this was manifest on occasion by personal attacks that were unwarranted. In retrospect, I do not think he had a dislike of me as such, I believe that he simply was incapable of offering the necessary personal management to get the best from me on a regular basis. 

To perhaps make it easier to understand - I went on loan to Doncaster for a month. I had never met the manager, Steve Beaglehole, before. I arrived at the stadium, was pointed to his office and upon meeting him and introducing ourselves his first comment was 'I can't believe I have you in my team'. He made me feel wanted, important and that I was central to his plans, even for a month. I loved playing for him and it was reflected in my performances and confidence in doing so.”


WAW: How did your injury impact you as a person and what were the affects of the injury?


Kieron: “At the time I did not feel there was anything notable in terms of changes to me as a person. My Mam, however, knew that the effects of it would be profound. In the aftermath of my operations I had been in intensive care and on life support. That, however, did not create emotional trauma that was comparable to not being able to play football again. 

Over time I have become much more philosophical about it and my time as a footballer in general. I played professionally for five years and that should be at the forefront of such reflection, not any embitterment about the ten or fifteen years that were denied. That is reinforced through living in Sunderland and being surrounded by people who would give so much to wear the strip once in a professional context. 

There is also, as twisted, as it may seem, a benefit to having not played as long as I could have and that is that the culture of the game can have detrimental effects to the human being. I cringe when I think of the way I acted when a footballer, it is wholly at odds with the person I now try to be. The physical effects of the condition are still there and always will be, my leg was left in such a condition that medical advice is that it should never be operated on again.”


WAW: After football, what have you been up to and are you still involved in the game?


Kieron: “I have, for the most part, worked within the field of anti-discrimination. This has included delivering hundreds of training days, becoming an expert witness in criminal proceedings and having the honour of becoming the first ever footballer to be Patron of Gay Pride. This area has always been a passion. 

I recall going to training one day as a teenager, wearing a t-shirt showing support for the African National Congress, and the bewilderment of team-mates at this teenage white boy showing support for the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. It was, therefore, great to see collaboration between Sunderland AFC and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, part of me thinking I was ahead of the game, ha. 

Latterly I have worked with the BBC on Sunderland matters, also engaged in work with Premier League Productions, this involves attending EPL games when I am not at the Stadium of Light on matchdays. I do not have any direct undertakings within football, certainly not in the playing operation. It has never been a desire; there are fraudulent and insincere aspects of football that I am contemptuous of.”


WAW: If you had to pick 11 players you played alongside in your career, who’d be in it?


Kieron: “That is difficult, not least because it is something I have never considered, nor been asked from memory. Tony Norman would be goalkeeper, a very good keeper whose international career was hindered only by being a compatriot of Neville Southall. Gary Kelly from Leeds would be at right back, Frank Gray at left back. In the middle would be Gary Bennett and Kevin Ball. If disallowed from selecting myself then a four in midfield would be Peter Beagrie, Roy Keane, Paul Bracewell and Colin Pascoe. A front two would be Duncan Ferguson and Marco Gabbiadini.”

WAW: Who was the best player you played against?


Kieron: “In terms of those I played against - it would be difficult to go beyond Zinedine Zidane or Luis Figo, certainly in relation to the careers they would go on to have. I can take some comfort from getting man of the match when playing against Zidane.”


WAW: In your opinion, do you think Sunderland will be in the Championship on the 6th May, and do you think the current squad is good enough?


Kieron: “Honestly, I do not know. I do not think the chances presently are better than 50/50. The squad looks weak mentally, it is very inexperienced in areas and until such time as there is a change in ownership and, critically, approach and sustainable ambition it is not going to change that much, certainly not to a club that is aspirational in a manner that I think a club of Sunderland's attributes should be. The club is much much more holiday camp than boot camp a in terms of meaningful ambition and without a transformative attitude it is destined to not change much for the better.”


WAW: Finally, what are your opinions on a fan led protest?


Kieron: “Justified if structured in a certain manner. Ultimately, however, it also seems somewhat belated as the objectives of such agitation have become restricted. If such a demonstration, in whatever form it takes, can compel the club to be proactive in securing new ownership then it could be worth pursuing. I do not think it will reinforce the desire of Ellis Short to withdraw emotionally; it is evident that we are already at that juncture. I would not want to see actions undertaken which may deter future ownership, there is always that risk even if coming from a position of honourable passion. 

The wording of the RAWA petition was excellent. The only part I would take issue with was "Sunderland supporters are a humble bunch, and we do not feel our club has a divine right to play at any particular level". 

The fans should 'feel' the club should be operating at the highest level. It does not mean they have a right to but given the stadium and support, both in terms of quality and quantity, they should expect a club that challenges at the elite level. The mentality has to be altered and significantly so, it has to be top down, consistent and exceed previous standards that, in my view, have tended to settle around mediocrity and an aura that informs players they can take things easy. 

I want to see a Sunderland player in years to come, when speaking about his time at the Stadium of Light saying that they did not like it because expectations were particularly high. I understand football fans enjoy seeing a former player expressing an opinion that they 'loved their time' at the club. It is always worth exploring why they loved it if there is veracity to their remarks.

I would love to see Sunderland in years to come replicating 1973 insofar as being part of a giant-killing FA Cup Final but with their role as the beaten team. It would of course be a disappointment on the day but it would represent something much more positive about the club if they were the giant who simply had an off day as it were.


Massive thanks to Kieron Brady for talking to me and taking the time to speak to me.

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

Thanks for reading and all the best.

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