For those of us involved with this site, Roker Report is a labour of love – with a lot more emphasis on 'labour' than we'd like! But last week, when our regular interview guru Dan Williams approached me with an opportunity to fire some questions at Kieron Brady, the emphasis shifted dramatically back towards 'love'. Kieron was one of Roker Park's last great mavericks. An entertaining flair player who played the game with a captivating dark charisma and who was almost certainly destined for a special career in the game had fate dealt him a better hand.
So, naturally, I jumped at the opportunity and the man didn't disappoint. In fact, Kieron proved almost as captivating on paper as he was on the pitch.
Kieron: Memories tend to fade in all honesty, certainly regarding the finer details of the game. It will always be a special game from a personal perspective as I scored my first goal for the club. If the game has a place in the folklore of the club then I am grateful that I could give something back to supporters who were, and are to this day, extremely kind and complimentary about me.
You had something of a reputation for enjoying a drink a little too much in your playing days. Do you feel that reputation was fair, or was it simply a case of Chinese whispers?
Kieron: I think there is a justification in forming that view. I was young and in retrospect I did act in a manner at times which was incompatible with being a professional footballer and athlete. I believe that certain stories were embellished and exaggerated but it is irrefutable that I had a lot to learn about being a footballer both on and off the field and also as a person. It can be difficult, in particular for younger players, to remain grounded as they take their first tentative steps in the world of the professional game and there is always the possibility of such players being susceptible to excesses and to that end I have to acknowledge some failings.
Is there any one moment that stands out to you as the highlight of your career?
Kieron: As a Sunderland player then the West Ham game would be the highlight, basically for the reasons outlined. In a wider context then representing Ireland brought a great sense of pride for both myself and my family. Aside from that I was very fortunate to receive such glowing testaments to my ability as a player.
What was your relationship like with Denis Smith? There were a few rumours of, shall we say, 'creative differences', back in the day.
Kieron: There was a constant fragility to our relations. I was perhaps too impatient in my desire to be a regular starter and such youthful arrogance perhaps clouded my judgement to a degree. In saying that I believe that Denis may also, in hindsight, believe that he could have adopted a different approach in his man to man management and that may have produced a more effective and consistent performer.
Who was the best player you played with at Sunderland?
Kieron: I would say Paul Bracewell, simply because he had such a calming influence on players, myself included, around him.
Are you still in regular contact with any of the lads?
Kieron: Through doing anti-racism work I speak with Gary (Bennett). That aside then no, not in any regular capacity.
Following your early retirement, it was reported that you had taken legal action against the club in the belief that they failed to properly diagnose and treat the condition that cost you your career. At this stage of your life looking back, do you still feel the club let you down?
Kieron: Without a doubt. If however the wider picture is looked into then it illustrates that in certain parts of the club there was an unprofessional approach and it impacted adversely on various individuals. Such amateurism may not have been career defining for most but in this more professional era there were certain features that were evident at the club then that were unimaginable for a club of Sunderland's stature.
Just how challenging, perhaps on a personal level, was it to suddenly find yourself out of the game after being so widely tipped for a great career. What can you tell us about your transition from footballer to your current ventures?
Kieron: It was very difficult to absorb and took a significant period of time to come to terms with. That was exacerbated by the fact that there seemed to be so many opining that a very promising and prosperous career lay ahead of me. In time I have however become more philosophical about it, in the ensuing years there was a constant emotion whereby I bemoaned what I perceived to be the injustice of it all. I struggled to reconcile any point in having, reportedly, this wonderful natural talent in my left foot whilst all the while there were blockages in my right which would ultimately bring a premature end to my playing days. Now I am extremely appreciative that I managed to play the game professionally for five years, and in that period managed to enjoy a wonderful rapport with such outstanding supporters.
Tell us a little more about your 'Celebrate Identity, Challenge Intolerance' organisation...
Kieron: It came about through working in the areas of anti-racism and Social Justice. I enjoy working in this area and it is something I am passionate about. I had an early awareness of racism impacting upon the Irish community in Scotland and was brought up with a strong anti-racist outlook. Through working in anti-racism I learnt that prejudice and discrimination affects many people outwith perceptions of race and consequently I decided to form my own Equality and Diversity consultancy. We have just completed an e-learning programme which is available to employers and that has taken up a great deal of time of late. Aside from that we deliver personal training around these issues.
We are at www.cici.org.uk incidentally.
How often do you watch Sunderland now, and how do you think the club are progressing?
Kieron: I do not tend to go to football games but am still an avid fan. The club are making progress but they are confronted by an increase in spending elsewhere and that only increases the difficulties in getting into the top 6 on a regular basis. I said in an interview a year or so ago that the club has to endeavour to enhance its brand on a global level. Sunderland AFC being an instantly recognisable name is as important in places ranging from Algeria to Australia and China to Colombia as it is closer to home. With such multi-national workforces, particularly within the playing operation, it is imperative that the club endeavours to have a status that is comparable with other Premiership clubs.
And finally, to put you on the spot, what do you think the upcoming season has in store for Sunderland fans?
Kieron: That is largely contingent on how long it takes the numerous signings to settle individually and gel collectively. The standard of player the club now attempts to acquire has undoubtedly got better but we also have to consider that other clubs who aspire to European places, notably the Champions League positions already have in place a nucleus of top class and world class players. Personally I think that reaching the top 8 would be an excellent achievement but may ultimately prove fruitless, certainly to a degree, if European football does not come as a result. With the stadium the club has, and the support both in terms of quality and quantity, it is the least it and they deserve.
We'd like to send huge thanks to Kieron for letting us speak to him, and strongly suggest that you take a visit to www.cici.org.uk and get involved with a very worthwhile and important cause.