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Roker Report Meets... Kieron Brady

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Kieron Brady is someone still fondly remembered by fans that watched Sunderland in the late 1980's and early 1990s. Having met the man personally I'd be amazed if a more intellectual and well-thought human being has ever represented the red and white shirt - today we spoke to Kieron to look over his football career, which was cruelly cut short by injury, Sunderland's ingrained lack of ambition and more.

Take us back… you’re eighteen years of age, and having grown up in Glasgow you’re suddenly thrust into the spotlight as a first team footballer at Sunderland. How did you adjust to ‘becoming a man’, so to speak? Was living on your own in the North East something you found difficult, or did you thrive on it?

It was problematic in the first year, I was homesick for a period even though I enjoyed playing, and training.

Beyond that, and in familiarising myself with the people and the area I settled and of course developed an affinity with the town and city. This is perhaps best illustrated in the decision to live here.

Did you always envisage that you’d become a professional footballer?

In terms of visualising then yes, in thinking of it I could not take it for granted. I had played in a match in Holland when I was twelve and my then manager had taken me to one side after the game and informed me I would play at the highest level.

I was subsequently told similar over the ensuing years and whilst profoundly appreciative of such remarks it can also engender complacency.

Speaking of you in his autobiography, Denis Smith said, ‘Far too many people have never heard of Kieron Brady. He had the talent of a Gascoigne or a Best, and a wayward nature to match. He was that good – and bad. That lad had more talent than anybody I ever managed’. Michael Gray, the ex-Sunderland full back, was quoted as saying that you were ‘the most talented footballer he ever saw’.

How does it feel now, looking back, knowing just how highly thought of you were by people within the game?

Such comments are always nice, that people within the game can think of you in such glowing terms is testament to your attributes. In many ways I would reciprocate the thoughts of Denis Smith by indicating he was that kind....and that unkind. I can appreciate the pressures he operated under as Sunderland manager, I can however recall some of the things he said and done far from the public gaze.

It would seem daft to speak without mentioning your performance against West Ham in 1990 that firmly cemented you into Sunderland folklore. Just how often do Sunderland fans speak to you about that game, and how much pride does it give you knowing that something you did will always be remembered by the Sunderland supporters?

It is a truly wonderful memory, the reaction from supporters surrounding the match is symptomatic of the affection I was fortuitous enough to receive from the broad Sunderland support.

Even though you played your part in Sunderland’s run to the cup final in 1992 you were not named in the side that took part that day, nor were you one of the players on the substitute’s bench. Thinking selfishly, was that difficult to take, or were you just happy for the team that they were able to take part in such a massive occasion?

The honest answer would be that disappointment was the primary emotion. The team dynamic was, for me, at its most evident after the semi-final. We had a joyous time after the game with the supporters on the pitch and then on the journey back from Sheffield as we jigged up and down the aisle of the bus to the Irish music that had become something of a lucky mascot.

What are your memories of that cup run?

Being involved in every round, even in a peripheral role is a great memory to have. On a personal level relating to playing then the replay at West Ham is favourable, being able to provide the assist for David Rush’s winner was fantastic, especially as the momentum was very much with West Ham.

The last time Roker Report spoke to you was in August 2011, and much has changed since then. In that interview you noted that Sunderland needed to improve their global image if they were to become more than just a lower-end Premier League team. In that time the club seem to have explored various avenues without actually striking gold (the Invest in Africa and Bidvest partnerships spring to mind) – do you think now, five years on, it’s still just as important for the club to aim to become a bigger presence globally, or do our intentions, at least short term, need to lie elsewhere?

The club, if genuinely aspirational, have to ensure they have a meaningful and sustainable global presence. The diversity within the playing operation of Premier League clubs is such that it is imperative that players globally, upon thinking of Sunderland AFC, have an instinctive perception that is favourable.

Unfortunately, and naturally owing to perennial struggles, the perception, certainly in part, is of a club that dances around the Championship trapdoor and which is highly unlikely to challenge consistently for European places without some form of metamorphosis.

In that interview you also noted that the club should be aiming to become a top eight club for the forthcoming season – sadly, the summer transfer window was a bad one and it wasn’t long until Steve Bruce lost his job. Many see that season as a defining point for why the club has notably regressed since. Why do you think Sunderland seem to be unable to move on from being a side that constantly battles against relegation?

The club is still saddled with many of the drawbacks that existed during my time. The evolution of the game may mean we have swapped standing for seating, fierce financial exchanges may now rage with additional zeros and Sunderland may now trade in millions instead of thousands.

No ambition, however, is still no ambition and when you release DVD’s that celebrate beating relegation then do not endeavour to convey a message to the broad footballing public that this is a club that sees itself within the elite, be that nationally or globally. When the last five managers have been out of work when appointed it hardly illustrates that you are getting a ‘number one target’, this reflects ambition as much as the preparedness for excessive expenditure.

I would also however cite the inaction of the broad fanbase as being contributory. I hope that this is absorbed in the spirit I intend it but the loyalty of the fans is contributory to the blase attitude that successive boards can take and maintain. Why reach for the stars when the ‘customers’ seem content with barely getting off the ground?

I would like to see greater agitation from supporters, a more structured, organisational and unifying approach from fan groups to desire and demand a meaningful and sustainable change that is not necessarily about, or exclusive to, personnel in the club but that attempts to completely transform the ethos of the club in relation to being so accepting of irrefutable mediocrity.

Another thing you stated in your last chat with Roker Report was that Paul Bracewell was the best player that you ever played with. These days, of course, Lé Brace is part of Sam Allardyce’s close backroom team at Sunderland and was also a confidant of the previous manager Dick Advocaat. Knowing what you know from playing with him, what sort of things do you think Paul will bring to the day-to-day running of the football club?

A wealth of experience, certainly a calmness and composure if his coaching is a reflection of his playing abilities. With respect to the Sunderland side I played in, Paul Bracewell would not have played in it if injury had not taken root to the point it did detract from the player he was and could have been. Let us not forget this was someone central to what many Everton fans believe was their greatest ever side, title winners, FA Cup winners and successful in Europe.

I noticed recently that you do a bit of coaching within the community. Is that something you enjoy particularly, and is coaching an avenue you’d like to go down and progress in going forward?

I enjoy it but it is not a great passion compared to other aspects of my life. Working within the field of Equality is, arguably always has been, what gives me the greatest pleasure and sense of fulfillment. Football was great, I will always recall with great warmth the affection offered by the Sunderland fans and wider public but entertaining people on a Saturday is nothing compared to effecting peoples’ lives every day of the week, notably many who are amongst the most vulnerable within our society.

Thanks again to Kieron for his time. You can catch up with what Kieron does these days by visiting www.cici.org.uk.