RR: Who do you think was your best central midfield partner?
Gavin McCann. He was a very unassuming fella, very quiet, but a really good football player. I always liked playing alongside Bally; you know what you’re going to get with him. I loved playing against Bally when he was at Pompey. We were both guys in that mind set of I’m going to hammer that guy today.
We had players like Schwarzy, you had Eric Roy and players like that as well - you had challengers.
One of the best things that ever happened was when Niall Quinn negotiated a win bonus after we got promoted. It was substantial, it was more than my weekly wage and I would kick my Granny to win that. It was all geared up to incentivise, and who knows, if they’d just raised my weekly wage I could have went off the rails again. It worked perfectly, because whoever it was - Gavin, Bally, Schwarz or Roy - I was thinking I’m getting in that f**kin’ team man because I want that money. I was on my arse at the time.
Every time we got a win though in that period, the lads would put £200 into a slush bucket each and give the money to one of the members of staff like John Cooke the kit man, or Micky ‘Fingers’ the masseur, as a gift. So what that creates is that togetherness, an environment where everyone’s objectives were the same. You had the players fighting like f**k for a win and rewarding the staff if they did. We were all in it together.
Nowadays you have players sitting on their arse and earning 30k a week basic. There’s the difficulty for the modern manager. The game has changed - It’s day and night.
It’s easy for me to say as an old school guy because there wasn’t a culture of clubs in say China offering massive amounts of money in my time, which obviously makes your head turn if you’re a modern day footballer. The game has changed alot.
RR: You never got a cap for Scotland, despite playing top level football for almost your entire career. Why do you think that was?
AR: (Laughing) Listen... that was partly my fault. Without going into too much detail, I was playing in the Under-21s - Craig Brown was the Manager at the time - and we had a disagreement and I said some things I shouldn’t have said. Lo and behold, he became the Manager of the national team and I couldn’t get in. It’s regrettable, because I was playing against the likes of Vieira, Petit, Keane, Scholes week in week out and I could have got into the team. I don’t lose too much sleep over it, though.
RR: You played a big role in a successful derby games against Newcastle - you’re also a Glasgow man and have played in the Old Firm. Which game is bigger?
AR: I’ll always say Rangers. I was born and bred into that rivalry. I’m a Rangers boy. To put into context what that game means for me, my first Old Firm I played, they built it up as me versus Neil Lennon a little bit. I went in for a tackle on him in the second minute and tore my calf. I looked at the bench and gave the bench the that’s me done look, but I wouldn’t bow down. I took a couple of paracetamol and I played the full ninety minutes with a torn calf. I ended up being out for eleven weeks after that. It meant that much to me - I had waited all my life to get into that game. After I recovered (from that injury) one of the first games after that was against them at Ibrox. We hadn’t beaten them in eighteen months or so and we beat them. That meant the world to me (to beat Celtic).
But let me tell you about Sunderland Newcastle, and this is no bullshit.
I remember the game in the rain when Kev scored. It was an unbelievable experience. It was loudest game I’ve ever been involved in. There was only 36,000 in the ground and only about 400 were Sunderland fans up in the Gods. My wife was there in amongst them too.
I’ll never forget it. Coming in through the entrance, the rain was bouncing off the ground so heavy. I remember as you come into St James, you have to walk up and then around to get to ground level. I was walking in and the hairs were standing up on the back of my neck, and I remember thinking I can’t wait to get the f**k into these tonight. That was a phenomenal night. I remember the pictures of me and Bally, wee Kev celebrating.
RR: Pretty much your entire period here was successful – but what was personally your best memory from your time at the club?
AR: There’s a couple that I remember. The back to back seventh place finishes are probably the main ones, though. It was Sunderland’s most successful period for fifty to sixty years. If you consider where we were when I got there, in terms of dynamics - Roker Park 18,000 crowds to the Stadium of Light 46,000 every week - that was a brilliant achievement.
I never wanted to leave Sunderland. I had a big beautiful house in Durham city centre. They used to call me the Lord Mayor of Durham because I’d walk around with my big Alsatian dog and I’d wave to everybody, because the atmosphere around the club and the fans was great at the time.
I got injured late on in the season before I was sold; Adrian Heath came up to me and said he thought I could have won Player of the Year if I hadn’t got injured. I recovered early next season, came back and they sold me. I don’t know why, maybe they wanted to make some profit on me when they could; maybe I had been there too long. Wolves came in and they offered me a contract where the basic was what I was earning if I got all the incentives at Sunderland - the bid was accepted and so I went to Wolves, but it was through gritted teeth.
RR: Finally, we’ve a Glaswegian in charge of the club just now. Have you had a chance to get down to Sunderland recently? What do you think of David Moyes and the current team?
AR: I was at the Chelsea game where they lost 0-1. The start of the season has made it difficult - they couldn’t buy a win. Davey has the experience though and I think with him they have a good chance. I think they’ve been given £15m to spend in January, and if they can get Defoe a bit of help in terms of scoring goals with that, it’ll make a massive difference.
They’ve got a guy in there that I know well from my time at Rangers - Martin Bain. The Chief Executive isn’t always the most popular man, but he’s a smooth operator. He’s a really sharp bloke.
I’m saying this as an outsider now but he’ll have a strategy, even if they go down. Like he’s already said, you can’t just keep chucking money at the team with a new Manager, start poorly and then sack the Manager. It’s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing every season and expecting different results.
I know it can seem a little grim how honest he’s been, but it’s good he’s not giving you the fairy-tale. Sometimes you need honesty. I think with Martin Bain there, Sunderland have a chance.