Micky Lough asks: “Did you try anything off the wall in the build up to the Fulham game that got us our only home win of the season in the 2005/2006 season? How desperate were you to win that?”
Firstly, let’s say I was desperate to win it because to have that record of not winning a home game for the club - I mean the points tally was bad enough. When I took over the chance of getting out of it was remote, so you’re basically trying to get this group of players to do the best that they can and still have targets.
The game at Portsmouth for example - they were my first club but I was telling the Lads “let’s take them down with us.” I wanted to win for us as a club. So you’re 1-0 up then big Kev (Kyle) handballs it and we end up losing the game.
I lost it because the players didn’t seem to believe in what they could achieve. We should have won, we should have done more. As I came out of the changing room I still knew the staff down there, and a few of the security lads were backing off!
Lou, our media girl, asked me for a walk around the ground before I met the media that day. We should have won. There were other games we could talk about. Little things we could have changed if they just believed in themselves, just a little bit of hard work.
Anyway, the Fulham game - the one that got called off - the pitch was awful at that time; you couldn’t play football on it, never mind how low they were on confidence, so I went down on the morning and watered it. I thought I’d do it so the lads could get the ball down and play. Next thing you know you have snowflakes as big as you’ve ever seen them and they’re smacking me in the head! Rory (Delap) broke his nose, and there was a challenge on the far side with George McCartney, so the ref rightly decided to call it off.
So it all comes down to the rearranged game. I decided on the day to try something I would often do with the young lads. When it go to the stage where they had done well, or they needed a break from training I’d say, “right, let’s go for a walk.”
We’d get them bacon sandwiches, egg and sausages. Anything they wanted, and we’d just have a walk. It created a lot of craic between the - a bit of banter - sometimes a bit of ‘real talk’ too; proper discussions. All of a sudden you’re bonding. I don’t think this group of players had done that. They had hot chocolates like works of art, marshmallows the lot.
I decided it would be a good idea to take them down the seafront. My point was I wanted them to go out and speak to people. I wanted them to see how people reacted to them. People drove past, tooted their horns, wanted photos with them - the lot. When we got back to the gatehouse; all the lads agreed they had fun. “We haven’t done that before” they were saying and so on. I asked them how many of those fans - remember we were on twelve points at this time and already relegated - gave them s**t and had a go at them, and how many waved, tooted horns and wanted photos? I waited for them to realise and I said, “well win it for them, because you owe ‘em”.
SAFC North Yorkshire asks: “Who was your toughest opponent that you ever faced and why?”
As a centre back you end up fighting with the centre forwards. Billy Whitehurst was one, Mick Harford was another. Tommy Tynan was probably the funniest, he was as wide as a desk, you had to run around him to get in front of him! You gave them it and they gave you it back.
Mick once gave me a polite punch to the head and I followed that up with a polite elbow! The worst part was he just shook his head and got straight back up (laughs). At the end of the game he’s walking up to me and went: “Thanks, I really enjoyed that!”
I was just thinking “You sadistic b******d!” (laughs). We played against him a few years later, he sparked out Hardy (Paul Hardyman) and just looked at me - “you’re f*****g next!” (laughs). But that was Mick.
In midfield, there was a lad at Bury, Darren Bullock, when we won 5-2 at Gigg Lane as well, I’ve never forgotten him because he surprised me. He gave me a good game - he gave me it a bit - and I didn’t expect it. On the night I was really impressed with him. Kieron Dyer was another for different reasons. He was quick, he could run, drifted off your shoulder. Kieron was a different challenge. I told Reidy and Sacko they should look at Dyer and Matty Holland because I was getting old and they were such a good pair, they really complemented each other.
Liam Braithwaite asks... “Why couldn’t you leave the club and test yourself with a view to returning if you were a success?”
With benefit of hindsight you could argue should I have done that? To be fair it’s a good point, but the point I make is if I went away and became a success and then returned to take the Sunderland manager’s job, the odds on that I’d imagine are pretty wide. There’s a lot of mitigating circumstances, you’d have to choose the right club, etc.
I’d like to ask a question back and say to them “have you ever considered if I enjoy the job I do?” Maybe I like what I do. Maybe that’s the area I like being involved in. I enjoy seeing a talented young lad come in and I think what they could become and what they need as individuals. Maybe an arm around the shoulder, a kick up the backside.
For example Jordan Pickford was a fantastic talent, but he needed to be nurtured in the right way, he needed somebody to be strong with him in the right way, but also show they cared about him. Me and Jordan had some great debates, and to be fair to him with some of them he had a point. I remember one game I asked him to play it to the centre halves or full backs, to which he replied, “Why? I’m better than them!” and to be fair, he was right! You have to understand Jordan’s path. Same with Egan, Hourihane, Hendo, Colback, Waghorn.
I enjoy that side of the job, I love seeing one of our players making their debut here, when they go on loan and are a success, or even when they aren’t so we can discuss what they need to do. I love doing that. I feel like I’ve dealt with a lot of different circumstances, what else is there to deal with? I don’t think I needed to leave the club to prove myself. Do I need to leave the area and move 500 miles down the road just so I can say I managed a different club? I understand why people think that, for experience.
The first time I took the role, admittedly I was still learning, but the second time I took over I had been doing my role for 12-13 years. I had all my qualifications - not that it makes me a great manager or coach - but my point is I don’t think I needed to leave the club to prove that. People will mention budgets, players, medical - but there’s a reason we have a financial team, a scouting team and medical team.
If I had moved elsewhere and taken a job I can’t deny I might have had more of a chance at the job, but also maybe I wouldn’t have. You just don’t know. I have an understanding of this club, I know enough about it, I feel. Another football club may be different and have its own quirks, but ultimately it’s much the same - win games.
Jack Torrance asks... Was there any particular Newcastle player you liked crunching in the derbies?
All of them! Anyone I could get me hands or studs on.
I’m not from the area, so the inbuilt rivalry is not going to be there for me straight away. But I’ve been here for 27 years, so trust me - I know what it means to the fans and have shown them that. But the Coach in me would say never try and premeditate or manufacture a tackle because if you do - and I have done - you end up twatting someone and get sent off!
A LOT of people asked... What was going through your head when that tackle spun towards your own goal in front of the Gallowgate?
When you’re playing Newcastle you go out and puff your chest out and say “we’re Sunderland.” I remember when Ned (David Kelly) played for them, it was in the days you could kick them from behind and every time he got the ball I was there; I hammered him all game. Every time I was into him. BAM. Every single time. When he came here, he still remembered it.
I was 35 then for that particular game (when he hit the bar), so I was in and out of the team. I was on the team coach on the way to the game and some old bird in a Newcastle shirt looked at me, so I gave her a smile thinking she’d smile back and suddenly she gave me two fingers! I politely gave her something back - she laughed mind.
When we got there, it was not as hostile as normal - I was disappointed to be honest! We then saw the team sheets and saw what Ruud Gullit had done, dropping Shearer - we p****d ourselves, it was like an instant lift.
I was on the bench; I was fired up, so I went out to stretch my groins. I faced the crowd and not the pitch just so I could get eye contact with someone - and I did. Me and one of the fans have some right choice words. next thing the Gaffer went “Right Bally, you’re going on, they’re getting control of the midfield and I need you to sort it out”.
It was like lighting the touch paper.
Shay kicked the ball out and Big Duncs took a bad touch, so I just thought I’d get him - but Fergy pulled out, I stuck the tackle in; all I heard was “it’s f*****g in, it’s f*****g in!” from Alex Rae next to me (laughs) - it was like that Aviva advert where everything goes in slow motion. I was s*itting my pants as I saw it loop towards Tommy’s goal. It hits the bar and all I could think is about was defending the corner - I needed it to be forgotten about. When the corner ended up as a goal kick I was making me way up the pitch and Chrissy Makin shouts over “Bally! Bally!” - I’m thinking he’s going to tell me to calm down - “That was a the f*****g funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life” (laughs). It was the best thing that could have happened to me though because it brought me back down.
When we got back into the changing room Sacko went, “don’t ever do that to me again” then Tommy Sorensen popped up behind me and goes, “But I had it covered” - did he f**k!
We’ll be talking to Bally again this week so he can answer even more of the questions that were put to him by the readers of this site, so keep an eye out on what is coming up!