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Roker Report Meets... Former Sunderland winger Andy Welsh!

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The latest former Sunderland player to sit down and talk with Roker Report is Andy Welsh. We chat about his love for Mick McCarthy, his rise up the leagues having moved from Stockport County. his sour relationship with Roy Keane, Alan Stubbs, and Simon Grayson.

Sunderland v Manchester United Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

RR: Hi Andy! Thanks for sitting down with Roker Report to discuss your time at the club. During your time at Sunderland, who was the best player you played with and why?

AW: People might think this is a weird answer but probably Carl Robinson. It’s a difficult one as there were some very good players at Sunderland. When we won the Championship he played on the inside of me and he was like a protector for me. I had confidence that if I went forward and lost the ball or a cross got cut out, he’d give it back to me. He’d back the play up.

I really liked Robbo, he was good with me as a young pro. We didn’t have the huge names then, it was more about the unit. Marcus Stewart did well for us at the time too. I think we should have kept him to be fair, I think most people would agree with me on that.

I never really walked into any dressing room at Sunderland thought “bloody hell this is so and so” until Roy Keane came in and Dwight Yorke walked in the door. He’d won everything, but he was just a normal player on the training pitch. The quality is there, but at Sunderland is was more about the unit then.

RR: So, you joined the club in November 2004. I believe it was after a succesful trial wasn’t it? How did it all come about?

AW: There was talk of me going there when Peter Reid was there. I’d went to Blackburn at the start of the season and had been told that a bid of £350,000 had been agreed with them. Yorkie was there then as well actually!

Graeme Souness wanted me to go and I went and did some of pre-season with them, trained well etc. but when he put the squad up for one of the games, I wasn’t in it - I asked my agent what the point in me moving was if I wasn’t going to be part of the first team, so I ended up going back and they signed Pedersen instead! Mick McCarthy and Taff had been watching me for a while and had decided to sign me but wanted me to come and train for a few days - I think he was a bit worried about why it hadn’t happened at Blackburn. Anyway, we did eleven versus eleven in training with Dean Whitehead at right back and I tore him a new backside and that was that! Deano was a great player though.

Liverpool v Sunderland
Andy is sent off at Anfield - “One of the things Mick would do is if a player was sent off, they’d have to take the entire squad out for dinner.”
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

RR: No disrespect to Stockport, but it was a decent jump from them to a 48,000 seater stadium and a team chasing promotion to the Premier League, not to mention that it was your first club outside of your home county. What helped you settle and adjust to the change?

AW: A lot is made about this sort of stuff these days - but I just loved playing football. Stockport would get around six thousand fans in League One; they’d be in the Championship in my first season. They had a fantastic training ground - it wasn’t the Academy of Light - but I loved going in everyday because I just loved football. I’m from the area of playing in the street, so I’d spent all my time practising.

I just loved playing football. That helped me settle - focusing on my football and getting better.

RR: As you joined, the team really ramped up the promotion push. What was it about that side that worked? What were your thoughts on Mick McCarthy?

AW: I love Mick McCarthy. He’s the greatest manager I’ve played under. He was straight down the line with you. If you were doing it, you were in, if you weren’t doing it, you weren’t.

It helped with togetherness. It was an old school feel with him. If you weren’t working hard enough you’d know and if you were you’d get the rewards. Even when you were doing well, he’d push you to work even harder.

RR: You actually became a first team regular following the promotion in the opening part of the season. You performed well, but sadly the team just couldn’t get going. How frustrating was that season for you individually, and the team as a whole?

AW: I worked really hard in the summer. I am never going to be a big bulky player, but I wanted to work on my strength and fitness. I was probably in the best shape of my life then and Mick rewarded me with putting me in for the first five games - I thought I did really well. I played a lot at the beginning, I tried to not to get too caught up in all the negativity that comes with losing. I got dropped for the match against ‘Boro that we won - although I was buzzing that we won, I had a feeling Mick might start going with that team on a regular basis and it turned out that was the case. You start doubting yourself, you get frustrated and most importantly I needed game time, so me and Mick agreed it would be best I went out on loan to Leicester to get game time so I come back for the following season with more experience - the same week I left on loan, though, Mick got the sack.

I remember a game against West Ham, I got the ball about half way in our own half, Tomas Repka came at me, I nutmegged him and sprinted half the length of the field, got a great cross in to Andy Gray, he had a free header - and he headed it straight at Roy Carroll. He could have headed it anywhere, yet he headed in straight into his arms. I look back and think of these things, and if he puts that in - things could be different. We lost players like Marcus Stewart and replaced them with others and the team dynamic changed a little.

We never got hammered, it was always one goal here or there - it was just that we lacked in quality a little.

RR: There was some pretty big rumours about some players like Alan Stubbs not being good for the dressing room...

AW: Stubbsy was a like a man hurting that Everton had let him go. I didn’t like his mannerisms around the dressing room.

The first opportunity he got he was back at Everton wasn’t he? I’m not saying he was a bad apple, it just never felt like he was part of us. It was always like he was in a dream world and wanted to be back at Everton.

Roy Keane of Manchester United passing the ball past Marcus Stewart of Sunderland
As a Manchester United fan, Andy was looking forward to playing under Roy Keane; but it didn’t work out as he’d have hoped.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

RR: You seemed to be given a new lease of life with Kevin Ball taking over temporary charge. When Julio left, did you think you had a good shot at grabbing his slot permanently?

AW: That’s exactly how I felt. When I came back from my loan at Leicester I got straight into the side under Bally and did quite well. There was a feeling that Julio was going to be moving on and I had hoped I would get into the team. Typically though, I did my ankle ligaments in one of the Irish pre-season games and I couldn’t play. It was beyond frustrating because we started poorly and I wanted to get in and help.

RR: Did you ever get a chance to speak with Roy Keane about your chances of getting in the team? It was unlucky you got injured and we brought in Hysen and Wallace. Did you know your time was up then?

AW: I felt from day one he wasn’t interested in me as a person or as a player. One of my first training sessions on returning from injury was one of his first sessions. I’m not sure if he saw something and just thought “nah, he’s not for us” - I don’t know. I never wanted to leave Sunderland. I loved it there.

There was a few things behind the scenes that really upset me about Roy. I had just came back from my loan at Leicester when I was given a call late at night to say my Grandad had been taken into hospital in Carlisle. This was about the 28th December. My Grandad was in hospital and it wasn’t looking great and I was really close with him - he came to watch every single game. He had moved down from Glasgow, he had a Manchester United season ticket and he was a huge part of my reason for loving football.

Ironically our next game was away at Leicester on New Years Day. I went to Roy and told him the situation with my Grandad and he went and put me in the squad for the game - I hadn’t been in the squad for the previous one so why the did he put me in for that game after what had happened? We won 2-0 and when the game ended I found out my Grandad had passed away. He didn’t need to do that.

After that I just knew I needed to get away, because as long as Roy was manager - I was never going to get an opportunity.

RR: Finally, you played under Simon Grayson at Blackpool. He’s obviously now been sacked, but what were your thoughts on his appointment?

AW: When Grayson got the job, I didn’t think it would work. I played under him at Blackpool and I wasn’t huge on his man management or style of play. Every player reacts to a manager in different ways and of course he’s done well at Huddersfield and Leeds before - but I wouldn’t have chosen him for the role based on my experience of playing under him and Sunderland.