RR: Nice easy one to start. Who were the three best players you played with at SAFC?
PB: You’ve started with a difficult one!
I have to say Catts. We were quite similar in many ways, we wore or hearts on our sleeve and gave it everything on the pitch for Sunderland. We were best mates whilst I was there. If something wasn’t going right on the pitch, you could glance at him and he’d give you a look back like “let’s get wired in here, let’s lay a marker on the game”.
Sessegnon was up there. You couldn’t take off him in a phone box, he was even hard to play against in training. He was just naturally talented.
I always liked players like Steed Malbranque and Zenden. Top pros, loads of natural talent and fully understood the club and always made a difference to us when they played. Both were all-round top pros. Bolo bought into Sunderland and that’s what we all loved about him.
RR: How did the move to Sunderland come about? You were due to sign for Sheffield United at one point.
PB: Sir Alex spoke to me and said “you’ve not played much, I feel like you’ve gone a bit stale”. Gary Neville was still playing then at the top level for United and England. He told me I had a chance to go to Burnley or Sheff United, but when I finished training I had a voicemail and it was Roy (Keane).
It took me about 30 seconds to make my mind up - and what a decision it was.
RR: How much did you enjoy being involved in the derby games - and winning most of them?
PB: (Exhales) Awesome. Awesome days. Every time we scored I went nuts, I loved it! When we beat them I used to go berserk. I loved it.
I’m paying it for it now though, I got abused when we (Burnley) played them the other night! I loved playing against them though. The abuse you’d take, the things thrown at you on the way in, the dressing room door opening, the music blasting. I loved it.
RR: Okay. So Paolo Di Canio. Let’s go back to the day he walks in the day, what do you think?
PB: Despite everything, he was a good coach, he had some good ideas and we got on early in the relationship - if you want to call it that. But even before the “incident” there were things he was doing I just wasn’t too pleased about. There were characters who weren’t as outgoing and strong minded as me and they just went inside themselves and it didn’t sit right with me. It was a tough for me and my family. You can’t see eye to eye with everyone in football but I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me.
One day the Lads were watching X-Factor or something and he came in and turned it down - he said we were using too much energy laughing! It was comical, honestly.
RR: What happened in the aftermath of “casino-gate”?
PB: It all stemmed from us going out after Arsenal had beaten Wigan and we’d stayed up. Started off with a little food, then a shandy and once Arsenal put 3 or 4 past Wigan, we ended up in the casino and that stupid picture was taken.
I knew what I’d done, but I wanted to go in and speak to him, but he was having none of it. I wanted to apologise and he wouldn’t even speak to me. I was banished from the squad till the end of that season and when I was due back for pre-season he gave me another two week ban, then he eventually banned me from the training ground.
There were staff at the club I’d known for years and they were scared to speak to me in case he got angry.
I ended up training with Bally and the kids, which I quite enjoyed to be honest, but I broke my foot in their first game and looking back that probably saved me because it put me out for the 6-7 weeks Paolo was still in charge.
RR: Looking into the incident as a fan, was going out in the casino and enjoying yourself really that bad though?
PB: When you’re a professional footballer in the Premier League you need to know better. I was so embarrassed, but I just wanted to speak to him and apologize, face to face, man to man and he didn’t even want to speak to me - so I thought “if you don’t even want to speak to me, then f**k you”.
I cared for people at Sunderland, the staff and people around the club and I couldn’t even speak to them. The cleaners, the chefs, the secretaries - we had a close relationship and it was difficult for all us because I tried to lift people and be the life and soul when I was there. It was hard for them as it was for me.
RR: I have to ask Phil, what was that Instagram post about? It looked like you were laughing at us getting beat. What’s your side of that?
PB: I just wanted to get into the team and show how much I wanted to be there. The post was aimed at him (Di Canio).
It got to a point where I was down and in a bad place. I just wanted him to go as soon as possible, nothing against the club, my team mates or any of that - I have far too much respect for them.
We just didn’t have a good relationship and it showed.
RR: So what happens when Paolo goes and Gus Poyet restores you to the squad?
PB: I got a phone-call and was told to “sit tight” so I sort of knew I was coming back, so I got myself fit from the injury and worked hard and I just grafted and grafted - I wanted to show how much I wanted to play for Sunderland. I was still training with the kids on the first day but Gus called me over on the second day and told me I was back in the first team, which received a large round of applause from my good team mates!
We did 11v11, I set two up and he pulled me after and said “if you do that in a match - I’ll be coming to the casino with you!” (laughs). From then on in, me and Gus had an amazing relationship. Loved his style, loved his time as manager. He was such a breath of fresh air.
RR: That goal at Old Trafford. What was the emotion when you score that goal?
PB: I got smashed just beforehand and I thought my calf had went, but I got up and I think Ki laid it off and I thought just hit because these mitre balls fly.
You couldn’t write it. One of the best days of my life.
I can’t remember getting home to be fair!
I had about two or three beers on the bus and I honestly can’t remember getting off the bus! I woke up in the morning. We were wounded but the adrenaline, the joy and everything after it just flowed.
What a memorable night that was, spine tingling stuff. Dancing on the tables on the bus, Oasis. Awesome.
RR: After such a successful season then, why did you decide to leave?
PB: They didn’t offer me the years I wanted. I thought I deserved three and they only offered me two. It was never about money. The club’s comment were they didn’t feel I warranted a contract longer than a couple of years and I felt I warned more than that. I felt I gave a lot to that club and I deserved a better contract.
That was 3/4 years ago now and I’m still playing in the Premier League so I must be doing something right...
RR: In summary, what does Sunderland and your time at the club mean to you?
PB: Everything to me. Six and a half years. Good times, bad times, cup finals, survival, friendships. The list is endless but from a personal point of view to play for a club like Sunderland - to play as many games - and to achieve that and go out and make people and the fans proud, that’s all I ever wanted.
I will always looks back on Sunderland with fond memories. Always.