END OF SEASON REVIEW.
INTERVIEW WITH ALBION CAPTAIN CHRIS BRUNT.
After a memorable and of course successful season, which saw the Baggies, retain their Premier-ship status. I was able to catch up with skipper Chris Brunt, who gave me his assessment of the past ten months.
Q…Chris, thanks for your time, it doesn’t seem a year since we spoke at the end of last season does it. Where has the time gone?
A…Well, as they say time goes quickly when you are enjoying yourself, and with the success we have had, it obviously goes quicker. Is that what they say?
Q…Yes they do, Have you been enjoying yourself?
A…Yes, certainly have, apart from some of the results we had over Christmas when it wasn’t great for us, I’ve enjoyed every game this season.
Q…You’ve had a few little injury problems this season, haven’t you, so did that hamper you much?
A…I haven’t done too bad, I was disappointed to miss the Villa and the Wolves games, the two big games recently. But apart from that, I think I’ve played in most of the games. I also missed one through suspension as well, but I’ve been quite happy with my time this season especially in the Premier league. Certainly compared with last time we were up there when I didn’t really play regularly until the back end of the season.
Q…I was talking to Albions former skipper on Saturday after the game, along with another ex player Micky Fudge and a couple of friends, and they all agreed that the difference on Saturday, compared with the Wolves game, was ‘Chris Brunt’
A…(ha ha ha)..I don’t know about that. Going into an important ‘derby’ with Wolves missing three experienced players myself, Reidy and Paul Sharner is obviously not ideal, and it affected our ability to defend set-pieces and I think that showed.
Q…That’s right, but there have been a lot of comments about the side not having anything to play for, and that could have been the reason for such a poor performance. Physcologically, when you know you are safe, can that effect the mindset?
A…Obviously we knew that whatever the result we were staying in the league anyway, but nobody was ‘not bothered’ about the result of the game, we certainly didn’t want to lose any game. Every-time you cross the white line, you want to go and win the match. Everybody has got their own reasons for that, and from the clubs point of view the higher we reach up the table, it benefits the club more as well.
Q…That’s right and a big game like Wolves is one that everybody wants to ‘Nail down’ isn’t it.
A…Yes of course…and from my point of view, didn’t get the chance to play there in the Championship season, when Zoltan Gera scored the winner, I was on the bench. I had a couple of derby games when I was with Sheffield Wednesday, where it’s always a good place to play football, a really good atmosphere, and I was really disappointed to miss out on the Wolves ‘derby’ which is probably the biggest in the midlands. There was obviously a lot of pride at stake, especially with us safe and Wolves still needing the points as well, it was always going to be an interesting game. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but hopefully Wolves will stay up, and I will get the chance to play there next year.
Q…No Chris, you have said exactly what I say. The Black Country ‘derby’ is a massive game, and it’s important that Wolves along with Birmingham City stay in the Premier-ship. It’s important for midlands football. Both the Hawthorns and Molineux will be jam-packed next season. It’s great for the area and great for both clubs.
A…I think so, and I think from a players point of view as well. It will cut out a lot of travelling as well (ha ha)…You’ll be devastated if you see Swansea coming up, You might have to go all the way to Swansea. (ha ha)
Q…Yes, that is a distinct possibility, but they (Swansea) played well last night didn’t they.
A…Yes, they could do well if they come up. We have shown with ourselves along with Blackpool and Newcastle coming up, that if you go and play the way you believe you can play, against Premier league teams, there is no reason why you cant stay up there. Obviously I know that Blackpool are still in trouble, but you look at the plaudits they have got for the way they have played their football this season, they have showed there is nothing to fear. We showed that at the start of the season, and now at the back end of the campaign, take out the middle part, We have played as good football as the majority of the teams in the league, and we thoroughly deserve to be where we are.
Q…Without doubt Chris. You have just mentioned the middle of the season where it all started to go wrong, probably after the Blackpool game. What was the dressing room like throughout that bad run, when it looked as if the team couldn’t even ‘buy’ a result.
A…You know, when you are well beaten and you don’t deserve to win, you hold your hands up and you get on with it. But there were games, especially over Christmas, to come out of the Christmas period with no points, after the way we played against some of the teams was very disappointing. We should have come away with something at Villa. They had two shots and got two goals. Bolton away we were the better team for 88 minutes. They scored two goals and we didn’t. Against Man United at home on New Years day, to play like that against the champions, it shows you how good a side we can be on our day. But when you are on a run like that it’s hard to turn the corner, and I think that game just showed that.
Q.. You have just highlighted the four or five games that were highlighted in my conversations on Saturday after the match with Graham Williams.
A…Yes, especially the Bolton game. I remember coming off the pitch at Bolton, after the game, Just wondering How haven’t we got something out of that game. We actually played very well against Bolton. To lose that game really hurt. Peter (Odemwingie) had four of five really great chances, that if you gave him those chances in the form he is in at the minute, he would probably have scored three goals and we would have won the match. But that was just the way things were going for us at that time.
Q…Unfortunately that poor form almost certainly cost the manager Roberto Di Matteo his job. What was the dressing room like when that happened.
A…It was a little bit strange after losing away to Manchester City, where not too many teams have got anything this season. I accept it’s a results business. I know the Chairman said the other night at the end of season dinner, that he felt he had to make a change. I don’t think it was anything personal against Roberto, I think it was just our results weren’t good enough at the time. They made the decision to change the manager, and I think now, it looks like one of the best decisions in West Brom’s recent history. If you look at the way things have turned around.
Q…It certainly does. What is it like working with Roy Hodgson. He certainly seems to have the respect and confidence of everybody at the club.
A…I think he is such a well respected coach, and he commands that straight away as soon as he walks into the room. I have been working with him for two or three months and you can see why he has been such a great coach all over the world. He is a fantastic coach. He is not afraid to make decisions. He comes across as a nice guy, and I think he is a nice guy, but he is ruthless in his decision making when it comes to football. Obviously that is what makes him such a good manager, and the effect he had on the team and the training has been phenomenal.
Q…The way the players have responded to him, the way they have gone out and played. That has been phenomenal as well, would you agree with that.
A…Yeah definitely. I think he knew coming to the club, that he had a good bunch of players to work with. But maybe we lacked a bit of organisation and discipline. That was the first thing he addressed. Apart from introducing a few of his own ideas that we do in the practices, he has more or less just let us get on with the way we play and he is quite happy for that. I know we have had a horrendous run without a clean sheet, but at the end of the day, we are still winning games, and picking points up. Since he has come in, we have looked a lot more solid, and we have conceded a lot less chances for other teams to score goals. It must be horrible to be a goal-keeper in our team, because if he has ten shots at you in one game, you are frightened to let one in. I think that’s the way we were going. That’s the nature of it, I think that’s the way we were going. We needed to score three or four goals to win a match. That just wasn’t good enough. The new Manager has come in and we now only need to score one or two to win a game now, which is a massive bonus going into a game, especially with the players that we have got, we always know we can score goals.
Q…And good for Scott, that he has come back from his little blip. He has come back stronger. And established himself back in the side.
A…I don’t think Scott’s ability as a goal-keeper was ever been in question. In goal-keeping terms, he is still reasonably young. A lot of responsibility falls on his shoulders, in our team, especially the way we were playing at the start of the season, with the attacking players we had on the pitch and the way we were playing. It was always going to be a lot of pressure on him to keep the ball out of the net. I think goal-keeper is one of those positions, you either love it or you hate it. He has coped with it really well since he has come back into the team. Maybe the new manager coming in has given him that little bit of confidence. Given him that little bit of a boost, because he has been very good since he has come back into the team. Unfortunately it’s difficult when you are a goal-keeper because when you do make a mistake, that ball can end up in the back of the net.
Q…Talking of Scott, he was captain at the start of the season, you now have the job, what is your take on the role. Does it affect you in any way. You seem to have revelled in it really.
A…Obviously when Roberto was manager I knew, from the occasions that Scott didn’t play, Jonas was the captain, and I knew if anything happened it was going to be me. I half expected it when Jonas wasn’t playing, but when Jonas came back into the team, I was quite happy to give it back to Jonas, but at the time Roberto Di Matteo, said he wanted me to do it. Obviously its great that someone thinks I should be captain of the side, but it’s not something that effects me much, it doesn’t really effect the way I go about the way I play, or my role on the pitch. When the new manager came in I spoke to him about it as well, and he was quite happy with that. Obviously its good that he respects me enough to let me do the job. I think I have a good relationship with the lads as well. I think they are quite happy for me to do the job as well. So I am happy enough.
Q…Talking about Captains, I was talking to Albion’s captain when we won the cup back in 1968, and he was saying that he would like another Albion captain to lift a cup in his lifetime, and that couple be you. What do you think?
A…Well you never know. You have seen this season, with Stoke getting to Wembley, one of the lesser sides in the Premier League getting to Wembley, putting on a great performance in the semi-final as well to get there. It shows you. Especially with the rewards financially with the Champions League, a lot of the bigger teams are putting a lot of their eggs in that basket, so you never know. Obviously going into next season, our ‘goal’ is to stay in the Premier League again, because we have seen a lot of teams do well for the first season, and then letting it ‘slide’ in the second season.
Q…Obviously Roy is going to bring in a couple of new players to strengthen the squad, some will leave us, but overall I think our squad is good enough to do well again next season.
A…Yeah, I hope so, obviously for the majority of the season, we have shown this year that we are good enough to mix it with all of the Premier league teams. If you look back at the season, it’s probably only Man City and Chelsea that have given us a hiding’s really in both games, and you look at the financial power behind those two clubs. There isn’t much you can do about that. Obviously as you say some players will go and some will come in, that’s the nature of football life. But we have got a good squad of players, and obviously with the new manager coming in things are looking good at the minute. So I’m sure we will not be allowed to relax on our success of this season, and I’m sure that once July 1st comes. Or whenever it is we are back in, we’ll be straight back into things and planning for next season, because I know that’s the way the manager will want it.
Q…You’ll soon be back in action won’t you. You have a trip to the States to look forward to haven’t you.
A…Yeah, the States trip sounds a bit better than last years one to Holland. That’s just the way the manager is personally. He always wants to do well in his job, I remember speaking to Aaron Hughes, when we were away with Northern Ireland, he said that Roy’s job this season was to keep West Brom in the Premier League. He takes that very seriously, and has pride in his achievements, and I’m sure this will be another one to go along with his coaching record he has got. We all remember when he took over, and to turn us around like that, it’s not just the players that are going out onto the pitch, it’s obviously the influence of the manager and the coaching staff as well.
Q…Yes I agree, it was nothing short of a miracle really. The effect the turn around has had on the club and the fans especially is nothing short of a ‘miracle’. It has certainly pleased the Albion fans who have had to endure a lot of ‘ups and downs’ just recently.
A…Yes definitely, and if we can get a result at Newcastle this week-end, that would make us top midlands club wouldn’t it. Top club in the midlands finishing. I’m sure a lot of West Brom fans will be pleased with that.
Q…That’s true Chris, that was one of the very points I was discussing with Graham Williams after the game on Saturday. I can’t remember exactly when we finished above all the others, although Graham maintains we were always to Midlands club.
A…Yes, obviously we were all disappointed with the Wolves game, I think the manager said that as well, he said he didn’t want the standards to slip for the last couple of games. We’ve played a lot better this season than we played against Everton on Saturday, but maybe that shows that things are changing for us. We are playing a lot poorer than we can, but still coming away with the points. If we can finish with a good result away at Newcastle, which is obviously going to be difficult place to go, but that will mean we can go away or the summer and come back on the back of some good results as well.
Q…If we can beat Newcastle that will our fourth ‘Double’ of the season, the others against Sunderland, Birmingham City and of course Everton. That’s not bad is it.
A…Yes, but it’s nice to win league games wherever they are, our record is certainly a lot better than the last time we were in the Premier league. This season has been very good. Even our home record has been very good this season as well, and it’s important that we can do that. To make the Hawthorns a difficult place for teams to come to. I know over the last few seasons we have let ourselves down sometimes at the Hawthorns, so it was an excellent result to finish on as well.
Q…Yes, you’re right, and probably the real disappointments at home this year were Stoke and Blackburn. Games we lost, but lost well, if you know what I mean. Apart from that we have definitely held our own.
A…Yes definitely, that’s probably true, Having said that I didn’t play in either of those games, so you are probably asking the wrong person. (Ha ha)
Q…That just shows what an influence you are in the side Chris!!
A…I don’t know about that!! It’s always disappointing to lose a home game, but as I said before if you come of the pitch after losing, and you have done everything you could do, then you have to think, well probably it just wasn’t your day. I think the new manager has instilled that in us as well. If we can come of the pitch knowing that we deserved the result that we got, then he’s quite happy with that. I can remember very clearly, at Sunderland, at half time, coming in at 2-1 down. He basically said, we were playing well, and we just need to keep doing what we were doing. Then after the game he said, if we had drawn the game he would have been delighted, Obviously he would have been disappointed with the result, but he would have been quite happy with the way we played when we came off the pitch if we had lost. I think that’s the sort of guy he is. He has been around football for long enough to see these things. I think that’s probably the smartest move West Brom have made in a long time.
Q…He understands totally the concept of playing every game to the best of your ability, whatever the result. That’s obviously all anyone can ask isn’t it.
A…Yes definitely. From the tactical point of view as well, he is very knowledge-able in that area. Even if he notices from the sideline that we are not playing well, he knows tactically if we are doing our jobs properly. That’s all you can ask, and from his point of view as well, you can only ask players to do what they can. Probably for 90% this season the lads have given everything they have got.
Q…Yes, and confidence plays a big part, don’t you agree. I recall vividly you picking up the ball and putting it on the spot to take that penalty against Liverpool, not once but twice!! Obviously with Peter Odemwingie’s penalty miss against Manchester United in mind. I remember vividly looking at Peter and he was in despair wasn’t he.
A…Yes, I agree, It came off the back of a couple of games, the Bolton game we talked about. It just wasn’t happening for Peter, and it affected him for a few weeks. Obviously going into a football match if you are confident then you’ve got that extra bit of belief about yourself. I knew for the last few weeks since the new manager came in, that I was taking the penalties. I scored the first one, but to get two in one game is a bit rare. Obviously I was a bit nervous putting the ball on the spot for the second one, I knew what I was going to do, and I just picked that side. It was even nice that the keeper went the right way and still couldn’t get near it as well. I was absolutely delighted. To come away with three points against a big side like Liverpool as well. It always makes it that little bit more special.
Q…What were your emotions when you put the ball on the spot, knowing that it could be the winner against Liverpool, a team we hadn’t beaten home or away for a good few years.
A…Probably not too much really. The first one I was definately trying to block out the memories of my penalty from the Emirates against Arsenal. The second one I was waiting for Pepe Rainer to get back in his goal, and he took forever to get back in his goal. That was the worst part about I think. I tend, when I’m playing, not to think too much, that’s just my character, my personality. I had it clearly in my head where I was going to put the ball, and I don’t think I could have ever struck a ball better than what I did.
Q…No, I don’t you have, they even eulogised about it quite a bit on match of the Day.
A…I was just delighted that it went in.
Q…Very quickly Chris, The end of a great season. You have been an absolute credit to your profession as always, but I just want to touch on your International career, this term. You’ve played in a few for Northern Ireland, with some mixed results. What are your reflections?
A…It’s been OK. It’s been up and down. The qualifying campaign we started well against Slovenia, picking up a 0-0 draw at home to Italy as well, two good results. Obviously the one that will stand out so far this season for us is the away game against the Faroe Islands when we drew. Everybody says we should be winning games like that. I’m still going to say that the Faroe Islands worked very hard for their point that night. If we had won, and yeah we probably had enough chances that night to have won it, and we didn’t take them. But you have got to give the Faroe Islands a lot of credit, a lot of part time players, and they made it very difficult for us that day. That’s International football for you. It’s Northern Island, and at the end of the day we always put on decent performances against the bigger sides, and sometimes let ourselves down against the smaller countries, and that’s been the way of Northern Ireland, ever since I’ve known, and I’ve been watching even, rather than playing. That’s life. To lose a game away in Serbia, behind closed doors, was a big blow as well, because we had started the game so well, for forty five minutes, played very well. The second half we just stepped off, and let ourselves down. We are still in with a chance of getting into second place. I think that Italy are well on the way, but I think there are three or four other teams with a realistic shout of second place. It’s going to be interesting going into the last few games.
Q…Isn’t it also the case that there are no easy games any more in modern football, at both league and International level. Everybody on their day has a chance of beating anybody.
A…Yes I agree. Especially in International football, a lot of these countries maybe don’t have big massive stars. Maybe one or two star players, maybe players from the lower leagues, but they are very well organised, and they are always very technically able footballers, especially in the Eastern European countries. They maybe aren’t the ones competing in the major tournaments, but they are still very good sides. With Northern Ireland we have got such a small population and a small corp of players to choose from, it’s always going to be difficult for us, and it has been difficult for us over the eighteen months.
Q…Well Chris, I just want to thank you for you time in giving me what I think is a very comprehensive summing up of the last year. Have a great summer, what summer you have got. Come back fit and well, and I’ll see you in Pre-season.
A…No problem Laurie. It’s not much this year, compared with last year. It’s only about half of what we got last year. But at least it’s great to be back in the Premier League again. It makes a massive difference.
Thanks for you time Chris, hopefully we will be able to chat again in 12 months time, at the end of yet another successful season for the club.
Chris Brunt/Laurie Rampling-May2011