Stretford-End.com was able to spend some time in the company of Viv Anderson MBE this week for an exclusive interview. Yolkie asked the questions – to find out what Viv Anderson really meant when recently speaking out about United’s League Cup defeat, his joy about signing for the club he supported all his life, and what he views as his greatest club achievement, read on.
Yolkie : Viv, you were recently in the press for damning United’s youngsters, saying they cannot match up to the expectations of the club. Just as clarification, are you suggesting that there are a number of players who won’t ever, or do you think it’s a matter of simply upping their game?
Viv : I think it’s a matter of upping their game. We got carried away with the Rangers game because the system suited them; they only played one up and didn’t come out of their half so we got a clean sheet and won that night through Wayne Rooney’s penalty. It was a different kettle of fish going to West Ham who played 2 up; I thought it was always going to be a difficult game and a test to see if the young lads were going to be up to playing at Man Utd in the future, and I thought a few were found wanting that night. They’ve gone there with the expectation of being the next “breed” of Manchester United players, but on that showing the other night (the West Ham game) they’ve got a lot to do.
Yolkie : You played under three of the best managers in the British game, Sir Bobby Robson (for England), Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson. Describe the differences between Fergie and Cloughie, and if any, similarities, and how different to both was Bobby?
Viv : They (Fergie and Clough) were both similar in many respects. They both wanted to play football in the right way, both strict disciplinarians, they didn’t like players doing things like arguing with referees, these sort of things. Both football orientated men, going to watch a game at any given opportunity and Sir Bobby also comes into that category.
Yolkie : Your time at Nottingham Forest cemented your place as a legend of the game and the legacy you left on the national sport was undoubted; while you became a cult hero at Arsenal, Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday. You were deservedly awarded an MBE in 2000 in recognition of your services to the game. Your story is one of the best in English football history; I presume that your breakthrough with England and everything that it meant is your proudest moment. Which of your club achievements are you most proud of?
Viv : I was fortunate to be at clubs that won things, at most of the clubs that I went to, so I was fortunate to be part of that. Everybody says “It must have been great to win the Champions League” or European Cup as it was then but I think the biggest thing was to win the league with Forest. We came up and we managed to win the league, you think now, in 2010, with the likes of Newcastle and West Brom coming up, it could never happen, the gap between the “big 4” and the rest is pretty big, so for the Forest team to do what they did, a provincial side with 19,000 for an average gate, was nothing short of remarkable. For me, I always think winning the league is the most important thing – it’s not just one off games in a Cup competition, it’s based over a 9 month season, so it’s always difficult.
Yolkie : Few people would know it (and correct me if I’m wrong!) but you were a boyhood United fan, and had a complicated trial process before you eventually signed for Forest – I read that you actually took up full time employment after the rejection from United. Describe that time in your life?
Viv : I was at United from 15 to 16 over school holidays and I remember going to one game, United against Everton, with the manager who was Wilf McGuiness at the time, he took me in his car. So obviously he thought a lot of me. But it came to the time when they handed out the apprenticeships and they said “we don’t think you’re going to quite make it at Manchester United”. I went back to Nottingham and got a job as a silk screen printer – I was there for 5 weeks, Forest asked me to play in their youth team when I was 17, I played once and they said “we want to sign you”, I signed and made my debut when I was 17 too.
Yolkie : When you joined United were you still a supporter or did that change throughout your career? I guess what I’m trying to say is was it a “dream come true” moment even after all you had accomplished?
Viv : I’d always been a United fan. Being there as a schoolboy I saw Best, Law and Charlton train on the next pitch, it was always a great thrill, we used to watch them afterwards and ogle at their skills and it was great.
Yolkie : Obviously Fergie had recently taken over, you were his first signing, how did he sell the club to you?
Viv : I got a call from Bryan Robson and he said, “we’ve got a new manager, Alex Ferguson, and he’d like to meet you regarding coming to play for Manchester United.” I’d just won the Milk Cup with Arsenal, they’d offered me another three year contract and I just said to my wife “we’re going to Man Utd”. She said “Oh I thought we’d settled here” and I said, “No we’re going to Man Utd!”, simply because it’d always been the club I’d supported and wanted to play for. I didn’t want to look back when I was old and say I’d had the chance to play for Man Utd and never took it. So Sir Alex didn’t have to sell me anything really. I’d made my mind up before!
Yolkie : We’re actually interviewing Patrick Barclay, the journalist, for the Stretford-End.com – he recently released a book about Sir Alex Ferguson – in it he mentions you were known for being effervescent in the dressing room – how do you think you were like as a character? Did you try to be a guiding influence or was it natural?
Viv : It was a natural thing – we had a few characters – your Norman Whitesides, your Bryan Robsons, Gordon Strachan, Kevin Moran.. we had lots of characters around, so I was just with the rest of them. It was just a great honour to play at the football club.
Yolkie : One of your successors at right back, Gary Neville, looks set to call it a day at the end of the season. Do you think he will?
Viv : I think he’s only 35 so injuries permitting, he’d be good for another year or so. I didn’t finish playing until I was 39 so if I was giving him any advice, I’d say play as long as you can, as long as you can do yourself justice – I mean, I was 38 and captaining Sheffield Wednesday In a Cup Final, so if you’re good enough, you’ll always find your level, and sooner or later you make the decision when to finish. But if he feels he’s still got another year or two in him he should continue. He’s fit enough, he doesn’t carry any weight, and it’s just a matter of getting over these smaller injuries that keep dogging him. Only he can make the decision but I would say keep on playing as long as you can.
Yolkie : You did have some disappointments in your career. The way your Old Trafford career ended, with a midfielder being chosen as right back ahead of you, and also the double Cup heartache with Wednesday at the hands of your former club Arsenal (accentuated by the fact you’d missed a League Cup win two years earlier against United!). Which was the hardest?
Viv : Was I disappointed about the 90 Cup Final? No not really, not at the time, obviously the manager makes his choice. I was disappointed in terms of being a natural right back, and seeing someone else out of position there but I’d been injured anyway and truth be told I wasn’t 100% fit. But at the end of the day those things happen and you move on.
Yolkie : After playing, you moved into management. You had a season at Barnsley before a successful spell with Bryan Robson at Middlesbrough where you were part of a total transformation for the club and set the platform for the most successful spell in the clubs history (incidentally re-creating that unwanted domestic Cup double feat again!)…
Viv : What we achieved was brilliant – 3 Cup Finals in one year, in hindsight it’d have been great if we had have won one, but it’s a rollercoaster ride. We took that club over when they were getting 10,000 crowds, we built a new stadium and had 35,000 sell outs, we bought Ravanelli and Juninho.. We had the ups and the downs, the relegation because of the points deduction, it was great to be part of the football club at the time though. And as you say, it was one of the happiest times – obviously you’d like to win things, not least because Bryan and I were used to winning things, but it was such a fantastic atmosphere and fantastic place to work at the time. I’ve got a lot of fond memories and I still go back from time to time now, I made a lot of good friends. But I think it was the right time that we left, we were there for 8 years, sometimes the players just need to hear a different voice.
Yolkie : Obviously, as well, success isn’t just winning trophies, it’s all relative…
Viv : Yeah. And maybe the club wouldn’t have gotten to the stage they’re at now if Robbo and I had been there, but you never know, do you?
Yolkie : Why didn’t you continue your career in management or at least as an assistant after that spell at Boro?
Viv : Well, we had a couple of offers when we first left. Bryan was going to go to Bradford after about 6 months. I didn’t think that would be the right vehicle to get back into management, I felt it was always destined to fail, and that’s why I didn’t go with him. After that, I decided to concentrate on my events company – I’d been part of it for 20 years, so when Bryan and I parted ways, the partners here asked why didn’t I join in? Obviously I do MUTV and also Passoker, an online game, I’m kept quite busy… I’m on the judicial panel for the FA, on disciplinary panels and the like, so it turned out to be the right thing.
Yolkie : United play Arsenal next Monday. How do you compare the current squads and what do you think the result will be?
Viv : Well Arsenal have obviously just gone top, and they’re getting a few players back. Fabregas looks like he’ll be out, but van Persie is back. They’re a good attractive side to watch, but I always feel with the Arsenal that they always fall away after Christmas… they really roll when the good pitches are in but come after Christmas they always seem to fade away for whatever reason. They’ve had a bit of inconsistency but they’re still right at the top, I feel it’ll be a really good, entertaining game. For United, the Tottenham game was a really good game – the better the opposition, the better they seem to play. They played really well against Liverpool, those two games stick out for me. They haven’t been eye catching this season but they’ve got the job done and won games without playing really well. Traditionally United always play well after Christmas, and I think this is a great opportunity before the New Year to steal a march on everybody else. I think Manchester United will win. Maybe a close encounter, I think it may be 2-1.
Yolkie : Obviously as we’ve discussed you were outspoken in your views after our recent League Cup exit. That would suggest you’re not confident about our ability to replace the likes of Scholes and Giggs in particular from within – who would you think, realistically, United could get into replace those two?
Viv : You could go round the countries and around the world trying to find someone to replace Scholes and Giggs… those and the Neville’s and Beckham, it was unbelievable how they all came through at the same time, all went on to play for their country and get many caps, many trophies, so to replace them is always going to be a massive, massive ask. That’s why they’re still playing now, because they’re still trying to find people to replace them. It’ll be a thankless task for the manager to replace them because a) they’re really good players, and b) they never upset the manager in anyway and they get on with the job, they know what’s expected of them, and they’re invaluable to the club. And having seen Scholesy, he looks like he could do another couple of seasons.
There will be people out there because obviously the club moves on… everyone thought they’d never replace Robson then Cantona came round the corner, same when Eric left then Wayne Rooney comes along. There will always be individuals because no-one is bigger than any football club but replace 3 or 4, you’ve got Giggs, Scholes and Neville, that’s going to take some doing.
Yolkie: Who’s your tip for the title this season?
Viv : Chelsea seem to have floundered a little bit in recent weeks, obviously the sacking of Ray Wilkins has had an adverse effect on them. I think it will be between ourselves (United) and Chelsea. Chelsea will come strong again. They’ve got a good squad and can afford to buy in the transfer window, I think Arsenal may be good for a cup this year, but I always think United, come the New Year, will kick into form. I’m the first to admit they haven’t played consistently well since the start of the season, we’ve got results. But maybe get a few players back fit, maybe add in the transfer window – whether the manager does that or thinks what he’s got is enough, we’ll have to wait and see – but I think United will come strong and I think we’ll win it.
Yolkie : I met you at United Nights and know that you’re involved with that; it’s no surprise to learn you have the proverbial iron in many fires; I saw your website, Passoker.com which looks to me like a prize poker competition. Could you explain a little more?
Viv : It’s been on the site for 10 weeks now and it’s been a prize game; you’d watch a live game, and play Passoker at the same time. It was free to play and the winner would win signed memorabilia. Victor Chandler are now taking it over on their website and by Christmas it will be a money version, instead of winning prizes you play for money, with a maximum stake of £100 and a minimum of just £1. It’s a random game and won an award in Copenhagen, which was a big thing for us, so hopefully it will get bigger and better.
Yolkie : And as well as United Nights and the work you do with MUTV, I’m aware you’re also involved in North West Events which, among other things, includes hospitality packages for Manchester United games. Tell us a little more?
Viv : We’re the biggest independent corporate hospitality company on Manchester United’s books, we have between 100-300 people every match day in boxes and exec seats. We have the Chairman’s Lounge, which we own, an old room where the older chairmen used to entertain customers before the game. We don’t just do United, we do the MEN Arena and any corporate event really. We do boxes for gigs, but essentially any kind of entertainment you want, we can provide for you. We’ve been going for 20 plus years and have a great reputation.
Thanks to Viv for a brilliant chat.
To read more about Viv’s very strong views on FIFA after the World Cup draw , check out the rest of the interview on False10.com.