Frank Simek interview: ‘Man, I dig those Cumbrian Blues…’ – Vintage Stars and Stripes for U.S. defender abroad
Carlisle United’s American defender Frank Simek is by now long since established in English football but there was a time when he was in the infancy of his professional career and he took a small yet very clear and rhythmic piece of home with him.
The 28-year-old St. Louis-born right-back is in his third season with the League One Cumbrians after a five-year stay with Sheffield Wednesday where he saw terrific form and consistency punctuated by injury misfortune. Despite his Stateside upbringing he came through the ranks at Arsenal and as he prepares to make his 110th Carlisle appearance this weekend he casts a look, and a laugh, back over the time he was introducing himself to his new teammates in the most daunting of situations as a 20-year-old. It was a loan spell from Arsenal across London to Queens Park Rangers where he was to get his first experience of league football in the Championship and as is often customary for a new signing, he had to get up there and put the vocal range to the test!
“I had to sing when I went to QPR and I sang ‘American Pie’ (Don McLean). It went as well as could be expected and they all started joining in when I got to the chorus, which everyone knows.’’
Although QPR are actually one of five teams Frank has represented in his career to date that rendition of the Don McLean masterpiece is actually the only time that he has been called upon to test his musical mettle in front of his fellow pros. This season has however provided him with the chance to witness two memorable singing displays from a Carlisle duo hailing from the opposite sides of Yorkshire who had some diverse offerings to serve up.
One of these players gave his own interview on here last season and it seems that he might have strayed slightly from his usual initiation technique of entertaining his colleagues with his repertoire of impressions!
“Two of the best I’ve seen were this year and it was Mike Edwards and Danny Cadamarteri. I think Danny did a Jackson 5 song and Mike I think sang… the Kazakhstan national anthem!’’
As Frank’s choice of initiation song at QPR would perhaps hint, he does have space in his collection for some of the more timeless and vintage artists and that is illustrated further in the first example he gives when describing the music he enjoys the most.
“I prefer some of the older stuff, like Lynyrd Skynyrd if you’re familiar with them? ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and all that.
“I don’t mind a bit of country, the likes of Keith Urban, Tom Petty. (Asked if Kenny Chesney makes it into his top country artists) Kenny Chesney, yeah I’ll listen to some of his songs!
“I do like some hip-hop and r&b sometimes but I have to be in the mood to listen to it. I’m not big on house or techno, I really can’t stand that!’’
Frank made reference to his liking for hip-hop on select occasions and judging by his response to the question of the first record he ever bought it seems that his mood was certainly in that direction around 1997! The artist he names hit something of a career peak at this time with his debut album ‘Harlem World’ before a retirement from rap two years later for religious reasons, though he has since made more than one comeback.
“The first one I had was actually one by Mase. I was so young then and I look back now and think ‘why?’!’’
Although Frank grew up in Missouri he and his family spent a considerable amount of time in England due to his father’s job and there was an element of both sides of the Atlantic when we discussed his favourite live music performances he has seen.
“I went to Memphis and in the different bars there they have acoustic guitar performances and I really enjoyed it. If you get a good guitarist playing it can be really fun to watch and I also saw Dave Matthews Band in London.’’
In the summer of 2011 Frank married Kristen in Millstadt, Illinois and he recalls the live musical act the couple had performing that day. Although as a Sheffield Wednesday supporter I know about Frank in great detail it was interesting to me how his wedding day is brought up in the first Google results of him. This reminded me of the mention the ex-Holland captain (and an Arsenal player when Frank was at Highbury) Giovanni van Bronckhorst gave regarding his wedding song when he answered some music and football questions for this site and it gave me the idea to ask Frank about any memorable music from his own big day.
“We had dueling pianos which is when two guys are playing separate pianos together and they can play all sorts, like rap and hip-hop on the piano for example. We hired a couple of guys for it and we had a lot of the traditional wedding songs on the day too.’’
Although the music on Frank’s wedding day was something he had a hand in choosing he is not one of the frontrunners when it comes to the team’s pre-game playlist at Carlisle. As the Cumbrians’ striker, and now captain, Lee Miller described the particularly interesting sound choices of his teammate at the time Paddy Madden (now with Yeovil Town) in his interview on here last season I also had to ask Frank about the in-form Irish frontman.
“It’s usually the younger guys who choose the pre-match CD and music. It’s not really the kind of stuff I’d listen to in my car but there’s some hip-hop on there, which is good for getting you pumped before games.
“Paddy Madden puts some of his music up on Facebook – I never click on his links!’’
As touched upon, and as regular readers of the site will have noticed with the personnel of some of my past interviews and references made in others, I am a Sheffield Wednesday supporter and I saw a lot of Frank in his performances for us. After he initially joined up with Paul Sturrock’s newly-promoted Championship squad on a trial basis after leaving Arsenal in summer 2005 he impressed enough to sign permanently ahead of the 2005/06 campaign.
Frank, who had also spent time on loan with Bournemouth in the previous season as well as QPR, made a fairly swift impact with Wednesday fans due to his committed and amiable demeanour and impressive on-pitch displays. In our first season back in the second tier he was key to our survival, making 45 appearances and scoring the only goal in a simply vital 1-0 win at relegation rivals Millwall in February 2006.
Wednesdayites will remember that game for a surreal moment when the home side were celebrating scoring past defender and stand-in keeper Lee Bullen only to see the goal disallowed and for play to eventually lead to Frank burying an effort on his supposedly weaker left foot before being thrown down and mobbed by
his Owls teammates. The following season saw manager Sturrock’s departure in October but under new boss Brian Laws and with key players returning from injury Wednesday went on an unlikely run towards the Championship play-offs, ultimately missing out on the top six by just four points.
That year we were a genuinely exciting side to watch with Chris Brunt, Glenn Whelan, Marcus Tudgay, Deon Burton and Steve MacLean scoring 55 times between them. Frank’s progress had also accelerated and his wholehearted challenges, pacy forays forward down the right and assured defensive displays had made him even more of a Hillsborough favourite than he had been the previous season. In his first two years he had played 89 times for the club and although he was a mainstay once more in the early months of the 2007/08 season he was to suffer a serious ankle injury in a December 2007 game at Crystal Palace’s Selhurst Park.
It was an immensely cruel piece of misfortune for such a talented player and it would be October 2008 before he played in the blue and white again. Setbacks that often come with the return from a serious injury disrupted Frank’s progress and his final season in S6 was 2009/10 which ended in relegation to League One.
I actually did an interview with Frank at the Wednesday training ground as part of my university work in December 2009 just two days before manager Brian Laws was sacked after a 3-0 defeat to Leicester. At the time Frank was in and out of the team and that would continue under the next manager Alan Irvine. His final Owls appearance at least came in a 2-0 win at home over Leicester but I felt he was particularly unfortunate to be as underused as he was in the final months of his time in South Yorkshire.
My feeling was that he deserved an uninterrupted spell in the team to try to make his mark again after the fantastic form he had enjoyed before his injury. As it transpired, Frank was released in 2010 as his contract expired but as there was a time when I felt that he was the only right-back Wednesday would need for many years to come I wondered how he felt the day he left the club.
“I was disappointed but not surprised; I didn’t expect to be offered a new contract. After five years and having a strong connection to the club to see them relegated in my last year and not being able to help was what hurt me the most.
“I really enjoyed my time there, although I’d probably say I enjoyed the first two and a half years more than the next two and a half because of the injury. It’s a really good club and with the fanbase they’re always there and it was a privilege to play for them.
“They’re back in the Championship now and it’s great for the club and the city. There aren’t too many people still there from my time at the club but I always talk to John and Ash the kitmen when I go back and it’s always nice seeing the people behind the scenes.’’
Frank’s form up to and including 2007 had begun to attract Premier League interest and with all the talk at the time regarding a possible bid from the likes of Everton did word ever reach him about the speculation?
“It did, I’m not a big reader of papers and rumour sites but if something does come up, with football being a close-knit world, you hear about it from teammates and others. No official bid ever came in though.’’
With Frank coming from St. Louis in America and the somewhat unique dialect there is in Sheffield I had to ask if there was ever a breakdown in communication between him and the good people of South Yorkshire during his time at Wednesday!
“I got the hang of it pretty quickly, it’s not too difficult to understand. Maybe if I was somewhere like Liverpool it would have been though!
“I enjoyed the city and the people, and how big football is to them and how serious the rivalry is with Sheffield United. There’s some good restaurants in Sheffield too.’’
Since he left Wednesday, Frank has faced the club four times, the latter of which was at Hillsborough in April last year in a huge game. The Owls were hunting down rivals United in what would be an ultimately successful pursuit in the League One automatic promotion race and Carlisle were chasing the play-offs themselves. In the third-to-last game of the 2011/12 season, Wednesday secured a 2-1 win over Carlisle deep into added time as Michail Antonio’s winner sparked some of the wildest celebrations seen in the home areas of Hillsborough in so many years.
It was an incredible moment but with Frank seeing it from the perspective of a former player who had been welcomed back warmly but gone on to see his team defeated at the death in a crucial game for them what was it like that day?
“I’ve been there for Wednesday when we’ve had last-minute winners at Hillsborough and the place was rocking when Antonio scored but it’s not too nice when you’re on the other end of it. Hillsborough’s always well-supported and the fans were pretty vocal that day, it was a good experience for me but we came up short that day.’’
After just missing out on the play-offs last season things have been more difficult for Carlisle this time around and Greg Abbott’s side are currently 17th in the League One table. A win over Coventry was very welcome but the momentum was disrupted by the postponed game at Crawley last weekend due to the weather.
This Saturday will see the Cumbrians take on Scunthorpe United at Brunton Park and it will be a meeting for Frank with his old Wednesday boss Brian Laws and assistant Russ Wilcox, as well as striker Akpo Sodje. It has not been an easy campaign for the team so far but Frank is encouraged by some of the recent results.
“The last month I think has been pretty good. The results we’ve had prior to that have been pretty poor and we’ve had a hard time.
“We’ve won the last three home games and it’s a chance to get back into it this Saturday.’’
I have already looked at some of the various differences between the places Frank has spent the majority of his time in and as his spell with Carlisle has seen a man from Missouri residing in Cumbria how has it all been for him?
“Yeah it is different, it’s not as big as Sheffield but Carlisle’s a fun place to be. Once you go outside of Carlisle there’s not really much around for a long way but I’m a pretty laid-back guy and I enjoy it.’’
Frank has represented the USA in the past and was part of a squad that contained the likes of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan when Bob Bradley’s team won the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup. When he put together his 5-a-side team (including himself as a prerequisite) of the best players he has ever worked with for my regular concluding question on here though he kept things strictly blue and white rather than Stars and Stripes with four former Sheffield Wednesday teammates. The perfect note to end on if you ask me!
“Good question, let me think about that. OK I’d pick Chris Brunt for his left foot.
“Glenn Whelan for his work rate and quality on the ball. Steve Watson for his all-round game and in goal, Scott Carson – he was great for us.’’