SLAVEN BILIC has more reason than most to detest UB40.
The UK’s foremost white reggae band took their name from the dreaded form filled in by millions of the unemployed during the grim start to the 80s.
Bilic, 51, is now bouncing back as manager of West Brom having been sacked just over two years ago by his beloved West Ham.
He is peering down from the top of the Championship at a club which ‘smells of football’, claims the self-confessed soccer junkie who chills out with his enjoyment of music.
Bilic said: “Football is my life. Music is easy to enjoy, of course, although I don’t interrupt the players.
“But I think Roy Keane said you can’t play Abba before the game and I agree with that. At West Ham we went to Anfield in 2015 and won 3-0 — we hadn’t beat them in 50 years.
“Before the game they were playing Red, Red Wine from UB40. I’m like, ‘Red, Red Wine?’, that’s for a romantic dinner, not for Anfield. It is not like a war song.
“I said sorry lads and I put on Whiskey in the Jar, the Metallica version. Three-nil. After that I left them to it.”
Croatian Bilic is now shaping high-flying West Brom in his image with a sense of unity brought from his homeland, reinvigorating the playing style and breathing life back into one of English football’s cult teams.
The club and the manager feed off each other with spectacular results — one league defeat ahead of today’s home game against Sheffield Wednesday.
Bilic said: “When you get sacked, first of all you say, ‘I’m going to enjoy it and take a break’. Then your brain, your body suffers. You are like a junkie. Your body needs it. You are bored.
“I asked my wife a few weeks ago, what’s the best place to live? We have had the privilege to live in some great places.
“She said, ‘With you the place is not important’. When I got sacked by West Ham we stayed in London. She said, ‘London was no good for you when you were free with so much time’.
“She was basically saying, ‘When you don’t have a job you’re a pain in the a**e’.
“I like it here. It’s the first time as a manager I’ve lived in let’s say a ‘smaller’ town. Birmingham still has half the population of Croatia, though.
“First I lived in Moscow, then Istanbul, then London and then Jeddah — all massive cities. This is the first time that everywhere I go it’s 15 minutes. I enjoy it.
“A lot of people have told me, ‘Birmingham this, Birmingham this, it is not nice’ but I am shocked in a positive way.
“People told me about the strong accents but remember I played at Everton for Walter Smith with eight or nine Scotsmen in the dressing room. This is a piece of cake.”
Bilic and his assistant Julian Dicks have brought a grounded approach to a club where two years out of the top flight brings increasing pressure for promotion, which requires special ingredients.
Bilic said: “I was a good student at school but I had to help somebody who wasn’t so good in my class.
“I had to spend time with her, to teach her how to write if she was struggling.
“Here, western philosophy is to compete with the best, they isolate the best ones. That is making you more individual.
“Here at West Brom, the guys are not big-time Charlies, noses in the air.
“We lost eight or nine regular players from last season — the likes of Dwight Gayle, Jay Rodriguez, Harvey Barnes.
“But we were lucky enough to be good at transfers and they clicked straightaway. They came in and started well and we promoted some good young players.
“When you bring your new ideas, of course they all believe you but deep in their minds they need proof — and there is no better proof than results.
“I love my job. It is football and football is my life. Unfortunately there is big pressure.
“Go back a few years to when I was playing. You got criticised after the game from five or six newspapers and a couple of radio stations.
“Now you are criticised before the game, at half-time, and in seconds you know what your fans in New Zealand are thinking about you.”
Food For Thought, as UB40 sang — although that was one of their good ones.