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At 3pm on 17th August 2002, Stephen Wright started his first game for Sunderland. Thirty-three seconds later, he was shown his first yellow card in red and white stripes for a foul on Damien Duff, a player who Wright had the unenviable task of marking for the whole ninety minutes. Despite this misdemeanour, and bearing in mind that it was little more than forty-eight hours since he had met his new team mates, he put in a very impressive performance against a player who was the opposition’s main threat and who would leave the stadium with a big bottle of orange juice or whatever it is they give the man of the match these days.

Twenty-two and a half years earlier, Wright had a few other things on his mind. Firstly, on 8th of February 1980, Wright had to come to terms with the small matter of being born. After dealing with this, he then had to cope with owning the biggest pair of ears since Prince Charles suffered an allergic reaction to Camilla’s corset, allegedly, and could only have had to deal with the kind of schoolyard barracking that would have led lesser mortals to a life of cowering in corners. Not for Wright though, no sir. The career course for him was a fast track to right back heaven.

After graduating from Liverpool’s youth academy, Wright finally broke into the first team at the age of twenty, making his debut as a substitute in a narrow 8-0 victory over Stoke City in the Worthington Cup. However, with few opportunities to gain first team experience in a team as strong as Liverpool’s, Wright was soon off to Crewe Alexandra to get some games under his belt. Very impressive he was too during his spells at Gresty Road, making twenty-three appearances, including eighteen starts, during a season in which the Railwaymen were to once again perform well above what was expected of them.

It was in the 2001/2002 season that Wright really came of age though. Before the signing of Portuguese head-the-ball Abel Xavier, Wright was asked to step into the boots of Markus Babbel who had unfortunately succumbed to a crippling illness. During the course of the season Wright made fourteen appearances for Liverpool and though he received his first Premiership red card in a 4-0 victory over Charlton at The Valley in that season, he also opened his first team goal scoring account with a header which put the Reds 2-0 up against Borussia Dortmund in a Champions’ League victory.

We spoke to Chris Boscombe from the Liverpool Echo to get an informed opinion on our keen-hearing full back and he had nothing but praise for the lad: “He’s a very versatile performer,” he said, “who’s played all along the back four for Liverpool and he’s looked comfortable wherever he’s been. He’s even played in the centre of the midfield for the youths. I think you’ll love him at Sunderland, he’ll give you 100% no matter where he plays and he’s as tough as nails.”

Praise indeed, but it didn’t stop there. “A lot of Pool fans are angry that he’s been allowed to leave and you’ve got a bargain for the price you’ve paid. He only signed a new contract last season and he was really unlucky that Xavier came in and replaced him. The lad’s got good potential, there’s no doubt about it. I think most fans would probably say Xavier’s not as good as him and in a few years, he’ll certainly be worth a lot more than has been paid for him now.”

“If there’s anywhere you’ll have a problem with him, it’s bookings. He picks up a few yellows, so you might have to watch him with that one.” Fair enough mate, but we’re graduates from the right back school of Makin and Kay, so I’m sure we can take it. Besides, we looked at the figures, and he’s only picked up five yellow cards in his forty-four professional appearances (and two of them were in the same game). He did pick up one during his forty-fifth game though – his debut for the Lads – we’re putting it down to the excitement of playing for the greatest team in the multiverse.

With a total appearance record of only fifteen starts from twenty-one appearances for Liverpool, it seems that he has already developed a fantastic reputation amongst the Anfield regulars. This brings back memories of an inexperienced young twenty-year old by the name of Sutton leaving Norwich and immediately firing Blackburn to the Premiership title alongside Son of Satan. What is the story behind Stephen Wright then?

“He actually broke through from the Academy with Steven Gerrard, him and Steve are best mates. In fact, Wright and Gerrard were the last players to get in the first team after playing in the Academy. His dad, John, is part of the backroom staff at Liverpool and even at the Academy Stephen always stood out.”

“He proved that he’s got massive potential when he broke into the team, he came in for the really big games. I remember he was absolutely outstanding last season against Giggs when we played Man United and against Pires at Highbury. The Sunderland fans will absolutely love him. He tries hard, he gives everything and he’s one hundred times better than Phil Babb. I don’t know what you’re doing with him. Wright’s in a different class.”

Alright already, as Jewish actors say in poor films, this is all very nice, but if he’s so damn good, why did Liverpool sell him to us? “Again, I just think he’s been really unlucky since we signed Xavier. When Markus Babbel got his injury, Jamie Carragher came in to cover him from left back. A couple of games later, Carragher got suspended or injured and Wright came in. He made the position his own until Gerard Houllier signed Xavier, went to left back for a couple of games and looked good there too. Carragher was still injured then but when he was fit again, he was always going to go straight into the team at Wright’s expense.”

“The problem is when you’ve got so many expensive signings in the team it’s always going to be difficult for newer players to be able to break through, so Gerard had to sell him when Babbel came back, but teams will certainly pay more for players nowhere near as good as Wright is. You’ve made a great signing there.” Brilliant! And we look forward to seeing him turn out regularly for the Lads too.


V2002 / the beginning is nigh


Since his arrival in December 1999, Kevin Kilbane has been the focus of much barracking and, certainly, many a pub argument. An enigma ever since he walked into the SoL, surely his now infamous v-sign at Belgium is the last straw in his chequered career at the Stadium of Light. Or is it?

Following his v-sign, the big question that has been asked is, “Can the level of abuse he receives be justified?” Granted, his actions at Gent were inexcusable, but who can blame the man for finally snapping due to the torrent of expletives hurled at him over the last few years. Every time he steps onto the pitch, people are waiting for an excuse to goad him. This is not a new situation, and anyway, how can anybody play at their best when subject to this level of abuse. But what has Kevin Kilbane done to deserve this? Surely he isn’t that bad?

Apparently so, according to the vast majority of the crowd. ‘Rubbish’, ‘Worst player I have ever seen’ and ‘Not fit to wear the red and white shirt’ are just some of the more complementary things I have heard said about Mr Kilbane recently. But still, what has he done that is that bad?

I accept that he is not the world’s greatest player. If his crossing is hit and miss, his ball control is miss and maybe. Still though, he’s not our worst player by a long chalk. Step forward Herr Haas, Monsieur Laslandes or, erm, Misterski (made that one up myself) Varga – players who collectively played, or at least tried to play, a significant proportion of last season’s matches but aren’t subject to anything like the level of abuse Kevin Kilbane receives.

I would even go as far as to say Kilbane was one of our best players in several games last season: Chelsea at home, Bolton away and Sheffield Wednesday in the cup to name just a few. “This is not enough,” I hear people say, “he needs to produce this kind of performance every week.” But how many of our players can we honestly say had more than five or six good games last season? Not many I think.

Kilbane is the only player in our side who can do something a little bit different. He works very hard, is pacy and more than useful in the air. He won several penalties last season, many of which were missed by Kevin Phillips, who received no abuse whatsoever for this. He scored a few goals and was our only creative spark in many games. If he improves his ball control and develops his repertoire instead of knocking the ball past the defender and running after it as fast as he can, he could become a very good player.

I can see why people criticise him. He will often have a rush of blood and do something silly as a consequence, such as mis-control badly or hook a cross into the crowd (or even stick his fingers up at the fans). This often makes him look worse than he actually is. His lack of a quality first touch results in him never having the ball fully under control and leaves him prone to gaffes, giving the boo-boys a chance to heckle.

My point is that whilst he may never become anybody’s favourite player, if he does stay at the club, which is looking increasingly likely, let’s not boo him or hassle him as soon as he comes onto the pitch. In my opinion he is certainly not the worst player at SAFC and is one of the few players we have got who is capable of creating a goal-scoring chance. Surely somebody who has always given everything when picked deserves a second chance. Doesn’t he?

Tim Gillespie


Nothing surprised me more last season than the speed with which it seemed to pass. It felt like only yesterday that I was convincing myself, after the 2-2 home draw with Charlton, that we were just warming up and that the team would soon get into gear. The subsequent sale of Alex Rae was at best short sighted and at worst pure madness, while the subsequent purchase of McAteer fully demonstrated.

The continuing speculation that our main 'stars' were set to flee the nest this summer only added to the feeling of anxiety. it seemed certain we would face the prospect of season 2002/03 without the services of Phillips, Sorensen and Arca. I knew quite a few who people who had said they would not renew their season tickets if Phillips was sold. One thing SAFC could be sure of was that if Phillips was sold and no 'real' replacement was brought in, the casual, pay match-by-match fan would probably not turn-up.

I am a firm believer that those fans we have seen arrive over the last five years are there to be entertained and a lot of them will be fed-up after last season. They will only occasionally turn-up this season. This is directly related to the whole football transformation of the 1990s, where crowds have increased thanks to better facilities and an all-round friendlier day out. Some clubs have forced out the traditional fans that can no longer afford to watch their team and replaced them with the people I speak of above. This has put clubs in the unenviable position of having to provide a source of entertainment to the public.

A failure to 'entertain' this season will mean that they have to entice the traditional fans back into the game. We have seen this in practice already when Sunderland reduced the price of season tickets last season. Like certain theme bars, football has been through its fashionable era. It may now be a time to return to traditional values.

I find the fact that somebody would consider throwing a pint of beer over Peter Reid intolerable. OK, so we lost the game, but it was a pre-season friendly. The problems Kevin Kilbane has had and his resulting gesture, whilst inexcusable, are fully understandable. Zinedine Kilbane has the crowd on his back from the moment his name is read out before the game has started.

I refer to it as the 'batteryometer'. SuperKev starts the game with a positive sign next to his name and so, in order for the fans to go away from the ground complaining about the game he played, he has to have an absolute stinker - something that doesn't happen that often. ZK on the other hand, starts every game with a negative sign next to his name, so even a good couple of runs will still have the populace shaking their head at his first mistake. The man has no self-confidence in front of the home fans and I feel that he will have to do something extraordinary to win the crowd over this season after his outburst. I feel it may now be a time to cut losses for both our sakes.

I am looking forward to this season. We have just signed Tommy Butler for three years, we still have Gavin McCann in midfield despite last season's transfer request, SuperKev will continue up front and it's clear we're trying to bring someone in to take some of the burden. Let's give Reidy a little more time. He has brought Sunderland to a level none of us could have dreamt of until recently.

OK, we're not world beaters, but our fans are down to earth, canny folk. A friend who often travels away with me once said: "I love supporting Sunderland because of who and what Sunderland is." Isn't this what being a Sunderland fan is all about?

Mysterious Craig

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