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Stars and their cars

There I was, sitting with a slightly glazed look in my eye with a nice single malt in one hand and a small pile of peanuts in the other whilst wishing those around me a very prosperous new transfer window when I set about thinking what it is that footballers do to celebrate the festive period. I had a quick jaunt into my brain's nostalgia banks and it suddenly dawned on me, they try to kill themselves in their cars. In fact, after careful consideration of some shenanigans involving Britain’s highest paid buffoons, it became clear to me that attempted suicide whilst at the wheel is in danger of overtaking golf as the favourite pastime of the nation's footballers.

Though Clarence Acuna was hilariously arrested for drink driving whilst dressed as Captain Hook on a journey that took him from his home on Newcastle’s Quayside to a pub on erm, Newcastle’s Quayside, the King of the Car Cock-up (oh dear I sound like Dennis Norden) is undoubtedly Kieron Dyer who has written off, in the space of a year, a Merc, a BMW, and a Ferrari. The last incident happened pretty recently and came as a result of the injury prone barcode failing to see the Swing Bridge and choosing to drive straight into it.

There have been some fine examples of stupid-buggery involving footballers and it would be unfair of me not to regale some of the more juicy tales to the S&C reader - hey, there’d be almost two blank pages if I didn’t - so after an in-depth trawl through the Rothmans book of Footballing Motor Accidents, I present to you a story of overpaid men in motors.

Writing off cars is by no means a new phenomena. I missed George Best strutting his stuff for Fulham against us in the mid 70’s because he was locked up after getting wazzed as a newt and wrapping his Jag around a traffic sign and, more recently, Tony Adams did his best to demolish someone’s garden with his car while under the influence. The list goes on, just ask Jan Molby who has served time for motoring offences, but the lads at Sunderland have been no angels over the years either.

Ian Porterfield signed from Raith Rovers for a mere £45,000 and was a fantastic player scoring some brilliant and crucial goals in his seven year stint at the club, most memorably a tap in against Stoke City in Division Two and less memorably the winner against Leeds which helped Sunderland to FA Cup glory. Porterfield had the world at his feet and was playing some fantastic football with Sunderland and earning regular call-ups to a then impressive Scotland side. Then disaster struck. After putting his car into a tree at high speeds he not only destroyed his car but very nearly killed himself. Damage to Porterfield's skull meant that he was never the same player again.

Nicky Summerbee, albeit while at Manchester City, was assigned the task of looking after new signing Georgi Kinkladze. With the reputation Summerbee had gained about town as a regular party goer and excessive clubber, it came as no surprise to hear that rather than show Kinkladze around the City and point out the tourist hotspots, they decided to have a Porsche v Ferrari race through Greater Manchester. The inevitable nightmare result was that Kinkladze wrecked his £150,000 Ferrari and injured his back after his motor veered into an unsuspecting lamppost.

Gary Bennett was inspirational during his time at Sunderland and appeared twice at Wembley in the red and white stripes of SAFC.

However he was repeatedly hit with fines and bans related to his driving. The lowest point of Gary’s motor hell came when he was involved in a punch up with a cab driver after the taxi had crashed into the back of his car. Bennett, knowing the consequences of being caught behind the wheel while inebriated, decided the best course of action was to clout the taxi driver to ease the pain. Benno only just escaped a jail sentence after the incident and the story came as a surprise to many, widely due to the fact Gary Bennett is a top bloke and it seemed out of character for him to drunkenly assault anybody.

In the fourth round of the Littlewoods Cup away to Exeter in 1989, two late goals from Gordon Armstrong and Eric Gates rescued a draw and the prospect of progressing further in the competition. John Kay, Gordon Armstrong and Tim Carter all went out to celebrate and sample the south coast delights. When Armstrong and Carter deserted Kay, he decided to start a fight with a bunch of lads in a nightclub. After realising that he was fighting a lost cause, Kaysie made a run for it. However, using the pavement like any other citizen was just not good enough for Kay who decided that the best route for escape was over a row of parked taxis, damaging them with his thunderous strides while fleeing. Now with a horde of disgruntled nightclubbers and taxi drivers pursuing him, Kaysie was fortunate enough to spot pals Armstrong and Carter motoring down the sea front in a cab, where a Bond like dive into the moving car saved Kay from the angry… and gaining… mob.

In the close season of 1993 Terry Butcher splashed out over £2million on summer signings Ian Rodgerson, Derek Ferguson, Andy Melville and Phil Gray. While returning from a pre-season testimonial game at Middlesbrough all of these players were involved in a car crash whilst driving home. The major differences in Sunderland’s road system compared to the rest of the world caused confusion to Derek Ferguson and he drove the wrong way round a roundabout. The consequences resulted in injuries to both Gray and Rodgerson delaying their full debuts by some time. Not that Ian Rodgerson was ever fit to begin with.

More recently Phil Babb and Kevin Phillips have been caught by the long arm of the law for speeding, while Lilian Laslandes, the alleged replacement for St Niall, has failed repeatedly to locate the courts after a drink driving offence on Tyneside. Mickey Gray has also been pulled for drink driving, bizarrely trying to blame his dad for the incident to avoid the year ban and not getting away with it. One year later he celebrated getting his licence back by buying a new Ferrari.

There is only one way to conclude a tale like this and that is with a simple instruction. Never under any circumstances, accept a lift from a professional footballer. Especially if they are wearing an Alice band and dressed as Captain Hook. That a top pro can write off £150,000 worth of equipment with less concern than I would show if I spilt a pint is a worrying and perversely irritating sign of the way things are with the English game. However as the Knights of the Round Table always said: “Adopt, adapt, improve.” Using this positive approach, I’ve found a foolproof way of keeping myself financially comfortable, most probably absolutely minted, for the rest of my life. I’m off to open a bodywork repair shop next door to Kieron Dyer.

Sobs (with help from Simon Dutson)


Minority Report

In a season of such minimal excitement, the rising stock of David Bellion has been one of the few positive aspects. His direct style, which has prompted the chants of “Belli’s gonna get ya” highlights his popularity amongst the Stadium of Light faithful.

Bellion is especially popular with younger fans, being the player they all want to be in the schoolyard. This is even more pleasing because Bellion is black. As little as 25 years ago Sunderland had not had a black player amongst their ranks and, as with all clubs, racism was an issue on the terraces.

Whilst a minority of Sunderland fans still see fit to racially abuse visiting players at times, Sunderland’s own black players have always been judged by their abilities by the fans. Indeed, the best of these players have become some of the most respected and popular players in the club's history.

It wasn’t until a home match on 2nd January 1978 that a black player first represented Sunderland AFC. That man was Roly Gregoire, a teenage Liverpudlian striker who had been signed from Halifax Town. Gregoire had only played five times for the Yorkshire club when he earned his move to Roker with a hat trick against Sunderland reserves for the Shaymen’s second string.

Gregoire failed to make much of an impact at Sunderland, making just ten appearances before having his contract cancelled in 1980 after a long-term injury. His only goal for the club came at Luton during a 3-1 win in April 1978.

The next two black players to play for the club made their debuts in the opening game of the 1984/85 season - Gary Bennett and Howard Gayle. Gayle was a Liverpool youth product who was signed from Birmingham City. He played fairly regularly in his two seasons with the club, usually as an attacking midfielder.

He featured in the early rounds of the Milk Cup run of 1984/85 before losing his place after the 4th round. However, Gayle eventually returned to the team, getting onto the bench for the final. His late appearance could not prevent the 1-0 defeat.

Bennett enjoyed a magnificent career at Sunderland after following his manager Len Ashurst from Cardiff City. He scored after just two minutes of his debut, the first of 444 appearances for the club, and was part of the Wembley line up against Norwich that same season.

Always a hugely popular player, Bennett was the first black captain in the history of British football whilst at Sunderland. He also added to his Wembley appearances whilst at the club, playing in the 1990 Play Off final and the 1992 FA Cup final.

A third black player joined the Sunderland ranks during the 1984/85 season when Southampton accepted an £80,000 bid for fullback Reuben Agboola. The London-born Nigerian international spent seven years at the club, although he often found himself out of the side.

Agboola’s best runs in the team came in Denis Smith’s first three seasons in charge, culminating in Play Off appearances at St James’s Park and Wembley when deputising for Paul “I’m sorry John, was that your head I just clipped?” Hardyman.

Late in the 1985/86 season Tony Ford arrived on loan from Grimsby Town. He came off the bench to score on his debut and then started all the remaining matches as Sunderland finished a disappointing season with four wins in the last seven games.

In April 1989 Sean Wharton became the first and, to date, the only black player to come through the youth ranks and graduate to the first team. However, he played only once, in a 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth. Wharton was released by the club soon afterwards and ended up carving out a career in the Welsh League.

Sunderland broke their transfer record in December 1991 when Don Goodman was signed from West Brom for £900,000.

Goodman quickly became a popular figure as his committed style won the fans over. He notched a hat trick against Millwall not long after arriving at the club and scored a total of 47 goals in 133 appearances before being transferred to Wolves.

Terry Butcher made several criminal signings in his time as manager but he took this to the extreme when signing James Lawrence in 1993. The winger came from Parkhurst prison, where he had spent the previous two years for his part in an armed robbery. Lawrence made just five appearances before moving to Doncaster Rovers, though he eventually ended up, via a circuitous route playing in the Premiership for Bradford and then Leicester.

Having sold Don Goodman, Mick Buxton tried several options to replace him including the loan signing of Paul Williams from Crystal Palace. However, Williams made no impact during his three game spell with the club, in which just one point was taken.

Peter Reid signed his first black player in the summer of 1998. Gerry Harrison arrived from Burnley on a free transfer and had a disastrous spell at the Stadium of Light. His only appearance came in the Worthington Cup against York City, where he was unimpressive. It later emerged that he had been suffering from hepatitis at the time.

Reid’s next signing of a black player was equally unproductive for the club. Milton Nunez’s arrival on deadline day of 2000 was much heralded, but the diminutive (shortarse) Honduran played just twice for the club, both times as a substitute, against Wimbledon and Luton. Nunez, a million pound player, was given a free transfer in the summer of 2001.

David Bellion came from French side Cannes not long after Nunez was released. He was extremely raw when first featuring in the side, but after developing his game under the supervision of reserve team coach Ricky Sbragia, he returned to the team a better player in 2002/03. Bellion scored his first goal for the club against Aston Villa in September.

With Sunderland struggling for goals in 2001/02, Reid brought Cameroonian international Patrick Mboma in on loan from Parma. The experienced striker made his debut against Newcastle and then scored on his first start at Tottenham. However, Mboma struggled with several minor injuries and was often left on the bench as Reid persisted with Niall Quinn.

The two most recently acquired black players both came to the Stadium of Light in the summer. Centre half Phil Babb came on a free transfer from Sporting Lisbon, where he was regarded as one of the best defenders in the league. Despite this the former Liverpool man has yet to convince the majority of Sunderland fans his worth.

Matthew Piper was signed from Leicester City for £3million just after the start of the season. After a low-key start under Reid, Piper was singled out by Howard Wilkinson as being particularly short of fitness. An injury has also hindered his progress at the club.

Whilst many Sunderland’s black players have not made an impact at the club, the importance of the more successful black players cannot be underestimated. The contributions of Agboola, Goodman and particularly Bennett, both on and off the field, did a tremendous amount to help tackle racism at the club. Importantly, they also helped gain a few points on the pitch to boot.

By Keith Watson
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