A former player has reappeared on our radar this season, playing for Southend up here, getting sent off a few weeks later, before almost popping up with what would prove to be a winner in their comeback draw against Portsmouth. Step, or stamp, forward, nee nonsense Michael Turner.
In 2008, the impact Phil Brown was having on Hull was impossible for me to avoid, working near the place among plenty who took a keen interest in The Tigers. When Dean Windass volleyed them to something we can only dream of – a play-off final victory – the Premier League had a Mackem manager.
Everyone said Hull would come straight back down with a dismal tally of points – but they didn’t. They thrived, a victory for organisation, belief and work-rate in a league of big budgets and quality. They won at Spurs and Arsenal, drew at Liverpool and Chelsea and worried Manchester United on their way to a deserved survival.
Turner’s part in all this was impossible to ignore and their fans loved him. Every week, he’d throw himself in where it hurt, with exquisite timing. When the pain came, he’d get up and get on with it. He was a nightmare for opponents at the other end too, weighing in with a goal or two and proving a handful at set-pieces.
With question marks about the fitness, quality and reliability of the central defenders we had at the time (John Mensah, Anton Ferdinand, Paulo da Silva) he became my number one target. I’m not exaggerating too much when I say I hadn’t wanted us to get a player this much since Marco. It didn’t look like it was going to happen though, with Liverpool and Manchester City supposedly in the hunt for him. We had to act quickly and decisively if we wanted him.
Incredibly (this is Sunderland in the transfer market we’re talking about here) we did, landing him a few games into 2009/10 for around £4million - a more than fair price. I was chuffed and got typically carried away, seeing him playing 500 odd games for us, scoring 50-odd goals, leading us to greatness etc etc. Man...
The early signs were good. Turner debuted against Hull, a 4-1 win which showed how much his former team were going to miss him defensively. He nearly scored too. Three games later he was off the mark, with a trademark header from a corner in a walloping of Wolves. Unfortunately, the other headlines he made that season were for sendings off, the first of which was at Manchester City and earned him a longer ban for an appeal the Premier League deemed “frivolous”
When 2010-11 started, Turner kept clean sheets in five of the first six sheets he played in. After being a part of the 5-1 humping at Sports Direct FC, he was back in credit a couple of weeks later in the majestic 3-0 win at Chelsea. However, Steve Bruce regularly said our defending had to improve, without pinpointing individuals – and Turner wasn’t blameless. Being a part of Nolangate meant some around me thought it was time up for him. And others, to be fair.
From having the knack of being in the right place at the right time, like so many before him he found himself stricken by Sunderlanditis, the affliction which cruelly takes away a defender’s sense of positioning, calmness and judgement. We’ve all seen it up here. If Bambi had a passionate fling with a headless chicken, the offspring would call Wearside home.
Time ran out for Bruce and the following summer it was the same for Turner, who had struggled to overcome a knee injury. How he got it, bravely clearing against Everton, showed he still had bottle, even if Martin O’Neill didn’t see him as part of the way forward. Norwich came in for him, we didn’t get our money back, and another of my dreams was shattered...