Craig Russell was born on this day in Jarrow, in 1974. He played over 300 games in his career, of which 174 were in Red and White. He scored 34 goals for the Lads.
His parents were Sunderland fans and this factored in to his decision when he joined the club as a schoolboy, despite strong interest from Manchester United. He turned professional in 1992 but made his debut against Watford in 1991. The 1992-93 season was when Russell broke into the first team in a campaign which saw the club narrowly avoid relegation from the First Division by a single point, under the stewardship of Malcolm Crosby and latterly, Terry Butcher. In the 1995-96 season he finished as the clubs top scorer with 13 goals and we won the First Division with Peter Reid in charge.
Russell would also finish as top scorer in the following Premier League season – albeit tied with Paul Stewart on just four goals. As you would expect with such meagre goal scoring returns, we were relegated from the Premier League although we did manage to get the 40 points which usually guarantees safety. Russell was in and out of the side, but once he managed to get a run of games up front on his own, the forward managed three goals in three games against Derby, Everton and Chelsea. His injury against West Ham meant that he was in and out of the side again towards the end of the season. Russell was replaced in 1997, exchanged for Manchester City’s Nicky Summerbee and we drafted in Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn. It’s safe to say the duo more than adequately made up for the loss of Russell and with Craig being a boyhood Sunderland fan, I have no doubt he would’ve been delighted to see the pair scoring for fun.
At City, he didn’t fare to well. After signing under Frank Clark and scoring three goals for the club, the incoming Joe Royle essentially spelled the end to his time there. Under Royle his lack of game time meant that he ended up on loan at Tranmere, where he made four goalless appearances and then went to fellow First Division side Port Vale, faring slightly better with one goal in eight games. He never played for City again and in the 1999-2000 season joined Darlington on loan in the Third Division.
St Johnston signed him on loan and after he scored on his debut, the deal was made permanent. He made 35 appearances and scored two goals. He played for Carlisle and Darlington before dropping into the semi-professional leagues. After retiring he was with SAFC as a popular member of the backroom staff, spending 12 years at the club as a sports therapist before leaving in 2021. He is now back at Newcastle, where he started his post football career.