After Phil Parkinson’s sacking Gus Poyet appeared to be on his way back to Wearside, but it wasn't to be. The thought of Poyet returning to the club got me thinking, who has pulled on the red and white jersey in two separate spells? And who was taken to the dugout as Sunderland manager more than once? This article will list the players and managers to have two (or more) separate spells at Sunderland.
ALFRED COMMON 1900-01 AND 1904-05
Alf joined Sunderland in 1900. In his first season the striker helped the lads finish Division One runners-up. However he transferred to Sheffield United in October 1901 for £325. In 1904 he returned to Sunderland and spent another year on Wearside. He left Sunderland again and joined Middlesbrough in 1905. This transfer will forever be famous as it was the first time a player was transferred for £1,000.
ALBERT McINROY 1923-29 AND 1934-35
McInroy began his career with Sunderland in May 1923. The goalkeeper went on to make over 200 appearances for Sunderland over six years. However in October 1929 he was surprisingly sold for £2,750 to arch-rivals Newcastle United. He returned to Sunderland in 1934, but after eleven months without making a first team appearance, he was sold to Leeds United in 1935.
BILLY ELLIOTT 1953-59, 1972 AND 1978-79
Not the kid from the film, or the dancer! Billy Elliott moved to Roker Park in 1953 and played 212 times in a six year spell with the lads. He took caretaker charge of Sunderland for four games in 1972 after the sacking of Alan Brown and remained on the coaching staff until June 1973. He returned to manage Sunderland in 1978 and nearly guided us to promotion at the end of the 1978/79 season. He was replaced by Ken Knighton at the end of the season.
LEN ASHURST 1957-70 AND 1984-85
A club legend. Ashurst signed in December 1957. Across 13 years he made 458 appearances for the club, the second most in Sunderland’s history and the most of any outfield SAFC player. He only achieved one promotion as a Sunderland player in 1964, however Ashurst formed one of the most settled back fives in our history. Ashurst returned to the club as manager in 1984, however his spell in charge was not a great success. Ashurst did guide the lads to the Milk Cup (League Cup) final in 1985 but we were defeated 1-0 by Norwich. Ashurst was sacked in May 1985 after we were relegated from the First Division.
ALAN BROWN 1957-64 AND 1969-70
Brown was named Sunderland manager in 1957, during a time when the club was involved in a scandal over illegal payments to players. During this period it was common for a club to pay players parents a bribe in order to secure the signing of a player, however Brown refused to do so. Brown’s first season resulted in relegation to the Second Division. Brown and Sunderland were eventually promoted back to the First Division in 1964 however he shockingly left the club at the end of the season to join Sheffield Wednesday. Brown returned to Sunderland in 1968 but was again relegated in 1970. After two unsuccessful attempts at promotion he was sacked in November 1972.
BOB STOKOE 1972-76 AND 1987
The great Bob Stokoe replaced Brown as manager in 1972. Six months after his appointment he guided Second Division Sunderland to the FA Cup final against First Division Leeds. The game on May 5th 1973 will forever be the greatest day in Sunderland’s history. Safc defeated a Leeds side full of international talent thanks to a goal from Ian Porterfield and a seemingly impossible double save from Jim Montgomery, the save is one of the greatest FA Cup moments of all time. On the final whistle Stokoe, unable to control his excitement, ran onto the pitch to embrace Montgomery. A statue of Stokoe running with his arms in the air in celebration now stands outside the Stadium of Light. Stokoe eventually managed promotion in 1976 but resigned nine games into our first season back in the First Division after a poor start. Stokoe returned as caretaker manager in 1987 as we struggled at the bottom of the Second Division. After losing on goal difference in the end of season relegation-promotion play offs we were relegated to the Third Division for the first time ever. Stokoe did not renew his contract and subsequently retired from football.
BRYAN 'POP' ROBSON 1974-76, 1979-81 AND 1983-84
Robson joined Sunderland in 1974 for £145,000 and scored 34 times in 90 games during his first spell at the club. He left after we were crowned Second Division champions in 1976. Robson returned in June 1979 and helped us win promotion to Division one in 1980, scoring 23 goals in 52 games in his second spell. He left again in 1981 and joined Carlisle. Robson joined Sunderland for the third in time 1983 and was even caretaker manager for one game during the 83/84 season. Robson at the age of 38, saved us from relegation on the season’s final day as he scored in the 2-0 victory over Leicester, it would be his last goal for the lads. In 2011 Robson was named as Sunderland’s chief scout but was sacked in 2013 by Ellis Short.
MICK DOCHERTY 1976-79 AND 1981
Docherty played for the lads from 1976-1979 before an injury forced him to retire. He joined our coaching staff after and was named caretaker manager in 1981 with four games of the season left, Docherty saved us from the drop with a with a 1–0 win over Liverpool at Anfield on the last day of the season. He left the club after.
STAN CUMMINS 1979-83 AND 1984-85
Cummins joined in November 1979 for £300,000 and at the time was the clubs most expensive signing. He was a key figure in our promotion to the First Division in 1979/80 and scored the winner at home to Newcastle in April 1980. That Tyne-Wear derby victory would be our last at home until 2008. In 1981 Cummins scored the winner at Anfield to save us from an immediate return to the Second Division and was named Player of the Year. Cummins scored 29 times in his first spell at Sunderland but joined Crystal Palace in 1983. Cummins returned to Wearside in 1984 however his second spell at the club was not successful. He failed to score a goal and didn’t play in the 1985 Milk Cup final because he was cup-tied. He left following our relegation in 1985.
SAM ALLARDYCE 1980-81 AND 2015-16
Allardyce signed for Sunderland in 1980 and was made club captain by Ken Knighton. However Allardyce did not make the North East his permanent home and commuted from Bolton, who he joined from. After becoming tired of the travel he asked chairman Tom Cowie to finance the purchase of a home in Sunderland. Cowie refused and Allardyce submitted a transfer request. Allardyce made 25 appearances in his time at the club and joined Millwall in 1981. Allardyce returned to Sunderland as manager in 2015, replacing Dick Advocaat. He became the first manager to have managed both Newcastle United and Sunderland. Allardyce guided us to a 3-0 victory against Newcastle in his second game in charge, however we remained in the bottom three for most of the season. Allardyce managed to keep us up after victories over Norwich, Chelsea and Everton at the end of the season. The victory over Everton resulted in us staying up over Newcastle. Allardyce left Sunderland in July 2016 to become manager of England, however he only lasted 67 days in charge before allegations of malpractice led to him leaving by mutual consent.
PAUL BRACEWELL 1983-84, 1989-92 AND 1995-97
Bracewell joined the lads in 1983. However he left after one season and joined Everton in 1984, then manager Len Ashurst didn’t believe Bracewell could play for him. Bracewell re-joined the lads in 1989 and spent three more years at Roker Park before joining Newcastle in 1992. Bracewell returned for a third spell on Wearside in 1995 and helped us gain promotion to the Prem in 1996. In 2013, he was appointed as Development Coach, before becoming first team coach and then assistant manager in 2015. Bracewell left the club in June 2017.
KEVIN BALL 1990-99, 2006, 2013
A true servant to the club. Ball was signed by Denis Smith in 1990 and was named Player of the Year at the end of his first season. Ball was part of the side that reached the FA Cup final in 1992 before going on to become club captain. He captained two First Division title campaigns under Peter Reid, in 1996 and 1999. Ball spent nine years with the Black Cats and made 389 appearances before leaving in 1999. Ball returned as caretaker manager in 2006 following the sacking of Mick McCarthy but couldn’t save us from our inevitable relegation. However Ball remained at the club as assistant academy manager. Ball became the club's senior professional development coach in 2012, being responsible for the club's reserve team and u-21 players. Ball was once again named caretaker manager following Paolo Di Canio’s sacking in 2013. At present Ball is an club ambassador.
MICHAEL BRIDGES 1995-99 AND 2004-05
A boyhood Newcastle fan, Bridges was one of the Premier League’s young talents in 1996/97 season, however his goals could not save us from relegation. After helping us back to the Prem once more in 1999 Bridges left and joined Leeds for £5 million. In his first spell at Sunderland he scored 16 times in 79 appearances. In 2004 he left Leeds and joined Bolton but after failing to make an appearance he re-joined Sunderland on loan for the remainder of the 2003/04 season. This loan move was made permanent ahead of the 2004/05 season and gave Bridges his third spell at the club. He scored once in our Division One title winning campaign, which was his third promotion as a Sunderland player. However, his habit of helping the lads to promotion is not why the Sunderland shopping centre is named The Bridges!
NIALL QUINN 1996-2002 AND 2006
Quinn joined from Manchester City in August 1996 for a club record £1.3 million, but missed six months of his first season with a knee injury. In our first season back in the Championship he linked up with Kevin Phillips and their partnership was one of the most prolific in the Football League in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Quinn retired in 2002 after scoring 61 times in six years at the club. He went on to lead the Drumaville Consortium that bought Sunderland in 2006. As Chairman and manager of Sunderland, Quinn lost his first five games and stepped aside for Roy Keane to take over as manager. After leaving his post as chairman in 2011 Quinn went on to be a pundit and commentator for Sky Sports. He has since left Sky Sports. Quinn and was given the Freedom of Sunderland award in 2013.
GEORGE McCARTNEY 1998-2006 AND 2008-2012
McCartney first signed in 1998 and made his debut in 2000. After a few years at the club he was made captain in the 2003/04 season. In our 2004/05 Division One title winning campaign he was voted Player of the Season by Sunderland fans. However McCartney missed most of our 15 point Premier League campaign through injury. He made 157 appearances in his first spell at the club before joining West Ham in August 2006. After two years in the capital Roy Keane resigned the left back for an undisclosed fee. The Belfast born full back was a regular under Keane and Ricky Sbragia. Steve Bruce became manager in 2009 and an ankle injury in March 2010 led to McCartney losing his spot in the first team. Kieron Richardson became our first choice left back which led to McCartney joining Leeds on loan for the 2010/11 season. He returned to Safc in summer 2011 but was still not in Bruce’s plans. As a result McCartney headed to West Ham for a second spell, signing on a season-long loan, which was then made permanent.
STAN VARGA 2000-03 AND 2006-08
Varga was signed by Peter Reid from Slovan Bratislava in 2000. In his debut game Varga received the man of the match award after a 1–0 victory over Arsenal. After long-term injury Varga returned to find himself out of the first team and was released in 2003. In August 2006, he returned to Sunderland to link up with former Celtic team mate Roy Keane. He joined alongside Ross Wallace, for a combined fee of up to £1.1 million. He helped the lads gain promotion back to the Prem in 2007.
GRANT LEADBITTER 2003-09 AND 2019-
Boyhood Sunderland fan Leadbitter made his first professional appearance for Safc as a substitute in September 2003. He played a key role in our Championship winning campaign in 2006/07, playing in every game and scoring 7 goals. In the Prem, Leadbitter continued to feature regularly and scored a memorable goal against Arsenal. The 25-yard goal was celebrated in emotional style as he ran to the spot where his late father’s ashes had been buried a few weeks before. After spells at Ipswich and Boro, Leadbitter re-signed for Sunderland on a free transfer in January 2019. He featured in both our Wembley appearances in 2019 before being made the club captain for the 2019/20 season.
DANNY GRAHAM 2013-16 AND 2020-
Graham joined the lads on deadline day in January 2013 for £5 million. Graham failed to score in his first half season at the club and was loaned out to Hull City the following season. After two years at the club Graham eventually scored his first goal, although it was extremely lucky, he deflected a Jordi Gomez shot past Tim Howard in a 2-0 victory at Everton. Graham was released in 2016 and joined Blackburn. However in 2020 he re-signed for the lads and scored on his second debut against Aston Villa U21s in an EFL Trophy game.
FABIO BORINI 2013/14 AND 2015-17
Borini signed from Liverpool on a season long loan deal in September 2013. In October 2013, he came off the bench to score the winner in the Tyne-Wear derby as we won 2-1. The goal was a catalyst for a successful season at the Stadium of Light. In December he scored an equaliser in the League Cup Quarter Final against Chelsea. He scored a penalty in the 2-1 League Cup semi-final home leg victory against Man United. Borini also scored at St James Park in the 3-0 victory over Newcastle. He smashed a spot kick past the ‘penalty expert’ Tim Krul before jumping onto the advertising hoardings to celebrate. Borini scored his most famous Sunderland goal in the 2014 League Cup Final at Wembley. He gave Sunderland the lead that day with a fantastic strike after a long ball over the top which had beaten Vincent Kompany. In April Borini scored the winner against Chelsea to inflict Jose Mourinho’s first ever home league defeat as manager of the club. The result helped Sunderland stay in the Premier League. Borini finished the season with 10 goals in all competitions and won the clubs Young Player of the Year award. After having a bid accepted for Borini in the summer of 2014, the Italian decided against the move, instead wanting to fight for his place in the Liverpool team. However he would eventually re-join the lads permanently in the summer of 2015. His second spell at the club was not as successful as the first, he only managed seven goals in two seasons. The highlight being an equaliser in the 3-2 home victory against Chelsea in May 2016. The result which was followed by a home victory to Everton guaranteed our Premier League survival.