So, as we continue our team of One Good and One Bad (4-4-2 formation). Sobs chose two centre halves. Just confirm this is not a best and worst, it’s more of a one I liked, one who pissed me off!
Looking for a “One Good” centre half brings to mind a list of possibilities, names that leap out at you like a… well, like a towering central defender. Hurley is obvious, as is Dave Watson. Likewise, many “One Bad” contenders leapt, or rather stared ineffectually at the ball as it sailed over their heads, to mind. Many of these were one-season loanees, and can be sort of excused on the basis of being kids who were still learning the game, and who, presumably, returned to their parent clubs several years further back in their development than when they’d left. Denayer, Clarke-Salter (despite having a ready-made song to match his squad number of 45), Galloway – names you’d probably forgotten anyway. Of course, not all loanees were nuggets – take Jonny Evans, for instance. Then there’s Kone, who could comfortably fit into either or both categories.
Right then, cast your minds back to February 1977. We were, as has become our wont over the years, struggling at the foot of the top table. Actually, not so much struggling as cast adrift, having never risen higher than twentieth and after an uninspiring 0-0 at home to a Stoke side that contained Denis Smith, our manager Jimmy Adamson decided that something had to change, especially as we were away at Arsenal next. In came Shaun Elliott, who’d made his debut alongside Kevin Arnott a week or so shy of his twentieth birthday a few weeks earlier as we lost an FA Cup replay at Wrexham. In an effort to bolster things at the back, Shaun slotted in alongside Jackie Ashurst and Jeff Clarke. Arsenal included O’Leary, Brady, Hudson, MacDonald, and Stapleton as well as Wilf Rostron, and we were reckoned to have about as much chance as a Mag in the Wheatsheaf. However, in a game made famous not just for us avoiding defeat, but for Bobby Kerr kissing Pat Rice as things looked likely to boil over, Shaun put in a display that completely belied his lack of experience, adding a calm presence to what had become a shell-shocked back line.
In the weeks that followed, we went on a crazy run that included beating Birmingham, with Monty in goal for them, then us getting sixteen goals in three games, with the driving force behind that run being Rowell, Arnott, and Elliott. Had the film The Three Amigos been made six years earlier, that’s what we’d have called the them. As it was, we just called them the young’uns. All local, all products of our youth system, they almost saved our season, and in fact would almost certainly have done so but for the actions of Jimmy Hill. That, however, is another story.
Over the following seasons, Elliott established himself as a clever reader of the game, and with a decent turn of pace over short distances. The pairing of Elliott and Jeff Clarke seemed to possess an almost telepathic understanding and was a joy to watch – it’s lovely when something on the football field clicks like that – and earned Shaun three England B caps. As footballers did back then, he spent the summer of ’81 playing for Seattle Sounders, and returned none the worse for working through his holidays.
At the peak of his powers, he was denied the chance to lead us out at Wembley when a suspension was the subject of an unsuccessful appeal (we are Sunderland, what did we expect?), meaning that Shaun was unavailable for the 1985 League Cup Final, and the rest is history. Following that season’s relegation, manager Len Ashurst was replaced by Lawrie Mackemenemy, who proceeded to make probably the biggest mistake of his time on Wearside, second only to coming in the first place. After putting in another 35 appearances over the 85-86 season, Shaun was deemed surplus to requirements. Rather than doing the sensible thing and building the side around a cultured central defender who read the game so well that he could perform well in a midfield role, Mr Mc sold him to a no doubt sniggering Norwich for a paltry £150,000, that’s about £425,000 in today’s money. Eejit.
Basically, that was the beginning of the end for Shaun, as injuries took their toll, resulting in only 150 or so games over the next six years at Blackpool and Colchester before a few back over the pond with Albany Capitals. After that, he had a wander around the North East non-league scene with Gateshead, Bishop Auckland, Whitley Bay, and Durham City. My last view of him was just down the street from my house at Kingsway as he strutted his stuff in the famous Two Blues. The pace might have gone, along with the knees, but even with his thirty sixth birthday a fading memory, there was no mistaking his class. At that level, he was a player to whom the ball seemed magnetically attracted, so movement was an unnecessary option as he wound down his playing days over the following couple of years. 368 games, 11 goals.
One Bad. What happens to a footballer’s value when he’s made one substitute appearance over a season, and that lasting approximately two minutes? Well, obviously it rises from the £2.7million Chelsea paid to Nantes for Papy Djilobodji to the £8m we paid in the summer of 2016. After missing the opening day defeat at City, he made his debut as Kone and Kaboul were dropped and he slotted in alongside O’Shea. We lost 2-1 against Boro, but Papy played sort of OK. Basically, he let O’Shea do the football stuff while he happily bonked headers away from the edge of the box. That’ll do for us, we thought, no nonsense, just get rid. Which is what we should have done with him.
Oh dear. How wrong can you be? Following that “sort of OK” debut, his form dipped. A neutral fan turning up at the game might have looked at Papy and said “mebbe the kid’s got some promise” and then look pretty startled when someone in the know whispered in his ear “that kid is twenty seven”, which pretty much summed up his game. He played like someone still learning how to be a footballer, which is probably one of the reasons he was sent off in the last minute of a game we were winning 3-0 in the November. A couple of months later, over 24,000 people at the Hawthorns saw him whack Darren Fletcher in the face, but the ref didn’t. However, the cameras did and he was banned for two games, with most of our fans wishing it could have been ten. He somehow managed 23 games, but by the end of the season even Joleon Lescott, even with no knees and approaching his 35th birthday, was deemed a better option.
Seeking to cut our losses on the four-year contract we’d inexplicably given Papy, we sent him to Dijon on loan for the season. While he was away, we went through managers like nobody’s business as Grayson, Coleman, and Stockdale (twice) filled the seat vacated by Moyes in May 2017. It was, however, when he returned, that things got really silly. Actually, he didn’t return, saying (like Ndong) that he didn’t fancy playing in the Third Division. He even got the owners to allow him to extend his summer break into July (unpaid, he’s not that greedy. I think) so that he could stay in Europe and find a club daft enough to take him on. Needless to say, none did, and he failed to return in August as agreed. When we did manage to get him back to SAFC in September he failed again, this time a fitness test, and, along with Ndong, was sacked. Gerrinnn, as we like to say on the terraces. Since then, he had a few months in limbo before Guingamp in Brittany took him on, but he only managed a handful of games, thanks in part to a six match ban for repositioning an opponent’s nose with his boot, before he was off to the wilds of Turkey and Gazişehir Gaziantep in July 2019. I’ve no idea how he’s getting on there, other than they’re bang mid-table and feature a bloke called Jefferson (who’s almost certainly not my old Geology teacher), and I don’t really care. As they say, not our problem.
At an estimated cost of £375,000 plus wages for each of his 24 games for us, he’s somewhere near the top of the list of bad investments in the middle of our defence despite the obvious mitigation that we were rubbish anyway. There are bad players and there’s downright bad people, and Papy fits into both categories quite comfortably. Please note that I’ve used his given name of Papy rather than his surname not out of any sort of fondness, but simply because Djilobodji is a bugger to type.
THE STORY SO FAR
Stay Safe, Haway the Lads