So, as we continue our team of One Good and One Bad (4-4-2 formation). Son of Sobs chose two left wingers. Just confirm this is not a best and worst, it’s more of a one I liked, one who pissed me off!
For the wide left, the choice was simple for me - there can be only one, and it’s Allan ‘Magic’ Johnston, who was signed from Rennes in April 1997 for £550K before the days of transfer windows and just before relegation to Division One. He made his debut in a draw away at the Mags and scored the last goal in a competitive fixture at Roker Park, before the club upped sticks and moved to the SoL.
But it was the following season that he really started to make his mark. His partnership with Mickey Gray down the left-hand side was a thing of real beauty and a threat that a lot of teams struggled to deal with. Once he’d solidified his place in the side, he made 40 League appearances and scored 11 goals: he might have been 90% right foot, but he was 100% left wing.
That season he bagged his first goal of the season in a 4-0 win away at Bradford City on a Friday night on Sobs’ birthday, so that was nice. For a player as good as he was, 11 goals doesn’t seem like a great return but Super Kev and Niall up top notched 47 league goals between them and Lee Clark bagged 13 himself so it was still good going considering there were goals coming from all over the park.
He probably reached the peak of his powers that season when he got himself a first half hat-trick away at Huddersfield in February. However, we seemed to lose the key games as the lads came incredibly close to an immediate return to the Prem - only denied after the most epic of play-off finals against Charlton Athletic, losing 7-6 on pens after a 4-4 draw after extra time.
It was the 1998-99 season that Magic really, well he took the absolute piss at times, even if he scored less goals than the previous season. I can’t find out how many assists he got that year, but what I can tell you is he left a worrying amount of defenders flat on their arses as they struggled to work out whether showing him inside would cause less damage than letting him play in Micky Gray on one of his lightning fast overlaps. He bagged his first goal of the season in a 4-1 win at home to Watford, which was in the midst of a run of the lads scoring 17 goals in 4 home games (5-0, 4-1, 1-1 and 7-0) the last of which was a resounding 7-0 win over Oxford United - somewhat miraculously Magic didn’t score in the game, but did produce one of the most outrageous moments of the game when faced with a defender who didn’t know whether to show him inside or outside (as I mentioned earlier), he left him for dead and just when the North Stand rose expectantly for a curler into the far corner (from about 25/30 yards) he just deftly chipped it, the world went into slow motion as the ball looped over the helpless keeper and dropped beyond him only to hit the top of the bar and
He continued to be a fixture of the side until the end of the season, bagged a brace at home to Bolton which included some comedy goalkeeping from Jussi Jaaskelainen who attempted to palm away a speculative long range effort from Magic - who turned away pissing himself laughing when it went in. We walked the league, ending 18 points clear of second place, scored more goals than any other team and conceded less than any other team. Allan Johnston was absolutely mint, he made me try to play football differently and do daft little skills when I was playing footy outside the house.
He only had a year left on his contract as we prepared for our return to the Prem, talks stalled and so Reidy got rid and shipped him out on loan to Bolton and Birmingham before he joined Rangers for nowt the following summer. A rather sad end to a stellar couple of seasons. In today's market (I’m no finance expert) I would estimate he would probably garner a fee of at least £400 million quid.
Next up we’ve got Ricky Alvarez, who, let’s be fair, didn’t work out at all. He was signed on loan from Inter Milan on deadline day in September 2014, only a few months after he’d been part of the Argentina squad that reached the World Cup Final. Hopes were obviously high, that lad had been to the World Cup in the same squad as Lionel Messi, but in fairness so had Martin Demichelis and he was absolutely atrocious.
In his early games, he showed a few flashes of the skill we’d hoped to see, but perhaps his feet were too big, or his boots were, as they looked enormous and he kept tripping over them. We had an obligation to buy if we avoided relegation, but also had a clause in the deal which meant if his dicky knee played up, we wouldn’t have to buy him, even if we did avoid relegation. Of his 17 games, 9 were off the bench and in the other 8 he was replaced, earning him a place in the “never played the full 90” club - though he scored in an FA Cup Replay against Fulham which may have also been his last game for us, but if I’m honest I can’t remember.
Basically, he got injured and didn’t play again, we apparently told Inter Milan that he needed surgery and they allegedly told us he wasn’t allowed so then although the injury wasn’t in the original dicky knee we tried to argue that a previous surgery that Inter didn’t tell us about on that knee had caused an issue in the opposite knee which had contributed to the new injury, which seems like a really elaborate excuse to use to avoid buying somebody you said you would buy.
Unsurprisingly it went to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and we lost and were ordered to pay the fee. At the time of writing I believe we’ve paid over £20m for him and he hasn’t played for us for over four years and he’s moved twice since he last played for us, we didn’t get a fee either time and actually managed to pay his latest club Velez Sarsfield £325k when he signed for them. Why? I have no clue.
I have no idea how any of the above happened, but let’s be honest it’s all very, very Sunderland, isn’t it?
THE STORY SO FAR
Stay Safe, Haway the Lads