So, Michael Conroy said in the ALS Group Chat… “Got an article idea. A team of Good and Bad, formation 4-4-2. We take a position each and do a piece on memorable players in that position." One great, one crap. Sobs is on right backs...
Right Back is a position in which we’ve seen the best and worst of Sunderland’s recruitment over the years, exactly like any other position, if truth be told. To separate all of the good from all of the bad would be a truly monumental (or just mental?) task, so I’ll stick to one we got right and one we got wrong.
Depending on you r age, you might remember Jimmy Nicholl. Born in Canada, his parents moved back to Ulster when he was a bit bairn, where he grew up, and, after a decade at Man Utd, he arrived at Roker in one of the more complicated transfers we’d been involved in, although it was a bit of a doddle compared to Ricky Alvarez, but we’ll not go there. Anyway, we initially took him on loan from Man U in late 1981, and it was immediately obvious why he was a regular in the Norn Irn side.
It’s rumoured that we paid United £4k for each game he played in the couple of months he was with us, but in that time we saw (or at least I did) that he was a class act that we’d do well to keep hold of. In true Sunderland style, though, we didn’t sign him and after playing against Arsenal, Stoke, and Birmingham, Jimmy was off to Toronto Blizzard, presumably to see some old neighbours. Once the next season had got underway, and without the nonsense that is the transfer window to get in the way, Alan Durban forked out £250,000 to bring Jimmy back. After about two weeks getting the correct signatures and so on in place, he finally made his second debut in late September.
At Watford. In midfield. Lost 8-0, but you knew that, so apologies from bringing it up. Naturally, Durban shook things up for the next weekend, moving Barry Venison into midfield and Jimmy to right back, and we duly beat Norwich 4-1. Strong in the tackle and able to produce decent passing out of defence, Jimmy spent the rest of that season performing solidly and efficiently at right back as we finished a typically moderate 16th in the top-flight.
Well, not quite the rest of the season, as, come April ’82, he buggered off across the Atlantic to Toronto again. I’ve no idea what sort of contract he was on, but it must have been a bit mad. From there he moved to Rangers for best part of the ’83-’84 season, but there must have been something to his liking in Toronto, as he was back there straight after the last game. Six months later, he was at West Brom, then back to Rangers, then off to Dunfermline and Raith Rovers, before finishing his playing career with a single game at Bath City (don’t ask, presumably the manager was a mate).
As a player, he won four cups and two league titles and racked up a ridiculous number of air miles, while as a manager he won eight cups, two league titles, and a play-off promotion. With us, in his forty games, he won nowt, but at least he helped keep us up, and I loved watching a proper class act in the stripes, despite his retention of the then-compulsory Man Utd mullet, particularly striking in ginger.
At the other end of the scale, there was Donald Love, another with Man Utd as his Alma Mater, but the memory of young Don is too raw, too painful, and above all too recent, so I’ll pop back on the back burner, and go back a few years. To be fair to Ondrej Celustka, he wasn’t that bad a player. He just was nowhere near as good as the man he was supposed (presumably) to give a gee-up to, Phil Bardsley. Phil was one of those full backs you loved to scream “shooooot” at, in the Chris Makin tradition, but he had little competition at the beginning of the 2013-14 season, so Mad Paolo brought Andrej from Tranzonspor for a season’s loan. With experience at FC Tescoma Zlin and Slavia Prague, and a single game for Palermo, he initially looked like he might be worth keeping on in place of Bardo, but once Di Canio had given us the “chins up” gesture at West Brom and duly been given the boot, it became increasingly apparent that we might as well put Phil back in the side.
On the plus side, he was an Eastern European with three accents in his name, and therefore a bit romantic, and was a bit rough, which should be compulsory for men in his playing position.
On the minus side, he only had one shot in his twenty-seven games, and only got booked once. The latter statistic is tantamount to failure in the modern game, as, if you’re not kicking your opponent, you need to be a lot more efficient in the tackle than he was for us. Of course, once Gus worked out that Bardo was the better player, he was back in the side and scored that goal at Old Trafford (after we’d shouted “shooooot”) to help us get to Wembley. Ondrej was an unused sub against City, then was off back to that team with a Z in it before they shipped him off to FC Nurnburg. Since then, he’s racked up over a ton of games for Antalyaspor and featured for the Czech Republic. In summary, he wasn’t that bad, but he certainly wasn’t that good. We already had Bardo, why have two pairs of sensible shoes if you can only wear one?
THE STORY SO FAR
J MONTGOMERY/ L PEREZ Stay Safe, Haway the Lads