So, as we continue our team of One Good and One Bad (4-4-2 formation). Sobs chose two right wingers. Just confirm this is not a best and worst, it’s more of a one I liked, one who pissed me off!
Right Midfield, or Right Wing, depending on the details of the formation, personnel, and whatever title was trendy at the time. Personality-wise, out- and-out wingers tend to be a bit femmer, particularly left-wingers for some obscure reason, so I’m glad that position is being covered by someone else. They seem prone to falling out with fans and management, meaning that, particularly in the case of SAFC, we have a lot of one game wonders and blokes who turned out a handful of times before throwing a wobbly and disappearing into the sunset (or sunrise, depending on which side of the pitch they occupied).
Peter Barnes, for one. Twenty-two England caps, shedloads of experience, but his single game for us marked the sixteenth of his twenty nine transfers. He didn’t even finish the game, being replaced by Reuben after an hour with the score at 1-4 at Swindon in early ’89. That was the last of his league appearances, preceding world tour of the lower leagues. Terry Curran for another. At least he managed nine games and even scored, but his hard-earned reputation as a workie-ticket came with him and he was soon irritating our fans, so much so that when he got a bit of grief at a reserve game, he gave the crowd a reverse Churchillian sign and was sacked.
Thirdly, Paolo di Canio, probably the most controversial right-winger we’ve had, but we’ll leave politics to one side for the purposes of this piece. The list is virtually endless, well, it obviously isn’t, but I’d better get back to the One Good before I get carried away, and with Bobby Kerr and Nicky Summerbee both being way too obvious….
In August 1987, Denis Smith gave a debut to local lad Gary Owers, a couple of months before his nineteenth birthday (Owers, not Smith), along with John McPhail, Steve Hardwick, and John Kay, as we won 1-0 at Brentford, and those present witnessed the all-action style that would define Gary’s career. Not a winger as such, he nonetheless made the right side of midfield his own with displays of energy that didn’t flag for the entire ninety minutes. A couple of weeks after his birthday, he was star man as we took over Blackpool (the town) and battered Blackpool (the football team). McPhail might have got both goals, but Gary ran the show and finished his debut season with forty-three appearances and five goals. We’ll forget the unfortunate OG against Rotherham, but he did get one at the other end and we did win 7-1.
His galloping stride, shoulders hunched against the elements even when the sun was out, and that clever step-over trick, became a real feature of our games for the next seven years, as did his never-say-die attitude. That attitude was emphasised early in the play-off game at Roker against our nearest and not-so-dearest when he dived into a tackle on Billy Askew near the main stand. Nowt unusual about that, you might think, but it was with his head, and I can still remember the look of astonishment on Askew’s face. Never a yellow, though, ref. (Useless fact, both players attended Lord Lawson school in Birtley. You’re welcome). In the second leg, that gallop down the right and step-over were employed to great effect as it set up Gatesey’s opening goal and another Wembley defeat, that turned into victory. He even achieved a bit of celebrity status by marrying ice-skater Joanne Conway, eeh, the pub quizzes you could win after reading this.
I suspect many fans were more than a little disappointed when Mick Buxton, Gary’s fourth manager, sold him to Bristol City in late 1994. Despite the transfer including our acquisition of Martin Scott, who is a serious contender for the Left Back spot in this series, I’d have loved Owers to have stayed, as he was more than capable of covering at right back, but that was the end of his Sunderland career. Subsequent moves took him to Notts County, managed by Big Sam, then Forest Green, before he became Bath City’s player-manager. He returned to manage Forest Green and was in charge there when we played a friendly there in 2006 – the last time Julio Arca played for us – and even turned out for the final ten minutes of fun in the sun. Since then he’s toured the country, managing Weston Super Mare and assisting at Aldershot, Plymouth and Gateshead, then going back to Bath and most recently Torquay United (where North Eastern footballers go to vanish). 320 games, 27 goals, and a shameful three Own Goals, but we’ll let him off.
Where do I start? As outlined briefly at the top of the page, there have been a whole string of contenders, but I’ll pick (on) Steven Pienaar, simply because he should have listened when they said (as they surely did at some early stage in his career) that he simply wasn’t big enough to last as a professional footballer beyond the age of 33. He was 34 when David Moyes (booo!) brought him to Wearside in August 2016. By this time, he’d sensibly (sort of) decided that his days as a straightforward winger were a good way behind him, unlike any opposition defender he tried to outpace while with us. His pedigree couldn’t be denied, what with all that Premier League experience with Everton, Spurs, and Everton again, and Internationally as captain of South Africa, but quite what the normally astute Moyes (only joking, folks) thought he would bring to Sunderland remains a mystery.
At 5’ 7”, he was far from the smallest player we’ve had, towering above Bobby Kerr and Stan Cummins, but those two had more commitment in their spare socks than our least favourite South African. Perhaps I’m being a little unfair on the commitment front, but probably not, as he certainly got stuck in at Bournemouth on Bonfire Night 2016, earning a booking either side of half time and leaving it up to Defoe’s late penalty to add to Anichebe’s first half goal. Or mebbe he was just horribly late with his tackling, you decide. We somehow won that, but to be fair, Pienaar’s commitment probably looked a lot more intense than it was because our side included such renowned 100%-ers as Djilobodji, Kone (Bad Kone, not Good Kone) and Ndong. In his seventeen games, he was booked six times and sent off once without bothering the score-keepers or whatever you call those who keep records of assists, and was subbed ten times and he only started eleven, meaning that he only once completed ninety minutes for us. I know that the rest of the Boys Of 16-17 were generally a pretty hapless bunch , but that also means that it shouldn’t have taken someone with his undoubted ability to stand out in a positive manner. Jermain Defoe is only six months younger, and he’s still getting a game at Rangers, where he’s managed 25 goals in 52 games. See? It can be done.
Surprisingly for Sunderland, we didn’t offer him a deal to stay, and he trundled around the pitch back home in South Africa for a few games before hanging up his boots. Perhaps uniquely amongst Sunderland players, he was once sued by a woman for not marrying him. Lucky her, I’d say and eeeh, the pub quizzes you could win after reading this.
THE STORY SO FAR
Stay Safe, Haway the Lads