The Brexit issue: The good and not so good Europeans of Sunderland AFC

Malcolm Dawson writes…..I was 19 when I was first able to vote in a General Election. Sunderland were the holders of the F.A. Cup and for just over a year the UK had been members of what was then known as the Common Market. Labour became the biggest party after that election in early 74 and promised a referendum on whether or not we should remain in Europe, but with a minority of seats in the House of Commons, P.M. Harold Wilson called another election within six months and got the majority he was looking for. After some negotiation with the powers that be in Brussels, a referendum was held in 1975 when 67% of voters supported the decision to remain.

Europe of course was a vastly different place then. The governments of Spain and Portugal were still dictatorships and despite East Germany’s official name of the German Democratic Republic none of the post war Eastern Bloc countries were democracies. The Baltic states were still a part of the USSR as was the Ukraine and most of the ‘stans.

Fast forward 44 years and I am soon (aged 65 and 7 months) to receive the first instalment of my state pension and bus pass, still with no clear idea if or when we will be taken out of the greatly enlarged institution now known as The European Union, whilst Parliament is prorogued and there seems to be as big an impasse as ever.

I’m not sure I have ever fully understood the arguments for and against and there are still some waverers out there, so to simplify matters I’ve decided to select two teams of  former players of Sunderland AFC to help me decide whether we should (as the Clash once sang) stay or go. And like our esteemed Prime Minister (and I’ll leave you to decide whether I say that ironically or not) I will set out the case for remain today but tomorrow tell you why leaving is an option worth considering.

I have used three criteria in my negotiations:

  • The UK must have been in the Common Market/EEC/EU at the time these players wore a Sunderland shirt in a competitive game. Unfortunately this rules out some great players such as King Charlie.
  • The players must have been EU nationals at the time they played for Sunderland so the fantastic Claudio Reyna and John Mensah are excluded.
  • I must have seen my selections play in the flesh. As I moved away from the North East in the early seventies, and with work commitments and my own involvement in sport for many years, the majority of my team inevitably comes from the Peter Reid era and later. I never got to see Thomas Hauser but EU nationals playing for SAFC were thin on the ground in the 80s and early 90s anyway.

So here, playing 4-4-2 with 7 subs is my REMAIN team.

GK: no thought required here. After Monty my favourite Sunderland goalie of all time is Thomas Sorensen.

Click on the image for the You Tube clip of his penalty save

Having been unable to get a ticket for the 1998 play off final, despite my having been to 43 games home and away that season, I decided I would get a season ticket for our second year at the Stadium of Light and I saw The Great Dane make his debut from my seat in the Premier Concourse, in the opening fixture – a 1-0 victory against QPR. He went on to play 57 times that season, only missing one game when Andy Marriott deputised. The Championship winning side took the title with 105 points with Tommy only conceding 28 goals in the 45 league games he played that season. He saved an Alan Shearer penalty and was the reason the club went on a pre-season tour of Denmark – one of my favourite overseas trips.

Back 4:

Want to see PC score against the Mags? Then click on the image.

RB proved a problem as Poland was not in the EU when Dariusz Kubicki occupied the number 2 shirt so I racked my brains before remembering Patrice Carteron. The Frenchman came to us on loan from St Ettienne but only played 8 times for us – hardly a glowing SAFC career but he did score once in a 1-1 draw at home to the Mags. That in itself gives him hero status so he makes the starting line up.

CBs. Somewhat easier to find a spine in defence with a few more to choose from but I’ve gone for Younes Kaboul and Stanislav Varga.

After a dodgy start at Leicester when he was all over the shop and a sending off for two bookable offences at Bournemouth, Kaboul became one of the stalwarts of Big Sam’s battlers, forming a solid defensive partnership with Lamine Kone helping us pull off another great escape. It took many of us by surprise when he was allowed to go to Watford, citing family reasons.

Jake’s graphic was soon redundant
Stan the Man

In contrast Varga made an instant impression when he debuted in a 1-0 home win against Arsenal in the first game of the 2000/01 season. Unfortunately he was badly injured in the very next game at Maine Road but recovered sufficiently to form an impressive partnership with the Brazilian Emerson Thome as the team went on to finish 7th in the Premiership. Stan was born in what was then Czechoslovakia but won his 50+ caps playing for Slovakia after the former communist state reverted to two independent nations.

LB didn’t take much thinking about the name Patrick van Aanholt immediately springing to mind. Although a registered player with Chelsea, van Aanholt came to us after several loan spells, including one where he appeared seven times for the Mags and twenty times for Coventry City but we never held that against him. Signed by Gus Poyet the Dutchman was a regular during the great escapes under Dick Advocaat and Sam Allardyce. PvA played in 95 games for us scoring 8 times and despite being sold to Crystal Palace in the 2017 January transfer window still finished joint second top scorer under David Moyes with three goals with only Jermaine Defoe bagging more!

Jake’s PvA graphic

There was plenty of healthy competition for the midfield berths but in the end I have gone with:

Steed Malbranque, Yann M’Vila, Eric Roy and Emanuele Giaccherini.


Steeeeeeeeeeeed! The cry would go up whenever the Belgian produced a moment of magic. Signed by Roy Keane from Spurs, after spells at Lyon and Fulham, Malbranque was versatile enough to play in any of the midfield roles. I’ve put him on the right hand side of my XI but he could quite easily swap sides and play left wing or move into a more central position if required. He was eventually sold to St Ettienne having played 102 times for us, yet surprisingly only finding the back of the net once. Although born in Belgium Steed played all his representative games for the French U16s, U18s and U21s.

Yann M’Vila. For me the writing was on the wall that the club was going down the pan when there was no move to sign M’Vila and American DeAndre Yedlin after Big Sam had engineered yet another great escape.

Slipped through our fingers

M’Vila came to us on loan from the Russian side Rubin Kazan and didn’t have the best of starts, being sent off after an hour in an Under 21’s game against Norwich for head butting an opponent. But he was one of the mainstays of the side that season and earned a MoM award for his part in the 3-0 demolition of the Mags at the SoL, describing it as the best atmosphere he had ever experienced. We all thought he would be signed permanently in the close season and he apparently even paid his own air fare to ensure the deal could be done but for whatever reason it never materialised. It was that which made me think that Ellis Short had lost interest and was not prepared to see Allardyce’s ambitions through to fruition and I was convinced that we would have a new manager before Christmas, even before England’s defeat to Iceland and the offer of the England job.

Ooo la la it’s Eric Roy

Eric Roy. Oooh ahhhh – it’s Eric Rwah ye knaa. Has there ever been a more cultured player to wear a Sunderland shirt? Possibly but there can’t have been that many. Strong in the tackle, confident on the ball and capable of picking out the perfect pass Eric Roy was signed for £200,000 from Marselle in 1999 and although only making 27 appearances for us, left an indelible memory on those of us who saw him. The Frenchman was a shoe-in in my Remain side.

How Jake saw Emanuele Giachherini

Giaccherini might be a debatable selection but I always liked the diminutive Italian who suffered badly with injuries whilst at the club. Tricky on the ball and capable of scoring some fantastic goals as well as giving the side some width, he was a creative winger who provided plenty of assists enabling others to get on the scoresheet. And if you are still a bit doubtful, 29 appearances for the Azurri shows he wasn’t half bad.

Up front another shoe-in with the legend that is Niall Quinn leading the line. Centre forward, manager, Chairman, overseas ambassador the man many of us refer to as Sir or even Saint Niall once said “I learnt my trade at Arsenal, I became a footballer at Manchester City but Sunderland got under my skin.” I don’t really need to go into his playing career but after an injury blighted first season at Roker Park which saw us relegated from the Premier League Quinny went on to form a deadly partnership with Super Kevin Phillips which saw us make the Championship play-offs, get promoted with a record points haul and take the team to successive 7th place finishes in the top flight.

Top man all over the pitch and off the field

Not only was he a tremendous footballer and ambassador for the club and the game but he showed what a top bloke he was when he donated the not inconsiderable proceeds of his testimonial to children’s hospitals in Sunderland and Dublin.

For his strike partner I was tempted to go with Marco Gabbiadini but despite his Italian heritage Marco was born in Nottingham so instead I’ve gone for a real Italian in Fabio Borini. I thought Fabio was a bit of a curate’s egg. I liked him the first season when he came to us on loan from Liverpool. I thought he always worked hard and was capable of scoring some cracking goals, but he went off a bit after he signed for us permanently, having originally elected to fight for his place in the Liverpool team. Of course the fact he scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over the Mags had nothing to do with his inclusion nor the fact he also scored a penno against them!

Fabio Borini – boom boom. Click on the image for one of his goals that sunk the Mags.

He suffered a fair bit with injuries during his spell with us and I was surprised to find that he actually played a total of 93 times for us. How well he would have linked up with a player like Niall Quinn I’m not sure but to be honest, I was a bit limited in my choice of a second striker and Fabio was really the only one I thought fitted the bill.  

Subs Bench:

I had a number of stoppers in mind. Mart Poom, Jurgen Macho, Simon Mignolet, Lionel Perez and the late Martin Fulop all came to mind and Thomas Myhre didn’t qualify as Norway has never joined the EU, so in the end I settled for Don Vito Manonne, as much for the support he gave to Bradley Lowery and his family alongside Jermaine Defoe, as for his prowess between the sticks. Top bloke.

Bernt Haas. We’ve not had that many decent EU nationals at right back and initially I discounted Hass as he played his internationals for Switzerland but looking him up I found out that he was actually born in Vienna so being Austrian by birth qualifies. He came to us from Grasshoppers but as far as I know never played cricket. However he did play 27 times for us. A place on the bench for him but it was a close call between him and Pascal Chimbonda.

John O’Shea makes the bench for his sterling service to the club as a central defender and captain. There are those who will question the influence he had within the dressing room and the boardroom and he has been accused of undermining some of the managers he has served under but to me he was a stalwart of the club and at one point I wondered if he would be offered a coaching role when his playing days were over.

Jan Kirchoff is included not only because of his ability to play centre back as well as in midfield, but also because when he was fully fit he was pure class. He had a bit of a nightmare debut at Spurs but on his day was one of the best. Calm on the ball with the ability to find a defence splitting pass he was another whose Sunderland career was blighted by injury.

Stefan Schwarz and Bolo Zenden are another two hard working midfielders who make the bench. Schwarz I feel was often underrated but the work he did off the ball, denying opponents space and closing down passing options was first rate. Add to that his prowess in dead ball situations and he is unlucky not to make the starting XI. Bolo would give us a bit of width should we need it and a bit of height too when that was needed. Who will ever forget that great left footed volley he scored against Spurs at the SoL in 2010?

Niklas Bendtner. A bit stuck for a sub forward so I shall overlook his misdemeanours in the centre of Newcastle and in various pizza shops. I never felt he really achieved his full potential with us whilst on loan from Arsenal, though he was another in the side who got a goal against the Mags.

That’s it then. The Remain side of players making the case for the EU.

Tomorrow those who we probably wish we’d never seen on Wearside making the case for the Brexiteers.


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1 thought on “The Brexit issue: The good and not so good Europeans of Sunderland AFC”

  1. Ooo Malcolm, you’ve given away the secret of your loyalties already.
    Thank you for a super article, full of great memories.
    May you never be prorogued.

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