The History Programme: (5) Fulham’s record breaking visit to the Stadium of Light

In the fifth and final part of his look at programmes from a lifetime supporting Sunderland, Pete Sixsmith brings us into the 21st Century with his reminiscences of a season many of us would prefer to forget. When Fulham visited on the 4th May 2006 for the final home game that season it really looked as if supporters would witness an entire campaign without seeing a victory at the Stadium of Light.

Fulham Programme 1And so we arrive in the last decade in our look at the last fifty years of supporting Sunderland. As usual, it proved to be an up and down one, with relegations, promotions and near misses. It also provided us with possibly the poorest team in the club’s long and glorious history – that of the infamous 15 point season.

Under Mick McCarthy we had won the Championship the previous year with a team that was put together to do precisely that. Dean Whitehead, Liam Lawrence and Stephen Elliott were perfect signings and they all played major parts in our fourth second tier title.

But when it came to the top level, they needed support if we were to make a success of it. Unfortunately, what little cash was made available to the Barnsley Bruiser was not spent on proven top level players and that support was not forthcoming.

Look at the players who came in. Kelvin Davies who was very quickly nicknamed “Calamity Kelvin” by the much missed Dave Lish.

Then there was Jonathan Stead, a centre forward of some potential at Huddersfield Town, but who had failed at Blackburn Rovers. However, Mick decided to blow a third of his budget and give the man who grew up playing Rugby League a second chance. He didn’t score until April 1st. Everton were the fools that day.

Nyron Nosworthy was picked up on a free from Gillingham. He was a great character and had a brilliant season the following year under Roy Keane, but he struggled in this team. His 60 yard back pass at Middlesbrough which ended up as a corner had Mick scratching head, chin and a*** in bewilderment.

On the eve of the season, in came Andy Gray from Barnsley to spearhead the attack. He scored on his debut (pen against Charlton) and that was it. No more goals and eventually he was shipped out on loan by February. His performance in the Cup defeat at Brentford was as inept as anything I have ever seen in a Sunderland shirt.

Our third “forward” – using the term lightly – was loanee Anthony le Tallec. The young Frenhman had been signed by Gerard Houllier and was shipped out to us to gain experience. He had loads of ability but his commitment and heart were in direct contrast. Still, he scored more goals than Stead and Gray put together – a grand total of 6 to ranking him alongside names like Brian Clough, Len Shackleton and Kevin Phillips as a season’s leading scorer.

Tommy Miller had arrived from Ipswich Town and became “Mr Anonymity”, looking every inch a Championship player. Nice lad, good trainer but totally out of his depth in the Premier League. He is now at Swindon Town – guess who signed him!!!
Fulham Programme 2
Justin Hoyte, on a season’s loan from Arsenal, was one of the few players who improved as the campaign rumbled on. He had played in successful teams all his life until he pitched up at Sunderland. He almost became a legend when he put us ahead against the Mags, but the defence had its usual stinker and they scored four – even Chopra got one. He must have got a good price at Corals.

During the season, we brought in Christian Bassila, a French journeyman who like Baldrick’s war poem, started badly and then went downhill and Rory Delap who never once took a throw in, although he did score a splendid goal at Everton.

The season started badly with a 3-1 home defeat to Charlton Athletic, with a certain Darren Bent bagging two of them and we never looked like dragging ourselves out of the mire. By the time the Fulham game came around for the second time, we were one game away from going through an entire season without a home win.

I say again, because the original game on Apil 8th had been abandoned after 21 minutes due to a combination of snow and rain. At the time The Cottagers were a goal up thanks to Brian McBride and looked the more likely winners.
Fulham Programme 3
They clearly didn’t fancy a return to Wearside and went two goals down to strikes from Le Tallec and Chris Brown before Tomasz Radzinski pulled one back. Memory serves that Davies had a decent game that night against a team that featured Steed Malbranque and Wayne Bridge, one of whom a few years later made a significant contribution to SAFC and one who didn’t.

The whole sorry farrago ended a few days later at Villa Park and we had grave fears about our club’s future. And then, along came Niall Quinn and the Drumaville boys and the rest is history.

I chose this programme because it did end a traumatic season for us and also because of the date of the game. I spent my next “work” day making the Ferryhill students write the date at every opportunity, which just goes to reinforce the view that I am among the saddest of the sad.

It’s also a very good example of the excellent programme that Rob Mason and his team now produce. Priced at £3.00 there is sufficient reading in it to sustain a lengthy bus journey home. Alas, the local adverts were a bit thin on the ground – The Fry Fry in Bridge Street had closed down by then and Reg Vardy had gobbled up Byers Dunn Turvey, but there is an interview with former Bishop Auckland Grammar School lad Les Wood, a Red and White of my vintage and all round good egg.

And that, as they say, is that. I hope to have revived some memories, both good and bad and look forward to welcoming Fulham and their 25 travelling fans to the Stadium on the 17th.of next month. I suspect the Cottagers’ team will be more readily identifiable than our lot!!!

Finally a word of thanks to Keith Scott, a good friend an even better Sunderland fan for the loan of the programmes.

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Stoke City’s man of letters: ‘Kenwyne was always one of ours’

Time, as we said, to move on. There’s another important game looming: SAFC v Stoke City on Saturday. Stephen Foster*, the author of two classics among “my club” football books (buy them at the best prices by clicking here), is another great capture for the Who Are You? series. Stoke through and through, he writes with the passion and wit that appeals to fans of other teams: look at the acclaim he won for She Stood There Laughing and the follow-up, on City’s first year back in the top flight, … And She Laughed No More. Welcome to Salut! Sunderland, Stephen (or Steve as he was for the first of those books thanks to a publisher’s error) …

Salut! Sunderland: you wrote our first question for us, Stephen: “What’s it like having half a side made out of Sunderland cast-offs representing Stoke City?” Apart from – or even including – Tommy and Kenwyne, is that how you see them?

No, not really, once you’ve got players they become yours, don’t they (unless you actively loathe them). But sometimes getting on for half our starting eleven have migrated from one set of red and white stripes to another which is a bit much: Tommy, Collins/Higginbotham, Deano, Rory, Kenwyne. The greatest contribution has come from Delap, no question, he was the key unit of the Pulis Method in the first Premier League season, at the outset of which, to be fair, everyone was predicting we’d ‘do a Derby’. The full backs are fine, the ‘keeper is solid, Whitehead is one of those players I just can’t see the point of. I think of Kenwyne a bit more as “one of ours” anyway since we had him on loan (from Southampton) for a couple of months in the Championship. He was the archetypal Bambi on Ice then; living up on Wearside certainly put some beef on him. He’s started off brilliantly, scoring in four consecutive games with his head, though he did have a muted and subdued match against Man United. We’ve been warned about that tendency from both your fans and your manager and I have to say he didn’t look up for it when he was confronted by the best centre back pairing he’s encountered so far in Ferdinand and Vidic. Vidic knocked him about which he didn’t seem to like. I wonder if he’ll do the curse of the ex against you…

Read moreStoke City’s man of letters: ‘Kenwyne was always one of ours’