Pete Sixsmith bids a fond farewell to Thomas Sorensen, a great Sunderland goalkeeper of recent times, as he puts away his gloves and enters retirement (from playing at any rate) …
Thomas Sorensen announced his retirement today, ending a distinguished career that has taken him from Denmark via Wearside, Birmingham, the Potteries and Australia’s second city, Melbourne, where he finally hung up his gloves.
In the pantheon of Sunderland keepers, he is up there with the best. In living memory, only Monty is above him and there can be few, if any, who can compare him with Johnny Mapson. Anyone who says that Ned Doig or LR Roose were better is either mad, intoxicated or a creature from another dimension.
He was a speculative signing when he pitched up at the Stadium of Light in 1998. He had been loaned out by Odense to two other Danish clubs and when Peter Reid signed him on the recommendation of Peter Schmeichel, eyebrows were raised.
He replaced the temperamental and volatile Lionel Perez who had lost it in the playoff defeat to Charlton Athletic and there were the usual grumblers and doubters who wondered if Reid was taking an unnecessary gamble on an untried 22-year-old.
We need not have worried. His form in that record breaking promotion season was outstanding. Playing behind a solid back four of Makin, Butler, Melville and Gray (with Craddock and Scott filling in), he conceded a mere 28 goals in 46 games, keeping 29 clean sheets and became an instant crowd favourite.
His 6’4” frame filled the goal and his reading of the game was exemplary. Never a spectacular keeper, he relied on outstanding judgement, an ability to know where the ball was going to go and a dominance of his area that ensured that defenders knew where he was.
His finest moment came on November 18 2000 when he made THAT save from THAT man at THAT ground.
Picture the scene; it’s a cold November evening in Newcastle. The ground was full of the Geordie Nation screaming and shouting and doubling the s and s when Gary Speed gave them an early lead. Don Hutchinson equalised and then Niall Quinn put us ahead with a wonderful header with 15 minutes left.
Quinn quickly became the villain when he brought down Rob Lee for a penalty that fitted the description clear cut. Up stepped The Hero of the Geordie Nation to equalise and then go on to win the game. The 3,000 Red and Whites in the ground dared to look while the 20,000 watching the beam back at the Stadium of Light crossed their breath and held their fingers
The HOTGN stepped up in front of a near hysterical Gallowgate end and hit the shot to Tommy’s right. It wasn’t his best penalty but he rarely missed. Our Great Dane went the right way and tipped it round the post. The Geordie Nation wept while the Red and Whites, the true begetters of footballing quality, erupted. It was a save that went down in history and it meant that Tommy will never have to buy a drink on Wearside again.
He was first choice for four seasons until an injury hit year in 2002-03 saw him depart for Aston Villa as we departed the Premier League under Reid, Howard Wilkinson and Mick McCarthy.
At Villa he played under David O’Leary and Martin O’Neill and saved another HOTGN penalty before losing his place to Scott Carson and moving on to Stoke City where he is almost as well thought of as he is at Sunderland.
The Evening Sentinel rated him as the fifth best ever Potters custodian behind Gordon Banks, Asmir Begovic, Denis Herod (City’s post war keeper when they almost won the league) and the excellent and ever improving Jack Butland. He played for City when they reached the FA Cup Final in 2011, having lost his league place to Begovic.
On leaving the Municipal Incinerator Stadium, he joined Melbourne City and it was there that he announced his retirement earlier today.
I am sure that all (both) readers of this column will wish him a long and happy retirement and we hope to see him back at the Stadium of Light as we storm the Championship this season.
Thanks for the memories Tommy. You are a true Sunderland hero.