This, the second extract from our near-complete set of the lamented fanzine It’s The Hope I Can’t Stand is a classic mixture of retrospective wisdom and downright mischief-making. Back we go to the 1997/1998 season and the origins of a fabulous Premier League strike pairing …
It is not the sort of thing anyone wants to be reminded of: even the slightest hint of hesitancy in initial thoughts on one Kevin Phillips, and a distinctly undecided assessment of Niall Quinn.
That, however, is how Ithics saw things back then. There are strong mitigating factors, and we will get to them, but Salut! Sunderland cannot resist the temptation to dip into edition No 2 – when the writer of each article was still anonymous – and repeat these snippets from a piece entitled: “Reid’s Transfer Record – Hit or Miss?”
* Niall Quinn
The North East’s ever-inventive press corps devised a number of extremely dubious nicknames for the big man (who dreamt up Quininho?), before injury struck hm down. Quinn renewed his season ticket on the Roker Park physio’s couch. His performances to date have veered from reasonable to Ormondroydesque.
Verdict: The jury is out
* Kevin Phillips
Most recently, Reid has bought Lee Clark, Kevin Phillips, Chris Byrne and Chris Makin. It’s too early to say whether or not these players will enjoy successful careers at Sunderland.
Verdict: none delivered
And in a later edition of Ithics (No 6, published in March 1998 as we headed towards playoff disappointment at Wembley), Mark Egan, co-editor and author of the marvellous spoof contract negotiations between John Ficking (then chief executive) and Allan “Magic Johnston”, wrote this:
Super certainly deserves a crack at top-flight football. His pace, invention and confidence have delighted us this season and I think he can scare the wits out of some Premier back lines. But he will need to convert a greater percentage of the chances he creates in order to become a truly top-class striker.
Hang on, I hear Mark say, wasn’t that an overwhelmingly positive appraisal? And he’d be right. What’s more, the same edition that contained the “hit or miss” squad ratings had a double-page spread on SuperKev that concluded: “Kevin Phillips has, in only six games, established himself a top-quality striker. The like of which we haven’t seen on Wearside since Marco Gabbiadini. Obviously, the lad has yet to establish hismelf in the Premier League but we like what we’ve seen so far.”
Not many people would have quarrelled with the doubt about Quinny either. It took the remarkable success of treatment to his career-threatening injury to turn him from a lame has-been into one of the most effective No 9s, in so many ways, that I have had the pleasure to watch in Sunderland colours. Hindsight, of course, is easy. But mine tells me Niall Quinn was most emphatically 50 per cent of the NQ/SKP partnership.
I did warn there might be mischief afoot.
But it is a treat to look back, recall the qualified acclaim and recall just what a “truly top-class striker” SuperKev showed himself to be, so ably complemented by Quinn, and how many Premier back fours the pair of them terrorised when we eventually did gain promotion.
Look out for more from the Ithics Files …