Well, that was an uneventful week, wasn’t it? Seeing as we’ve gone back to Full Sunderland in our approach to this weekend’s encounter with Doncaster Rovers, I feel it’s only fitting that rather than looking at some of the sensible options of players to have turned out for both clubs, we instead look into some of the heroes of anonymity of our recent history.
So, whereas last time, we had the likes of Diouf and Chimbonda, brace yourselves for this week, we’re looking into a selection of players who would be Pointless answers on the list of Sunderland players, starting with…
Cast your mind back to January 2019, we’re just starting the second half of what was supposed to be our only year in League One, and we needed someone to come in to help provide the goals now ripped out of the team thanks to the sale of Josh Maja, and Will Grigg was yet to arrive, up steps Kaz Sterling, on loan from Spurs.
Youth player from the Premier League, desperate to prove himself in league football, sounds ideal for a team near the top of League One, right? Well, Sterling instead only managed eight league appearances for the rest of the season, this despite Grigg’s entire lack of confidence, form or desire, and Charlie Wyke still struggling with fitness in his pre-30 goal-season days. If it wasn’t for the fact that he notched a goal against Accrington in a 3-0 win, we’d probably have already forgotten Sterling.
The next season the striker was sent on loan to Doncaster, making three appearances, scoring in the pizza cup against Lincoln, but had that spell cut short by injury. Since then, it’s not been a happy story for the forward – he took in loans at Leyton Orient (no appearances), Southend (10 apps) and Greenock Morton (7 apps) between 20-21, scoring no goals at any club before he was released by Spurs at the start of the current season. His fall from being a promising Premier League youth player was confirmed when he was then picked up by his next club, Potters Bar Town of the Isthmian League.
Speaking of players who started their career with a load of promise in the top flight, it’s former England youth international and Leeds academy graduate Simon Johnson. A winger/forward/attacking midfielder, Johnson at least managed to make a few appearances for his first club, including in the top flight, racking up 11 showings between 2000-05, but in the process took in loan spells at Hull, Blackpool, Sunderland, Doncaster and Barnsley. His time at Sunderland is short and forgettable, only 5 appearances, 4 of which from the subs bench, with no goals scored, but at least we won 4 of those 5, so that’s nice.
At Donny he’ll be remembered a little better, making 11 appearances and scoring three goals in the third tier, before getting 2 more in 11 games on loan at Barnsley as his time at Leeds drew to a close in the summer of 2005. Much like Sterling, Johnson’s career once he left his first club was straight into the lower divisions, but unlike Kaz, he at least stayed in the football league for a little while longer, taking in spells with Darlington, Hereford and Bury – none of whom now exist in their original form, so it’s safe to conclude that for football clubs, death is a forward from West Bromwich.
Short stints at Halesowen, Solihull, Guiseley, Hibernians (of Malta, not Edinburgh), Hinckley United and Hinckley (notably, Hinckley United also no longer exist…) between 2009-2014 eventually led to Johnson’s retirement. Now a manager, Johnson is in charge of Highgate United, who, presumably are only days away from dissolving.
Possibly the greatest of all Pointless answers for Sunderland, it’s former academy product, Ashington-born midfielder Chris Black. Black had the great misfortune of coming through the Sunderland ranks during the 2002-03 catastrophic tactical retreat from the Premier League, starring Howard Wilkinson and all the fun he brought with him.
Well, by May of 2003, Sunderland had been all but officially relegated for eight months, and Mick McCarthy had been in charge for 7 weeks of utter dismay. In true Mick Mac style, he took the approach of “surely nobody else can do any worse” and started throwing academy players into the first time, likely looking to see if there was anyone to help the rebuild in the First Division for the next season. Black was one such player, who was given a start completely out of the blue in our visit to Villa Park, playing alongside Gavin McCann in the centre of midfield. Naturally, we still lost 1-0, which by our standards for that season, is a moral victory. This was followed up with the final match of the season, at home to Arsenal, Black again started, but this time we were torn apart 4-0, thanks to a Freddy Ljungberg hattrick and Thierry Henry being Thierry Henry.
So, the new season in a lower division must mean Black would be in contention, right? Dead wrong. Black didn’t make a single appearance until November 22nd, away to Crewe, where we promptly lost 3-0 (goals from Dean Ashton, appearances from future Sunderland knackers, Billy Jones and David Vaughan). That would be the midfielder’s last game for the club and he was shipped off in March 2003 to the only other club of his career, Doncaster Rovers.
Unfortunately though, that move brought him only one appearance, a 0-0 draw at Oxford, where he lined up with on loan Sunderland striker Chris Brown, and everybody’s favourite slightly-mobile mountain, Adebayo Akinfenwa. And that was that for Chris Black, I can therefore only assume that Simon Johnson walked by as he was leaving the Rovers training ground one day.