Played for Both – Exploring the very few players to have crossed the Sunderland/Stanley divide

Stephen Kennedy examines the very short list of players to have represented both Sunderland and Accrington Stanley in their careers

Like Morecambe before them, Accrington Stanley proposes somewhat of an interesting research challenge for an article of this kind. Historically, I doubt we’ve been in the same division as Accrington more than five times in our entire existence (…yet), and we’ve usually enjoyed a multiple league buffer between us, which has meant we normally had the comfort of just sending the odd kid on loan to Stanley and thinking nothing more of it.

Such has been the divide between the two clubs over the last century or so, that, from what this limited researchers findings can tell, there has only been one player who has been under a permanent contract for each, so that’s exciting.

Watch this space for when Jermain Defoe decides his next big ambition is to do Andy Holt’s bidding and swaggers up to the Wham Stadium (silly name).

John Mullin

A dictionary definition of an “oh yeah, forgot about him” player from Sunderland in the 90s. If you were to ask any football fan (and an understandably large number of Sunderland fans included in that), who had the honour of scoring the final goal at Roker Park, you might get the answer of Allan Johnston in our 3-0 win against Everton.


Instead we had a ceremonial friendly against Liverpool at the end of the 96/97 season which we won 1-0, and the goal scorer? It’s your man, John Mullin.

In truth, there are only two really notable things about Mullin’s time at Sunderland, which started when he was signed from Burnley in 1995; the other being that he scored the winner against Manchester United, also in the final season at Roker Park. A versatile player, he was more or less a number 10 at a time where English football steadfastly refused to accept such exotic nonsense; he simply couldn’t regularly keep himself in a team where the likes of Rae, Ball and Clark were coming together in midfielder, and with Quinn, Phillips and Bridges all showing up to do the business up front, he eventually left after making only 36 appearances in four years, scoring 4 along the way.

His post Sunderland career saw him go back to Burnley, before a five-year stay at Rotherham, a stop off at Tranmere, and finally, a two year spell at, would you believe it, Accrington Stanley from 2008-10. He scored precisely zero goals in 32 appearances for Stanley, so I can only assume that this is the only reason the Wham Stadium hasn’t yet been demolished.

Leighton James

Ask your dad/granda time! Welsh winger Leighton James was a staple of Burnley, Derby, QPR and Swansea throughout the 70s and early 80s and gained a glowing reference as a classy, skilful player who chipped in with a surprising number of goals (338 appearances, 100 goals for those clubs), it’s safe to say Sunderland fans in the pre-McMenemy era will have been fairly excited when James signed up in 1983.

However, his goal record notably dries up from that point in his career (208 games, 24 goals from 83-89), and his international career ended the same year. Sunderland fans of a certain vintage largely have the same opinion of James – looked the part, had some decent moments, but already looked past his best by the time we got him at 30 years old. He left Roker Park after only a year, took in middling spells at Bury, Newport and Burnley again (it’s always Burnley), before retiring in 1989.

It’s at this point James started one of those phenomenal managerial careers that only 80s footballers seem to have. Between 1993 and 2012, the Welshman had spells in charge of… Gainsborough Trinity, Morecambe, Netherfield, Ilkeston Town, Accrington Stanley (there they are), Llanelli, Garden Village (which is a generic place, not a football team), Llanelli again, Aberaman Athletic (no idea) and Haverfordwest County.

To say his link between Sunderland and Stanley is fleeting would be kind, as he only spent five months at Accrington between 97/98, before resigning due to radio punditry commitments, but we needed to fill the space somehow, so thank you Leighton.