Played For Both Sides – A look into a player from the not too-distant past of both Sunderland and Lincoln City

Stephen Kennedy takes a look at just one of the players to turn out in the red and white of Sunderland and Lincoln

Ah Lincoln, lovely, lovely Lincoln. With your massive cathedral, equally massive manager and horrifying club badge. Our games against the Imps have been, if nothing else, completely chaotic over the past couple of seasons. Whether it’s them proving to be another nail in the Jack Ross coffin, getting battered by a returning Aiden McGeady and Jack Diamond, booting us out of the playoffs or Chris Maguire going full Chris Maguire, these fixtures have provided a lovely slice of excitement to our League One experience.

Last time, we covered off the aforementioned King of the Dark Arts, and Maguire helped himself to a hattrick whilst simultaneously seeing off Lee Johnson on the touchline, so this week we’ll go for a safer approach and look at a player who may well have played for both Sunderland and Lincoln, but they’re nowhere near either team now. So if this chap comes back to haunt us, I will be interested to know how.

Billy Knott

A name that not too many Sunderland fans may be overly familiar with, but Billy Knott’s time at Sunderland isn’t actually that far in the past; signed from Chelsea’s youth team in 2011, the creative midfielder was the lesser-known acquisition amongst the likes of Simon Mignolet, Danny Welbeck, John Mensah and Asamoah Gyan. Interestingly, Wikipedia makes note of how Knott was essentially sacked by Chelsea and forced to sign a confidentially agreement after a “smoke grenade incident”, which I am happy to leave the details to my full imagination.

Whilst at Sunderland Knott took in loans at AFC Wimbledon, Woking, Wycombe and Port Vale, where he’d become a mainstay at each, making 62 league appearances and scoring 14 goals across the lot. Stuck between his spells at Woking and Wycombe was his sole league appearance on Wearside, as Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland succumbed to an 89th minute winner at Tottenham, courtesy of Gareth Bale in May 2013. Knott had just been brought on to replace James McClean (Mikael Mandron came on at the same time, replacing Danny Graham), only for David Vaughan to be sent off the very next minute.

Somewhat impressively, not only did Knott fail to make another league appearance for Sunderland, but that would be his only showing in red and white in all competitions, as in July 2014 he was allowed to leave for free, where he signed for Bradford City. Infamously, Knott was part of the Bradford team who, in February 2015, knocked Sunderland out of the FA Cup, thanks to a John O’Shea own goal, and a strike from former Sunderland knacker, Jon Stead. A great day for all concerned. Upon leaving Bradford in summer 2017, Knott endured a stop-start stint at Gillingham before finding himself at today’s subject, Lincoln City, first on loan in February 2017, before signing permanently in the following summer.

During his loan at Sincil Bank, Knott was part of the team that got the Imps back into the Football League, winning the National League title and becoming a key part of Danny Cowley’s all conquering squad. However, upon signing permanently, Knott struggled to make the same impact in League Two, and after a short, unproductive loan at Rochdale, was allowed to leave again in 2018. Sadly for Knott, he’s never been seen in the Football League since, making a smattering of appearances at Concord Rangers, Chelmsford City, Bowers & Pitsea (no clue), Billericay Town, Canvey Island and, currently, Great Wakering Rovers (again, not a scooby).

Knott’s legacy as a player may not be one that lived up to expectations, but he did buck the trend in footballing circles when, in 2018, he confirmed that he was struggling with depression. He may not have been the highest profile of players, but his openness about his mental health was seen as something of a watershed moment for professional footballers. A much greater career achievement than that Bradford cup game, in my book.