Nothing like a nice, quiet, uneventful bank holiday weekend to let everyone recharge the batteries…
This week’s exciting midweek game gives us our first encounter with one of our fellow League One escapees, in the form of the one-level-down version of Fulham, Rotherham United visiting the Stadium of Light on Wednesday night.
There are currently no members of the Rotherham squad who’ve also turned out for Sunderland, which means my constant fear of the returning player can have a night off – providing they don’t sign anyone interesting in the next 24 hours. Handily, none of our lot have played for Rotherham yet either, so that means we’re going back to our not so distant past with a pair of strikers, both of whom are remembered on Wearside for things they’d probably not want to be brought up.
Former Sunderland academy graduate and WMS alumni of years gone by, local boy Michael Proctor started out around the same time as the Stadium of Light was about to open back in 1997. Always thought of as an exciting prospect to look out for, Proctor overcame a couple of serious injuries in his teens and was allowed to take in loans at Hvidovre (Denmark, apparently), Halifax and Bradford, but it was his loan at York City in the 2001/02 season which really caught the eye, as he scored 14 goals.
Proctor’s chance in the Sunderland team came under walking disaster Howard Wilkinson, who blocked an extension of his loan at Bradford to try and help the fight against the inevitable relegation on the horizon. While the team were struggling, things didn’t go too horrendously for the forward, scoring his first goal for the club, a late winner against Liverpool in December 2002, following it up with another in the boxing day game with Leeds the same year – although we ultimately lost 2-1. Weirdly, despite us being awful all season, we only lost one of the games in which Proctor scored for us. That is, until that game took place on 1st February 2003.
Charlton. It’s always Charlton. 15:24-15:32, probably the most ridiculous 8 minutes in Sunderland’s history. Well, on the pitch at least. A crucial game against the Addicks, we already knew we were probably heading down, but a win here could see us turn a corner. Instead, Stephen Wright opens the scoring by directing the ball into his own net, good start. However, Proctor then became the poster boy for just how bad the 02/03 season was for Sunderland, as the local boy, Sunderland through and through then put the ball into his own net twice in the space of 3 minutes. 3-0 down, barely half an hour played and we’d scored all the goals. The corner was very much not turned, and down we went.
Would Division One be a chance for Proctor to shine and get over the trauma? Sort of, if not really. Proctor made 17 appearances under Mick McCarthy in the Irishman’s first full season in charge, and only managed one goal a 90th minute winner against Wimbledon (Paul Thirlwell also scored an own goal, so there’s a theme here). When McCarthy was presented with the opportunity to sign Rotherham’s in form striker, Darren Byfield, he jumped at the chance, completing the deal in February 2004, and Proctor went in the other direction on a permanent deal.
Things looked to be improving for Proctor initially as 17 games in his first half season brought a return of 6 goals as the Millers finished 17th in the First Division. However, the goals dried up the following year, with only 1 in the league in 28 games as Rotherham sank to the bottom of the division, getting relegated at the end of the season. That would be it for Proctor in Yorkshire, he spent 3 months of that season on loan at Swindon before being released at the end of his contract in summer 2005. Short stays at Hartlepool and Wrexham followed – and although he finished as the club’s top scorer for the latter, he still suffered relegation again and upon his release in 2009, hung up his boots aged only 29.
Since retirement, Proctor’s been involved in the coaching setup at Sunderland in several roles over the past few years, rising through the youth teams and ultimately being appointed to the first team coaching staff by that bald Scotsman who we won’t mention, at the start of the current season. If there’s any hitch with the appointment of the new manager for Wednesday night, expect to see him and lovely Mike Dodds taking charge in the dugout again.
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It’s clear to all that Proctor will be unfortunately remembered for those own goals, but for Lewis Grabban, we’d all like to forget the entire season of which he turned out for Sunderland. Not specifically because of him, as he was one of the very few to actually do their job competently that year, but for the fact that we were garbage. Plus, it doesn’t help that Grabban’s attitude on leaving Sunderland was fairly odious.
Grabban’s career is just bizarre and it took him a little while to get going – starting out at Crystal Palace in 2005 and struggling to make it into their first team, eventually leaving for Millwall in 2008, with goalless loans at Oldham and Motherwell in between. The scarier London club didn’t prove much of a happier hunting ground for Grabban, although he did many 9 goals, it took him 56 games to get there. Two loan spells at Brentford (the nicer London club) in 2010 brought 3 goals in 11 goals, which was enough to convince the Bees to sign him permanently in January 2011 where he managed a further 4 goals in 18 games before the League One season ended.
Finally giving up on London for a bit, Grabban then made the move to Rotherham, reuniting with former Brentford manager Andy Scott in July 2011, and this is where the forward finally found his knack as a clinical finisher. Albeit in League Two, Grabban hit 18 goals for the Millers as they finished a disappointing 10th place in the 4th tier. That was enough to convince League One Bournemouth of his qualities as the Cherries shelled out £300k for him in Summer 2012, his impact was huge, as although he may have hit a modest 13 goals in the 12/13 season, the club winning promotion via a 2nd place finish, his first year back in the Championship yielded 22 goals in 44 games as Bournemouth immediately stabilised in the second tier.
Grabban then bounced between Norwich and Bournemouth between 2014 and 2018 – netting his only Premier League goal whilst at the former – and taking in an average loan at Reading along the way. Then came Summer 2017, and Simon Grayson’s nightmare in candystripes. A loan to Sunderland from Bournemouth and it looked like we’d immediately solved our scoring dilemma in the wake of Jermain Defoe leaving. Grabban was the definition of clinical at Sunderland, with the greatest criticism being born of any player “all he does is score goals” – he managed 12 for an awful team in 19 games.
Unfortunately, it seemed Grabban had no intention of being involved in a relegation, and demanded to return to Bournemouth in the January transfer window, and so he did, after an alleged showdown with Chris Coleman. Bournemouth however sent him straight back out on loan to fellow Championship side Aston Villa who were only denied a return to the Premier League via a defeat to Fulham in the play off final. Grabban continued his ridiculous goalscoring that season, netting himself a further 8 in 16 games (one of which naturally came against Sunderland), meaning he’d scored 20 in 34 for two polar opposite sides.
At the end of the 17/18 season, Bournemouth cashed in on Grabban and sold him to Nottingham Forest for £6m, where he spend the next 4 years of his career. 54 goals in 144 Championship games wasn’t enough to get Forest up until the 21/22 season, where, even though his appearances were diminishing, he still managed 12 goals as Forest went up in the playoffs. Grabban was released in the summer and rather than try his hand on the Championship merry-go-round, he confused everyone by signing for Al Ahli, because everything about Saudi Arabia is just fine and not to be criticised.
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