If ever there was a club to be the other end of a dove tail of Sunderland’s recent history, there’d be a good argument to put forward for Sheffield United to be it. Sheff Utd spent entirely too long in the wilderness of League One, met us in the Championship for a brief visit as Sunderland plummeted into the third tier for what felt like an eternity, as the Blades stormed into the Premier League for a couple of seasons. Now here we both are again, hopefully with neither of us heading back for the Championship trap door.
From what this limited researcher can work out, there have been 24 players to have donned the red and white stripes of Wearside and South Yorkshire, with an impressive clutch of those being loan spells out from Sunderland to the Blades in the mid/late-2000s (brief mentions for Greg Halford, Neill Collins, Andy Reid, Anthony Stokes…). But for today’s delve into the history books, we’re going to look at either end of that era, in which the fortunes of both clubs change significantly from start to finish.
Still a divisive figure for Sunderland fans 21 years on from his departure, the one thing you cannot take away from Don Hutchison was that his single full season in red and white was absolutely sensational. Signed from Everton in the summer of 2000 for a then-notable fee of £2.5m, the attacking midfielder was a revelation in Peter Reid’s side that ultimately finished seventh for the second year in a row in the top flight.
Quinn and Phillips will have rightly gotten the majority of the plaudits, but Hutchison was the vital link between midfield and attack, and proved to be that fabled body running into the box to get on the end of anything that the strikers couldn’t. In all, Hutch scored eight goals in 32 league games in the 2000/01 season, including goals in iconic games against Chelsea (4-2) and Newcastle (2-1, Sorensen save). The Scot was part of a team packed full of players chipping in with the goals – 19 different players scored in the league for Sunderland that year (even Chris Makin), and Hutchison slotted in well with the likes of Gavin McCann, Alex Rae, Kevin Kilbane and Stefan Schwarz in making our midfield something to be truly feared.
Then of course, two games into the 2001/02 season, a sticky situation arrived when West Ham tabled a club record £5m for him, Sunderland accepted it, Reidy wasn’t happy, and away he went, forever (at least until Darren Bent took on the mantel) to be branded as moneybags/Hutchi£on by Sunderland fans from there on. Sadly for Hutchison, a serios knee injury immediately followed his move, limiting him to 63 league appearances for the Hammers over 4 years. Short spells at Millwall, Coventry and Luton followed before his career was wrapped up in May 2008, aged 37.
Where Sheff Utd come into this is much earlier in Hutch’s career, as he joined the Blades in January 1996 from his first spell at West Ham. During Howard Kendall’s time in charge of Sheff Utd, Hutchison found his feet as a constant presence in a starting XI, having had mixed stays at Liverpool and with the Hammers, the midfielder started to show glimpses of the form he’d deliver for Sunderland some 4 years later. The Blades ultimately couldn’t manage to get beyond a play off finish in any of Hutchison’s seasons however, and when Kendall headed back to Everton in August 1997, he eventually brought the midfielder with him in March 1998.
Now for a player who has become the posterchild for the “why didn’t we give him a go” argument that’s plagued Sunderland and our academy for the best part of 15 years. Ireland international centre back John Egan came through the ranks at the Academy of Light, eventually going professional in 2011 at the age of 17. Egan managed precisely zero appearances for Sunderland in his 3 years as a professional, and in that time, he was loaned out to Crystal Palace (insane), Sheff Utd, Bradford and Southend, before we finally let him leave for Gillingham on a free in July 2014.
Egan spent time in the first team squads under Martin O’Neill, and was constantly spoken of as being a player we should’ve all been excited about, but a broken leg suffered whilst on loan at Bradford seemed to put an end to any chance of making a first team appearance. Egan’s fortunes were turned around spectacularly at Gillingham, where in his debut season he won the club’s Player of the Year award, played 52 games in all competitions, scoring 5 goals in the process. His second season saw him being named in the League One Team of the Year before sealing a move to the ever-rising Brentford in 2016. Impressively, after FA intervention, Brentford were forced to pay £400k compensation to Gillingham (Egan left after not signing a new deal), as well as an additional £25k for every 20 games he played and a 20% sell on fee. All those lovely financial boosts…for a player that came through Sunderland’s academy and left for nowt, incredible scenes.
Two successful seasons in London followed, where Egan eventually became club captain as the Bees finished 9th in the Championship. Finally, Egan made the journey back to Sheffield United (his loan spell saw him make a single appearance in 2012) for an undisclosed fee in July 2018 as the Blades looked to push on from their successful return to the Championship. Egan played in 44 of their league games as Sheff Utd finished 2nd and returned to the Premier League. Egan remained a stalwart of the Blades’ team in the Premier League with Chris Wilder’s mad overlapping centrebacks formation, and he’s still a key part of their team now, in his fifth season in South Yorkshire. Still not quite 30, he has very much earned his place as the pinnacle of frustration for players Sunderland really could’ve done with in the years following his exit, but in all honesty, the timelines don’t quite add up – we were still a Premier League team for 3 more years following Egan’s departure from the North East, so he likely wouldn’t have featured anyway. Probably would’ve been a better idea than Kyrgiakos and Djilobodji though.
Oh, and Sheff Utd academy graduate…