Played For Both Sides – Sunderland and Norwich are really far apart, but some dared make the journey

Stephen Kennedy looks at two players who've worn both red and white and yellow and green in their careers, ahead of tomorrow's hosting of Norwich City.

The Friendly Cup is back. Nobody’s really sure how it started, why it continues or what it even means, but after a gap of somewhere between four and 76 years, we’re playing Norwich City in a league fixture again. I’m putting this one down to the truly inconsiderate distance between the two cities, but according to my slack level of research, only two players have played for both Sunderland and Norwich before the turn of the 21st century – Keith Bertschin and Paul Heckingbottom, if you needed to know – but a whopping 18 have bounced between us since the year 2000. Modern transportation is a miracle.

There’s a couple of links in the current squads of both sides, but as Patrick Roberts only played three times for them, and Bali Mumba (who to date has played precisely five league games for both) is out on loan at Plymouth, we’ll kick off with someone a little more notable.

Alex Pritchard

Everyone’s favourite diminutive number 10, Alex Pritchard needs no real waffle about his time in red and white. Brought in on a free by Lee Johnson in the summer of 2021 following his release by Huddersfield Town, the attacking midfielder looked a broken man when he first joined, admitting he’d lost his love of the game. Fast-forward little over a year, Pritchard was one of the biggest reasons for Sunderland finally getting out of the third tier, providing endless ammunition for the Ross Stewart and just generally being entirely too good for League One.

It all started at Tottenham Hotspur for Pritchard, making his Premier League debut in a final day 3-0 win over Aston Villa in 2014, after a couple of loan spells out with Peterbrough United and Swindon Town. A season-long loan to Championship side Brentford followed, where he scored 12 times in 45 games as The Bees finished in the play-offs, only to be knocked out by Middlesbrough.

Pritchard’s form was notable enough for him to be called up to the England Under-21 squad for the 2015 European Championships, who were then managed by Gareth Southgate. England finished bottom of their group, with their only win in the competition coming against eventual champions Sweden.

The start of 2015/16 offered hope of a Premier League future for Pritchard, as he made his second league appearance for Spurs in an opening day fixture against Everton. However, that would be it for his entire Tottenham career; he was then loaned out for a disastrous spell at West Bromwich Albion.

This was Tony Pulis-era Baggies, and in the same season Serge Gnabry was brought in and unable to get a game past the likes of James Morrison, Chris Brunt, James McClean and Callum McManaman. Understandably, due to Pulis’ phobia of anything slightly resembling creative football, Pritchard was reduced to just two substitute appearances against Newcastle United and future side Norwich, both of which the Baggies lost. A loan spell that ran from February to June, and brought 62 minutes of football. Grim.

Thankfully, in came Norwich in June 2016, shelling out £8m for Pritchard as the Canaries sought to kick their biannual Championship promotion-winning habit into high gear. The man who brought him in? None other than your friend and mine, Alex Neil.

Unfortunately, Norwich were actually going through a bit of a blip. Instead of the customary immediate return to the top tier, they finished eighth and 14th in the two seasons Pritchard turned out at Carrow Road. Injuries played their part in restricting him to just 38 league games (only 24 of which were starts) in 18 months, but he still cranked out the usual string of assists, as well as chipping in with seven goals of his own.

Huddersfield’s approach to life in the Premier League was a confusing one, with seemingly no actual plan in place for recruitment other than a dangerously open cheque book. In January 2018 they forked out a reported £11m fee for Pritchard as they looked to survive their first season back in the big time. What’s particularly remarkable about that decision – other than them actually surviving – is that for all that we know Pritchard’s qualities, more injury troubles meant he’d only featured in nine games for Norwich to that point in the season.

Things started well at The Terriers, with him nailing down a starting place in the team early on. Pritchard nabbed his first goal for the club only three games into his career in Yorkshire, notching the opener in a 4-1 win over Bournemouth. But then, in 2018/19 came the inevitable, as Huddersfield were thoroughly found out and finished bottom.

They nearly fell through the second tier too, with an finishing 18th the following year. Pritchard’s game time decreased with each passing season, and he was released at the end of his contract in the summer of last year.

It took him a little while to get going, but it’s clear to see Pritchard’s regained some of that confidence, belief and, importantly, love of the game now that he has a home at Sunderland. Hopefully we can put an end to some horrendous career choices.

Signed Left League Apps League Goals
Sunderland 2021 Present 41 4
Norwich 2016 2018 38 7

Kyle Lafferty

If you thought I would be able to get through an article where the opportunity was presented to mention one of the most ridiculous signings of the League One era without doing so, you are greatly mistaken.

Kyle Lafferty may have only been a Sunderland player for a matter of months, but he provided some much needed light relief during the Phil Parkinson days of sheer horror. Signed in January 2020, following a lovely time in Norway (more on that to come), Northern Ireland international Lafferty made 11 league appearances in red and white and only scored in one of them – getting a brace in the 2-2 circus at the Stadium of Light against Gillingham. That stands him out as the last Sunderland player to score before the pandemic ended the season. his contract was then cancelled, and back to his insane career he went.

Before we look at that career, let’s remember that he also played for Norwich, with a three-year stay from 2014 to 2017 reaping 31 league games and a whopping two goals. That’s literally all I have to say about his time in yellow and green, as injury and loans meant his impact in Norfolk was negligible to say the least.

Now for the fun part. Since turning professional in 2005, Lafferty has played for 14 different clubs in seven different countries. I can only assume this wanderlust was caused by starting out at and needing to get away from Burnley, as from there he visited: Darlington (loan), Rangers (Scotland, where he was moderately successful), Sion (Switzerland), Palermo (Italy), Norwich, Caykur Rizespor (Turkey, loan), Birmingham (loan), Hearts, Rangers (again), Sarpsborg (Norway), Sunderland, Reggina (Italy), Kilmarnock and Anorthosis Famagusta (Cyprus), before heading back to Kilmarnock again.

Amazingly, despite this list, his only career honours came at Rangers -three league titles, one Scottish Cup and two Scottish League Cups – and Palermo -a Serie B title. Lafferty’s style is simple: sign for a weird club (usually one that’s seen better days), stay for a few months, score a couple of goals (optional), then dust off the passport and move on.

He’s the footballing version of Mary Poppins (Shary Bobbins?), moving on to the next disaster house, but without actually fixing anything.

A true great of modern football.

Signed Left League Apps League Goals
Sunderland 2020 2020 11 2
Norwich 2014 2017 31 2