Plymouth is really, quite stupidly far away, isn’t it? So much so, that I’m astounded that this game hasn’t been moved to an 8pm kick-off on a stormy Tuesday, when all the trains are off. Not that it matters much, as Plymouth fans will have already set off for this one at the back end of January.
Owing largely to that ridiculous distance between us, and the usual gap between the sides historically, there have not been very much players to have turned out for both Sunderland and Plymouth; by my lazy research, I can count eight to have done it.
And, owing to my own invented rule of only covering a player once, regardless of which club they played for, we’re now left with a choice of three – spoiler, it won’t be Nigel Walker, who was on loan at Plymouth (no appearances) in 1982 and made a solitary cameo in red and white in 1983.
Saturday will see the return of Brendan Galloway to the Stadium of Light, so let’s all hope he turns in the standard performance we were used to seeing from him in his loan spell under Grayson/Coleman; i.e., not too far away from the goat that gets get to the t-rex in Jurassic Park. But this Saturday also sees another former Sunderland player return to the SoL, and one we all hold in much higher regard.
Ah, Bali Mumba. In another universe, he’d still be a Sunderland player, instead of having been sold at the first opportunity for a Chomp and an all regions Metro pass.
Born in South Shields, Mumba was brought through the Sunderland academy and was already catching the eye in 2017, still aged just 16. At a time where Sunderland were staggering from the likes of Darron Gibson, Jonny Williams and an increasingly beleaguered Lee Cattermole in midfield, Mumba was tearing up the youth team, and famously made his debut in that bizarre final day of the 17/18 season.
Sunderland had already been relegated, despite the rest of the league being so terrible to have given us chance after chance of staying up, and we hosted newly crowned champions, Wolves. Naturally, we won 3-0, and even Ashley Fletcher scored.
Mumba came off the bench in the dying minutes of the game, and was symbolically handed the captaincy by the departing John O’Shea, becoming our youngest ever captain in the process. The changing of the guard was afoot, out with the old, in with the new, and a new owner had just been confirmed. Finally, a glimmer of hope.
Unfortunately, that new owner was Stewart Donald, and Sunderland proceeded to faff around for most of the summer, the club had only signed Luke O’Nien and Dylan McGeouch to bolster the midfield in time for the opening fixture at home to Charlton in August 2018. McGeouch promptly got injured, meaning our bow in League One saw us playing a terrified O’Nien (hooked at half time) and the still 16-year-old Bali Mumba in the centre of the park.
Unsurprisingly, being thrown in at the deep end at that age, with a mere matter of minutes of senior football under his belt, in the high-pressure context of Sunderland in League One did not help Mumba’s progression. Mumba was a feature of our first three games of the season, without contributing much of note, then relegated to the youth team again from the end of August until a 2 minute cameo against, of all teams, Plymouth in November. That would be it for Mumba’s league career at Sunderland, token appearances in the FA Cup and the Checkatrade saw out the 18/19 season for Mumba, and a start against Grimsby in the Pizza Cup would be his solitary showing for the club in the 19/20 season.
A loan to hometown club South Shields saw him score twice in three games in Spring 2020, but that would then be the end of Mumba’s time in the North East. In July of 2020, Sunderland accepted a bid of just £350k for one of the brightest prospects in the academy, and Mumba headed down to Norwich City.
In Norfolk, Mumba was used just about as little as he had been on Wearside, as he found himself restricted to just four appearances for the Canaries in his debut season, so his involvement in Norwich’s then-traditional pre-relegation promotion to the Premier League was limited. He did make his top flight debut the following year, coming on as a half time sub in a 5-0 drubbing at Man City.
So, with Norwich returning to the Championship in 2022, and Mumba still nowhere near the first team picture, Mumba was loaned to fellow Championship outfit Peterborough United in January of that year, as the Canaries looked to get him ready for senior football in time for the drop. Mumba was an instant success for Posh, scoring his first professional goal on his debut – a 2-1 win against Bristol Rovers in the FA Cup. Mumba found himself transformed by Norwich and Peterborough into an attacking right-sided wingback and flourished with an array of bright performances which surely caught the eye of his parent club.
So eye-catching were those performances that Norwich…immediately loaned him out to League One Plymouth Argyle for the entirety of the 22/23 season. I will never understand this decision, but it was excellent news for Plymouth. Mumba was a sensation in their promotion winning campaign, and again found himself in an entirely different position; this time, he’d added playing on either wing to his arsenal. A key member of their all-conquering squad from last season, along with the likes of Morgan Whittaker, Mumba chipped in with six goals as Argyle held off an equally brilliant Ipswich side to claim the third tier title and a return to the Championship.
So now with a full season of excellent football under his belt, and Norwich in dire need of fresh blood in the team, surely it was time for Mumba to become a mainstay of the Canaries team?
Absolutely not, they sold him permanently to Plymouth for a fee of around £1m and he’s continued his impressive form for Argyle this season, with two goals to his name in the second tier so far. Madness.
Still only 22 years old, Mumba has an exceptional future ahead of him, and it’s painful to see him turn out for anyone else, when he was one of our own.