The final game before the Stupid World Cup starts, Sunderland aren’t quite desperate yet, but it’d be tremendous if we managed to head into the break with a win to put more of a distance between us and the bottom three. So who better to take on for those points than Birmingham City, the team that everyone tipped to go down who are inconsiderately in great form and steadily climbing the table.
Of the current squads, there’s a couple of links we’ll not be looking at properly today, but we can expect to see Dion Sanderson turning out for the Blues, who also have Jobe “He Was Definitely About To Join Sunderland In The Summer” Bellingham and their technical director is none other than Craig Gardner. So with Craig in mind, let’s go back to one of his former teammates.
King Windup himself, the beautiful Swede, Seb Larsson started his career in England coming through Arsenal’s academy. Although limited to only three league games for the Gunners, Seb made a load of League Cup outings with Arsenal, including a 3-0 win at the Stadium of Light in a team which also contained Mart Poom, Nicklas Bendtner, Anthony Stokes and Emmanuel Eboue (gets in on a technicality).
Larsson headed out on loan to Birmingham for the first half of the 06/07 season as the Blues were ultimately pipped to the Championship title by Roy Keane’s Sunderland. The loan spell was a massive success, with Larsson setting up goals galore and netting six goals in the cups, including two against our dear neighbours up the road, one of which came in a 5-1 win at St. James’. Lovely stuff.
The loan spell was made permanent in January 2007, as Birmingham parted with £1m, the Swede chipped in with another three goals before the end of the season as they won promotion under Steve “Definitely Not A Dinosaur” Bruce. Larsson became a staple at St. Andrew’s for the next four seasons as Birmingham bounced their way between Premier League and Championship, winning the club’s Player of the Year award in their first season back in the top flight, but the highlight of his time in Brum would undoubtedly be winning the League Cup against Arsenal in 2011, scoring in the quarters and getting an assist in the final.
Following another relegation at the end of that season, Larsson left to join former manager Bruce at Sunderland on a free transfer, and scored an absolute belter at Anfield on his debut. Seb’s 6 year stay on Wearside came right through the utter chaos that was the Ellis Short years, as he played under Bruce, O’Neill, Di Canio, Poyet, Advocaat, Allardyce and Moyes, and was picked consistently by all of them. Whenever it looked like the Swede was finished, either through lack of form or his pace had deserted him (he never really had any in the first place), he always found his way back into the team, whether playing on the wing, in the centre or even at right back.
Larsson scored some beauties for Sunderland, alongside his debut goal, his freekicks against Arsenal under Bruce and Blackburn for O’Neill, a long ranger against West Ham and a silky finish at Old Trafford during the Poyet great escape will all live long in the memory.
But my personal highlight of Larsson’s time in red and white came on the 20th May 2015 as Dick Advocaat took his Sunderland side to the Emirates, knowing that a point would keep us up. Larsson ran around like a man possessed for the full 90, throwing his body on the line for block after block, despite the fact that he was physically done in for the last 20 minutes, with us already having made all 3 subs.
When the full time whistle blew, the result a 0-0 and survival achieved, most of the players erupted in celebration, but Seb just collapsed and starfished on the pitch. There’s a cliché that Sunderland fans will love you if you just give it your all, and of that team, Seb was right up there with Lee Cattermole for leaving it all out on the pitch.
Once relegation finally caught up to us in 2017, Larsson left on a free and joined Hull, who were also relegated that year. The season wasn’t a happy one on Humberside though as the Tigers finished 18th, and the Swede left the following June, heading back to his homeland at AIK (the first time he actually played for any Swedish club, at the age of 33), who promptly won the Allsvenskan that year.
Seb only retired earlier this week, presumably once he realised that Sweden hadn’t qualified for the Stupid World Cup this time, meaning he wouldn’t get to play at his fifth international tournament.
An excellent player and a top class whinger. The dictionary definition of the player you’d hate on the other team, but love when he’s on your side.
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There’s long been a belief that no matter how awful the rest of the team is, Sunderland have usually been blessed with good keepers, with the obvious exception of the Steel-Camp-Ruiter debacle. Back in 1998, Sunderland needed experienced back up for the new arrival of Danish youngster Thomas Sorensen, following the departure of French radgepacket Lionel Perez.
Former Arsenal and Forest keeper Andy Marriott arrived from Wrexham for £200k, with nearly 300 league appearances to his name, perfect. In truth, he was barely needed on Wearside, as over the course of his three-year stay he made a grand total of five appearances, two in the league. First, a 2-0 win at Grimsby at the back end of the 98-99 season, then a 1-0 loss at Wimbledon in the Premier League in January 2000.
Loan spells out to Wigan and Barnsley followed before he joined the latter on a permanent deal in May 2001. Two years in Yorkshire followed before Marriott headed over to Birmingham in March 2003. This was his first mistake.
Marriott’s entire career for Brum came and went in a single game, on the 8th March 2003 away at Tottenham. With only seven minutes gone, the keeper collected the ball, then placed it in front of him on the turf without checking to see if anyone was around him. This was his second mistake. Robbie Keane casually ran around the Welshman, nicked the ball and rolled it into an empty net. Birmingham went on to lose the game 2-1….He was allowed to leave on a free the following summer.
Marriott went on to take in spells at Coventry, Colchester, Bury, Torquay, Boston United and Exeter before calling time on a 23-year career in 2011. Unfortunately for him though, there’s probably only one reason he’ll be remember by most football fans.
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