Saturday sees Sunderland welcome Cardiff City to the Stadium of Light for one of those particularly horrendous long journeys which Sky normally demand is made on a Tuesday night, so place your bets now for the return fixture being rescheduled.
Probably owing to that distance between the two cities, there’s not been quite as many players to have trotted out for both clubs in recent years compared to most in the league, but this edition lets us take a look at a bonified club legend and a player who would be right up there on the Sunderland AFC episode of Pointless.
It’s weird to think that Gary Bennett ever played for another professional club, but after graduating from the Manchester City youth team, the centre back moved on to Cardiff City way back in 1981 to make his first foray into the game.
I won’t pretend to be an expert of the history of Cardiff City, but I do know that in Bennett’s three years as a Bluebird, he helped the club gain promotion from the Third Division in 1983. So let’s all agree that his time at Cardiff was at least, slightly successful.
Sunderland came calling for the Mancunian in July 1984, when manager Len Ashurst (Bennett’s manager at Cardiff) brought the defender to Wearside, beginning an 11 year stay in the North East. Bennett scored on his debut, heading past England legend and unfortunately, Gammon Supreme, Peter Shilton, it’s sage to say fans had every reason to take to Bennett immediately.
Tough tackling, hard as nails but also capable with the ball at his feet, it was no surprise when Bennett was given the armband, as he embodied everything the fans wanted on the pitch from their players during his peak. Bennett was part of the squads who made incredible runs to Wembley, first in 1985 for the League Cup and again in 1992 in the FA Cup, though of course, we lost both, to Norwich and Liverpool respectively.
But the moment that stands out the most for Benno was of course, him choke slamming Coventry’s David Speedie into the Clock Stand at Roker Park.
Bennett’s impact at Sunderland was enormous, and he was granted a testimonial against Rangers after “only” eight years on Wearside, which attracted a crowd north of 21,000. Another mind-bending fact about Benno is that he was incredibly only the second ever black player to appear for Sunderland – following on from Roly Gregoire four years prior to his signing.
Benno eventually left Roker Park for good in 1995, and went on a spree of short stays around the North, turning out for Carlisle, Scarborough, Darlington and Worksop, before finally calling it quits in 2002 at the age of 41. Since retiring, Benno is of course half of BBC Radio Newcastle commentary team for all Sunderland matches, and is still very much, shall we say, a Sunderland legend.
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Who on Earth is Kevin Cooper?
If you played Championship Manager 01/02 you will recognise him as the sort of signing you’d make if you were looking to get a middling First Division team promoted up to the Premier Division. But outside of that fairly small bracket, you’d probably be forgiven for having not the foggiest of ideas as to who Kevin Cooper is, unless you were perhaps a fan of Stockport County, Wimbledon during their implosion years, Wolves or, at a push Cardiff City.
Cooper was a left sided midfielder who came through the ranks at Derby in the mid 90s, but left in 1997 to join Stockport, where he made around a third of his entire career appearances. He was picked up by Wimbledon in 2001, after their Premier League days were done, and shortly before their Milton Keynes days were due to start.
As was the way of Wimbledon players of any trace of ability at that point, Cooper didn’t last long as a Womble, and was signed by his old Stockport manager Dave Jones at Wolves in 2002 for a £1m fee. Initially a regular part of a decent Wolves team, Cooper’s appearances in the Black Country immediately dried up following their promotion to the top flight in 2003.
And so here is one of the most limited Sunderland careers of all time, as the midfielder joined on loan in January 2004. Mick McCarthy’s Sunderland headed down to London to take on pantomime villains Millwall, Marcus Stewart gave us the lead (as was tradition) but we went on to lose 2-1 thanks to Danny Dichio scoring twice (as was also tradition). Kevin Cooper came off the bench on 77 minutes, replacing Kevin Kyle. I am yet to see any photographic evidence that he ever touched a ball for Sunderland, but he definitely got on the pitch, so it’s a great effort from him all round.
That loan spell on Wearside ended, and Cooper was immediately loaned back out to Norwich, who proceeded to win the First Division. Cooper left Wolves for good in 2005 and joined Cardiff, again linking up with Dave Jones, but despite his extensive experience in the second tier (other than with us) he could never quite nail down that first team berth after a relatively productive first season in the Welsh capital. Goals against Crewe and Stoke would be the peak of his time at Ninian Park.
Sent out on loan to Yeovil, Walsall and Tranmere, Cooper finally left Cardiff permanently in 2008, where he joined Chesterfield for a seven-game stay, before finishing his career with short stints at Newport County and Neath. Since retiring Cooper has had an unexpectedly exotic coaching career which started in Malaysia to manage one of Cardiff’s not at all dodgy affiliation teams. He then went back to Cardiff with the Under 21s, before being appointed manager of Swiss sides Servette in 2014 (where they were relegated due to financial mischief), and FC Wil in 2015.
Since his European adventure, Cooper has also been assistant at Hartlepool and also headed back to Malaysia to coach the not-at-all-scary-sounding Armed Forces Football Club. Currently without a club, but I expect him to turn up managing in Djibouti, Guatemala and Tonga any day now.
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