Here we are ladies and gents, we are officially in the business end of the season. All of the relevant teams around us have played (and as is the way, not lost) their games in hand and we find ourselves 2 points out side the playoffs, there are 7 games to go, the teams around us all need to play each other, our talismanic January obsession packed it all in and the weather’s gone a bit weird, silly season is upon us.
Your truly has spent the last 10 days shut indoors thanks to that lovely lurgy doing the rounds, and have I been resting and recovering, I hear you ask? Of course not, because like the rest of us, I cannot wait to start the final run of the season this Saturday against the mighty *checks notes* Gillingham. The same Gillingham who were the bane of specifically Phil Parkinson’s Sunderland during the season that never was.
Our encounters with Gillingham have always been a bit mad, often with a lot of goals scored, insane stadiums that couldn’t be much further apart if they moved abroad, and of course, Steve Evans. Unfortunately Evans is no longer in charge, so I expect this weekend to be much less fun.
There aren’t a huge amount of connections between Sunderland and Gillingham, but it would be remiss of me to not start with the best of them all; the dictionary definition of a Sunderland cult hero, Nyron Nosworthy. Big Nyron came through the youth ranks at Gillingham, making his first team debut way back in 1998. The centre-half/right-back established himself as a mainstay of the Gills’ side for seven years, winning the Second Division playoff final in 2000. 174 league appearances, most of which in the second tier eventually earned him a somewhat surprising move to Wearside in the summer of 2005, for then-Premier League Sunderland.
Now we all know what the 05/06 season brought Sunderland, but even though originally only signed as back-up, Nyron made the most of his top flight opportunity when Stephen Wright picked up a major knee injury – he finished the season with 30 Premier League appearances as Sunderland crashed out of the division.
Then Roy Keane arrived, moved Nosworthy to centre half and we saw an average fullback transformed into a colossus before our very eyes. In the 2006/07 season, Sunderland rocketed back into the Premier League by winning the Championship, riding a crest of a wave of attacking football, with goals coming from all over the pitch, and yet, that year Nosworthy was so good, it was he who picked up the club’s Player of the Season award. He held his own back in the top flight again, making a further 29 appearances in his first season back with the big boys, before his numbers dwindled season-on-season from that point as Keane left and Steve Bruce came in, along with an army of debatable defenders.
Despite not making an appearances for Sunderland for his last two seasons here, owing to two middling spells on loan at Sheffield United, Nosworthy was at the club as recently as 2012, before he finally left for good to join Watford. He spent two years as a Hornet in which they stuck steadfast to the Championship, followed by a loan stint at League One Bristol City, five games as a Blackpool player and a further loan to League Two Portsmouth. Soon, Nyron found himself signing for fourth tier Dagenham & Redbridge.
Unfortunately for Noz, that would not only be his last season as a professional footballer, but it is to date the last time Dagenham & Redbridge were in the Football League, as they finished 23rd, and the defender hung his boots up in February 2016.
But to Sunderland, he’ll always be that giant of a defender, occasionally doing uncalled-for forward rolls, giving away corners from the halfway line or nutmegging Manchester United megastars. His song wasn’t bad either.
Going back only a little further than Nyron is Darren Byfield, who only spent five months on Wearside back in 2004. The striker was signed by Mick McCarthy from Rotherham United in a deal that saw Michael Proctor head the other way, with Byfield having hit eight goals for the Millers by the halfway point of the season. In many ways, Byfield was the precursor of the role Stern John played under Keane a few years later – never really the first name on the teamsheet, but we relied on him to chip in with some important goals.
Byfield’s short spell in red and white brought him five goals in 17 games as Sunderland succumbed to a play-off semi final defeat on penalties to Crystal Palace. The Jamaican international was then allowed to leave for Gillingham in summer 2004, but a difficult season of just six goals in 38 goals followed and the Gills were relegated to League One. Byfield had a better time of it in the third tier, hitting 13 goals and a midtable finish, before moving on to Millwall for another productive season of 16 goals.
Barring a bright spell on loan at Walsall in the 2009-10 season, that would really be it for the highs of Byfield’s career, having won the Third and Second Division playoffs with the Midlands club back in 2000 and 2001. Brief stays at Bristol City, Doncaster, Oldham, Solihull Moors, Telford United and Tamworth surrounded his second Walsall adventure before he retired in 2014.
Byfield has since undergone a non-league management career, taking charge of several teams which may or may not exist, most recently at Walsall Wood. Oh, and he was married to Jamelia for a bit too, so that’s glamorous.