Played For Both Sides – The familiar pantomime villain

Stephen Kennedy picks out one player to have turned out for Sunderland and Queens Park Rangers

While many of us are still basking in the glory of not being in League One any more, this weekend presents us with the starkest reminder of the hellscape we escaped in 2022; the open-shirted, cowboy booted Wild Thing himself, Gareth Ainsworth. Thankfully he is not supported by Akinfenwa, Jacobson, Stewart or anyone else of the Our House, Our Rules brigade this time.

The jury is still out on QPR Ainsworth after winning only three of his first 13 matches upon his return to Loftus Road last season, compounded with four losses already this season, with their only wins coming away at Cardiff and Boro.

QPR have not won at home since 11th March 2023, so to feed the inevitable paranoia about what normally happens to Sunderland when facing such poor records, let’s throw a returning player into the mix.


Remember when Jordan Henderson left and half the fanbase seemingly convinced itself that the future Premier League and Champions League-winning Liverpool captain wasn’t that good, and that new academy product Jack Colback was already better than him? Funny, funny times.

Newcastle-born Colback came through the ranks at Sunderland in the late 2000s, but couldn’t quite make that final step into the first team set up, and so was loaned out to Roy Keane’s Ipswich Town for the 2009/10 season.

Although Keane’s team struggled to bother the upper regions of the Championship, Colback had a solid enough stint in Suffolk, scoring five goals in 41 appearances for the Tractor Boys in all competitions.

Once Ipswich’s season was over, Colback’s efforts were rewarded with a place on the bench for Sunderland’s final game of the season, an away trip to Wolves. Colback announced himself to the Sunderland fans by coming on for his Premier League debut as a 78th-minute sub at Molineux. He was then promptly sent off for two yellow cards inside 12 minutes – and with Michael Turner already having seen red earlier, we slumped to a 2-1 defeat, having gone 1-0 up inside 10 mins. Wonderful stuff.

The midfielder was then sent back out on loan to Ipswich for the first half of the following season, to little fanfare.

Upon his return to Wearside in January however, Colback found himself a mainstay of the matchday squads, featuring in 11 of our remaining games in Steve Bruce’s post-Darrent Bent world.

By the start of the 2011/12 season, Colback had made himself a feature of the Sunderland team, owing to his versatility, often finding himself at left-back (back in the days when we went for around 19 years without signing one), on the wing or in his preferred centre mid position. His first goal for the club came as an opener in the 1-1 draw at home to Everton on Boxing Day 2011.

In all honestly, there’s nothing special about Colback’s Sunderland career – he plodded on making steady, consistent progress in the first team without pulling up any trees for three full seasons, although we all got a good laugh at him joining in the celebrations of the first of our 3-0 wins at St James’, bearing in mind his allegiances.

So when he left the club on a free in summer 2014, most of us were largely at ease with it, until of course, he moved to Newcastle. It doesn’t matter if you’re a world beater or a total no-mark, going from Sunderland to Newcastle, especially as an academy product, is not only a big footballing no-no, but it’s also guaranteed to cause serious health problems for hundreds of Yer Da’s around the region.

Add to this, Colback was hilariously, immediately called up to Roy Hodgson’s England squad before he’d even kicked a ball in black and white, despite having not even made a single England U21 appearance throughout his entire Sunderland career, and you’ve a right recipe for fume.

Colback continued turning in his consistent if not exciting form at Newcastle, and had a front row seat for three more of our six in a row against that lot, with the icing on the cake coming when he was poleaxed by Lee Cattermole in the 3-0 at home. There was much rejoicing.

A regular for Newcastle in the Championship after Rafa took them down, he was immediately binned as soon as they returned to the Premier League in 2017 – first he was omitted from their squad for the season, and then sent out on the first of two loan spells to Nottingham Forest in February 2018.

His only notable contribution in the first stint was a goal which goal Forest a 2-1 lead against Bolton in the 79th minute, only for them to go on to lose 3-2, which miraculously kept Phil Parkinson’s Wanderers in the Championship on the final day.

A second loan to Forest brought an incredible 16 yellow cards and three goals, as the Reds continued their midtable limbo with a ninth-placed finish. Bizarrely, Colback returned to Newcastle after this loan, and spent the whole of the 19/20 season in the reserves, not making a senior appearance for any club until his contract expired and he finally made a permanent move back to Forest in August 2020.

Injuries hampered Colback’s impact on the team as Forest fell to a 17th placed finish, the midfielder only managing 17 appearances on the way. However, when it was finally time for Forest to climb back out of the Championship, Colback was an integral part of the team making 46 appearances all in, and even scored the opening goal of their play-off semi-final win over Sheff Utd.

True to form though, and thanks to Forest’s Bond villain owner signing a billion new players, Colback’s playing time back in the Premier League was reduced to 11 cameos, and he contract was allowed to expire this summer, departing the City Ground for the final time.

And so who would come calling when a middling Championship team was in need of some no frills experience and a penchant for getting booked? Enter: Gareth Ainsworth. Colback’s start at QPR has been strangely impressive, as not only has he picked up two of his customary yellow cards in his three appearances so far, but he’s also scored twice, once in each of his last two outings against Southampton and Boro.

It’s a shame we don’t have a Cattermole-type figure on the pitch against QPR this Saturday, but I can imagine Luke O’Nien may want to have some fun against the ginger pantomime villain at the weekend.

Joined Left League Apps League Goals
Sunderland 2008 2014 115 4
Q.P.R. 2023 Present 3 2