Let’s not dress it up any more than it needs to be; things have gone a little too far on the dreary-side for Sunderland at the minute. The club’s being ran like a barely-supervised youth centre, we have a manager universally loathed by the fans who is actively sucking the fun out of the team, and every game is a boring slog of a watch before we inevitably lose.
It’s a good job Alex Neil is no longer at Stoke as this weekend’s game could turn the already venomous atmosphere into something not seen since the back end of Steve Bruce’s days in charge. However, put all of your money on Lynden Gooch to do Michael Beale absolutely no favours.
With all of that in mind, let us cast our mind back to a time where everything was significantly rosier, as we remember arguably the best goalkeeper the club has had in the last 40 years.
The year is 1998, Sunderland have just suffered the emotional battering that comes with losing a Wembley play-off penalty shoot-out to Charlton Athletic, brought on by the trademark flamboyance of current keeper Lionel Perez. The team was packed with the names we all still rabble on about over 25 years later; Phillips, Quinn, Ball, Gray, Summerbee, Johnston, Rae, Makin and more. The missing ingredient to take the team to the next level was clear to Peter Reid; a goalkeeper of undoubted quality.
So it was curtains for Perez, who was shown the door and hilariously signed to be fourth choice at Newcastle, and in came the Denmark U21 keeper from Odense Boldklub (where he had made zero league appearances) for £510k. Eyebrows may have initially been raised as we knew next to nothing about the 22-year-old Dane, other than he was supposedly recommend to us by current Danish number one, Peter Schmeichel.
To say that Tommy Sorensen took to the rigours of first team football in the English First Division would be putting it lightly. With the whole team determined to erase the memory of play-off heartache, Sunderland blitzed the league with a then-record points total of 105, we all know of the goalscoring exploits of Quinn and Phillips at one end of the pitch, but the less spoken of feat from that season was Sorensen setting a club record for clean sheets in a single season; Sorensen played in 45 games that season, and kept a clean sheet in 29 of them.
The 6ft 5in Dane was a commanding presence in his box, marshalling the defence in front of him in a slightly less radgie manner than Schmeichel, fans were eager to see if Sorensen’s ability could stand the test of the Premier League, and in the 99/00 season, his top flight debut, he more than passed the test.
Sorensen played in 37 league games that year and kept clean sheets in 9 of them, not bad for coming up against the big boys for the first time in his career. The Great Dane would improve further the following year, keeping a mammoth 13 clean sheets in 34 games, completing the second of our fabled back-to-back 7th place finishes.
Of course, however, the moment to solidify Sorensen’s place as a firm Sunderland favourite forever more came in November 2000, at St James’ Park. With Sunderland narrowly ahead and in the the final 10 minutes of the game, Niall Quinn awkwardly gave away a daft foul in the box and up stepped penalty extraordinaire Alan Shearer, the script surely written for him to snuff out an Sunderland joy.
Instead, when the ball left Shearer’s boot, rather than it being greeted by the back of the net, it found the hands of Tommy Sorensen. In true goalkeeper fashion, rather than celebrate in the moment, Sorensen could be seen chasing away his defenders to deal with the oncoming corner, and the Lads eked out a famous 2-1 win. Shearer still occasionally talks about how that moment haunts him, which is just terrific to hear.
As was the way with Sunderland in the early 00s however, nothing good ever lasted, and a series of niggling injuries kept Sorensen out of the team, and hit his form when he returned to it, which coincided with the club falling down the league, Reid being sacked and Sunderland ultimately being relegated in 2003.
Sorensen, as one of our few saleable assets, was quickly picked up by Aston Villa, and became their first choice keeper for the next 5 years. Pleasingly, he repeated his penalty heroics against Newcastle almost 3 years to the day, saving yet another Shearer penalty. Again, just terrific stuff.
As injury and advancing years took hold of Sorensen, Villa brought in Scott Carson and he found himself down to third choice, so in 2008, he made the move to Premier League newcomers, Stoke City. Sorensen was exactly what Stoke needed to build a strong defensive foundation as they established themselves in the top flight, and remained first choice at the club until the end of the 2009/10 season.
In all, Sorensen spent an incredible seven years at Stoke, most of which as the sturdy back up for the likes of Asmir Begovic and Jack Butland, and solidified his reputation as a penalty specialist, with stops against Kevin-Prince Boateng, Hugo Rodallega, Frank Lampard, Nenad Milijas, Jermaine Easter and Loic Remy (again, Newcastle) all while playing for the Potters. Sorensen finally left in August 2015, at the age of 38, but wasn’t quite done with football yet, as he moved to Australia to join Melbourne City as first choice.
A win in the Australian equivalent of the FA Cup would follow in 2016 (which would be only his second trophy, following Sunderland’s league title in 1999), before Sorensen finally called time on a 24-year career in 2017.
A Sunderland legend in the eyes of many, there will never come a day where Tommy Sorensen needs to buy his own pint on Wearside.