Played for Both Sides – The very short list of the players who were both Black Cats and Robins

Stephen Kennedy takes a look at the players to turn out for both Sunderland and Cheltenham over their careers

Now, we’re all a little bit tetchy at the moment, given we’ve seen a full-blooded return to being a complete steaming pile and an off-pitch mess this week, so what better way to lighten the mood than to look up some of the players who turned out for both Sunderland our soon to be inevitable 1-0 victors, Cheltenham Town. Yes, there have been some who straddled both clubs, although admittedly not many.

Before we get started though, let’s have a customary mention of Steve Cotterill, as he turns up seemingly every two weeks in League One, which, if we needed any further nudging, is a glaring reminder of just why we desperately need to get out of this hideous division as quickly as possible. We all know Cotterill’s time on Wearside was abysmal, but at Cheltenham, he’ll arguably go down as their greatest ever manager (although current boss Mike Duff will likely challenge him for that soon), as he won promotion from the Conference twice, and the Third Division Play-offs, along with the FA Trophy to boot. So it’s nice that he had a lovely time somewhere before the Howard Wilkinson Incident.

Carl Winchester

That’s right, your favourite and mine, so he is. One of this season’s standout performers until the entire squad had a collective aneurism, midfielder and occasional right back (and definitely NOT centre back) Winchester 18 months at Cheltenham, signing from Oldham in 2017. Given the Robins finished 21st and 17th respectively, it’s safe to say that the club overall didn’t have the best of times with Winchester, but the Belfast-born midfielder (and still not centre back) had a good record at Whaddon Road, notching up 70 appearances and 6 goals in total before moving on.

If, like me, you were incredibly confused about Cheltenham fans booing Winchester when they came to the Stadium of Light back in the days where we were allowed to win football matches, then look no further! Initially I presumed in my lack of understanding of the geography of the South from the Midlands onwards, that Cheltenham have a rivalry with the city of Winchester. Of course, those two places are some 80 miles apart, and do not care about each other in the slightest. No, instead, they booed our boy because when he left Cheltenham, he did so for fierce Gloucestershire rivals (no, I didn’t realise that was a thing either), Forest Green Rovers.

Fast forward two and a half years at the club your da fundamentally disagrees with, and Winchester signs for Sunderland, struggling at first before reinventing himself as the gangly menace we all love today. We are, of course, lucky to have him.

Darren Carter

Sunderland have seemingly always had a habit of having two very clear types of loan player. The first type are completely awful and has no positive effect on the team (Wayne Bridge, Benjani, Tal Ben Haim, Brendan Galloway, Lewis Morgan…). The second are those who show that they’re clearly too good for us to buy, so their decent turnouts for us tend to become romanticised (Marcos Alonso, Fabio Borini MK1, Danny Welbeck, Danny Rose, Jonny Evans, Stewart Downing…). Now, this is of course relative to where Sunderland were at during his loan, but Darren Carter falls into the latter of these.

In 2004, Sunderland had just lost in the play off semis and were looking to mount a title challenge in the newly named Championship under Mick McCarthy. Out went the experienced names such as Bjorklund, Williams, Thirlwell, McAteer and Oster, in came Whitehead, Lawrence, Elliott and Collins for an injection of youthful players hungry to prove themselves. In September, McCarthy added what was initially thought to be some back up in middle of the park with the loan signing of young Birmingham City midfielder Darren Carter.

Now, it’s likely that Carter’s reputation with fans of that time stems from the fact that he scored on his debut against Preston, which always helps. But during his 3 month stay on Wearside, Carter made 10 league appearances, starting 8, and of that 10, we won 7 – with 2 of the 3 losses coming in games where we had a man sent off. Carter’s good form unfortunately meant he’d essentially played himself out of a longer stay at Sunderland as upon his return to Birmingham, he immediately became part of their Premier League squad, making 15 appearances and scoring twice along the way. Even when he did leave St Andrews at the end of that season, he only moved across the Midlands (again, geography fails me on which direction) to West Brom, also in the top flight for one season.

After that single year at the top, Carter carved a solid career in the Championship with the Baggies, Millwall and Preston until in 2012, he found himself at Cheltenham, somewhat surprisingly dropping two divisions in the process. He fared slightly better than Winchester in his single season as a Robin, as the club finished fifth in League Two, but still conspired to lose in the play off semis. He’s since had spells at Northampton, Forest Green (booooo!), and Solihull Moors, where he ultimately retired at the end of last season, and began a coaching career which has taken him from Solihull, to West Brom Women and Birmingham City Women. Darren Carter, we hardly knew ye.