Played For Both Sides – Which former Sunderland heroes also remember they were a Womble?

Stephen Kennedy takes a look at the players to turn out for both Sunderland and AFC Wimbledon.

Been an eventful few days, hasn’t it?

Tell you what might be nice then, let’s pretend that everything even slightly connected to Sunderland AFC hasn’t spontaneously combusted over the last two league games, and that we didn’t wait over half a month between sacking and appointing a manager, shall we?

Instead, let’s take a look at who our opponents are this weekend, and make a trip down memory lane with some of the players who turned out for both our disaster of a club and our hosts, AFC Wimbledon.

Now, I’m being a stickler here. We’re only using players who played for the current incarnation of the Wombles, so definitely no MK Dons players in sight, but also no one who exclusively played for Ye Olde Wimbledon either (well, sort of).

So please, AFC Wimbledon faithful, keep your torches and pitchforks at home. I’m not saying you aren’t also the proper Wimbledon, but the choice of players is made much easier when it didn’t abruptly stop some 20 years ago.

David Connolly

See, told you it was a “sort of” rule. David Connolly, a man whose career consists 46 per cent of clubs beginning with W, began his footballing story in 1995 with Watford, before moving to Feyenoord in 1997 (after Sunderland had infamously attempted to sign him) only to end up with a little known striker by the name of Kevin Phillips instead.

Connolly returned to England in 2001 with ‘Original Wimbledon’ and was utterly prolific, scoring 42 times in 63 games for the Dons during the most tumultuous period in the club’s existence. During which time, Sunderland tried to sign him again.

That form saw him jump to West Ham United, Leicester City and Wigan Athletic, before finally signing for Roy Keane’s (ah, sorry) Sunderland in 2006. Connolly is an oft-forgotten figure at Sunderland among other fan favourites of the time, but there’s no doubt he was an integral member of our Championship-winning squad that season, netting 13 times and providing that bit of cunning and experience you need to get promoted.

Chances were hard to come once back in the Premier League though, and after only making three appearances in 2007/08, combined with a number of serious injury issues, Connolly was allowed to leave for Southampton, then in League One, in 2009.

Gaining promotion in his second season with the Saints and staying as a regular for a final season back in the Championship, Connolly then left for a less successful stint at South Coast rivals Portsmouth, during which time the club were relegated to League Two.

Just as you’d expect his career to be winding down, a 36-year old-Connolly joined the reincarnated version of Wimbledon he’d left over a decade earlier, signing for the final 5 months of the season in January 2015.

Such footballing romanticism didn’t quite provide a storybook ending, as the club finished 15th in League Two (still remarkable as part of their story overall). But Connolly did at least score an injury-time winner against apparent local rivals Luton Town. That was his only goal back with the Dons before retiring in the summer.

Charlie Wyke

Although opinion was constantly split on Wearside about whether he was actually any good or not, one thing for certain is that Charlie Wyke is in no danger of winning the ‘Least Liked Charlie on Wearside’ award.

The striker, comprised of 70 per cent shoulder and 10 per cent Turkish hair transplant, arrived in Sunderland on the back of productive spells at Carlisle United and Bradford City, but struggled to make any sort of impact in red and white in the first two of his three seasons here, despite a scoring debut against Oxford United.

Injuries took their toll on the big Teessider during those first two seasons before an explosive end 2020/21 season, largely thanks to Lee Johnson realising that Aiden McGeady was actually quite good at putting the ball onto Wyke’s head/toe.

Yet, before Chaz had even properly left Middlesbrough, one of his formative loan spells was a four-month stint at AFC Wimbledon in 2014. The Dons were struggling at the bottom of the table, and though he did net two goals in his 17 appearances against Wycombe Wanderers and Oxford, only one of those resulted in a win.

A slightly more productive loan at Hartlepool the following season wasn’t enough to convince Boro to keep him on their books and he was free to leave for Carlisle.

As we all know, Wyke was one of the released players we supposedly offered a deal to at the end of last season, and was the only one of those players who turned it down, signing for Wigan “54 Games In Hand” Athletic.

After a slow start to the season, his form had started picking up with five goals in 14 league outings until worrying problems arose before Christmas. Charlie’s season, but hopefully not career, is currently up in the air after having collapsed due to heart issues back in November. All the best to big daft Charlie.