Played For Both Sides – Who turned out in the red and white and for Pete Winkelman’s mad scientist experiment?

Stephen Kennedy takes a look at the players to have turned out for Sunderland and MK Dons

It’s getting a little tricky keeping things light at the minute, isn’t it? We’ve only won once in 2022 so far, conceded 18 goals in 8 games (11 in the last 4 alone) and have been thoroughly seen off be any team that even slightly puts their minds to it. So, what better way to steel ourselves for the oncoming bodying we’re set to receive from MK Dons, who, lest we forget, are also two points above us in the table now, than to look at a couple of the truly insane list of players to have shared a history with Milton Keynes’ finest, and the red and white bin fire we call our club.

Tore Andre Flo

No, seriously. The enormous Norwegian striker had a largely successful first nine years of his career, scoring goals for fun in his homeland with Sogndal, Tromso and Brann before doing the same in the UK, first with Chelsea and then with Rangers. But from 2002 onwards Flo went on what can only be described as a tour of “wouldn’t it be funny if…” decisions. Infamously, Peter Reid signed Flo for a figure around the £6.75m mark alongside Marcus Stewart, with the idea of him being the readymade replacement for the soon to retire Niall Quinn.

As we all know, the similarities between Flo and Quinn basically start and end with them being tall strikers who wore the number 9 for Sunderland. Flo scored on his debut against Man Utd in August 2003 (also scored on his debut for Chelsea and Rangers, and it all went well there), but removing two goals against Cambridge in a 7-0 battering in the League Cup, it would be two months before his next in a 1-1 against Charlton.

In total, Flo managed a spectacular four league goals for Sunderland, and only one of those came in a win, 2-0 at home to Spurs, as Sunderland imploded under Howard Wilkinson and exited the Premier League with their first record low points tally.

Flo was very much not suited to being the Quinn replacement, and in fairness to him, even if we attempted to play to his strengths, it’s doubtful we’d have fared much better that season. Barely a year after signing, Flo was released on a free transfer, signing for Siena, recently promoted to Serie A. His two years at Siena saw him help the team avoid relegation and scored the winning goal in the club’s first ever derby victory over Fiorentina, probably in an effort to reprieve himself from his Sunderland debacle. But this is where the fun begins, as upon leaving Siena, Flo went back to Norway with Valerenga where he struggled for game time and goals due to injury.

This seemed to spark a “why not” attitude in Flo, as his next move took him to Leeds in January 2007. The Yorkshire club were approaching peak banter years at this stage, as they had already had three managers at this stage, and were now being run by every Newcastle fan’s favourite angry diminutive cockney, Dennis Wise.

The Leeds team was packed with old heads – Neil Sullivan, Gary Kelly, Radostin Kishishev, Alan Thompson, Micky Gray and Robbie Elliott to name but a few. Flo was seen as just what Wise needed to steer the club away from relegation trouble. He scored 4 goals in 23 games and Leeds were relegated at the bottom of the Championship, 13 points adrift from safety.

Next chapter for Flo? It is of course, Milton Keynes Dons, signing in November of 2008 for future Champions League winning manager and former Chelsea teammate Robert Di Matteo’s much despised League One outfit. The Dons had a very good season, winning 26 games and finishing 3rd in the league (one place above Leeds), but lost in the playoffs to the mighty Scunthorpe United. Did Flo help at all?

Well, 13 league appearances, and zero goals answers part of that; what compounds it is that he was the man to miss the decisive ninth penalty in the shoot out loss to Scunthorpe in the play off semis…he was released 4 days later.

Alex Rae

The definition of a cult hero at Sunderland, the tough as nails Scot arrived on Wearside in 1996 after great spells at Falkirk and Millwall. Anyone who knows a thing about Alex Rae knows he was a man with his troubles during the early part of his Sunderland career, but when he was on it, he was undroppable. Tackling, passing, scoring, Rae could do the lot and formed part of that formidable midfield of the late 90s alongside at times Kevin Ball, Lee Clark, Nicky Summerbee and Allan Johnston. I’m genuinely surprised he didn’t get more goals in red and white, as his league stats put him at 12 goals in 114 games, and it felt like an Alex Rae screamer came once every couple of weeks.

Most Sunderland fans would agree that Peter Reid’s decision to allow Rae and Don Hutchison leave within a month of each other in the summer of 2001 was one of the key points where things started to go badly awry for us in the Premier League. We arguably didn’t replace either until October with the arrival of Claudio Reyna that December, only for his knee exploded the following year, so that was good. Rae moved on to Wolves, where he won the First Division play-offs in 2003 and helped himself to cult hero status at another club, before leaving in 2004 for boyhood idols Rangers. His two years in Glasgow saw him win the Scottish Premier League title and League Cup double in 2005 before he eventually moved on to Dundee in 2006, taking that oh so brilliant and rare role of player-manager.

His record at Dundee was decent, finishing with a win percentage of 43.3%, but couldn’t get the club promoted to the top flight and was sacked in 2008.

Now, the next move is the fun part, as despite having officially retired at the start of the 08/09 season, Rae signed for MK Dons in July 2009 as a first team coach under former Wolves teammate Paul Ince. Thanks to an injury crisis however, Rae dusted off the boots in February 2010 for a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy match against Southampton, and a further three league games towards the end of the Dons’ season. How did the team fair during that spell, you say?

Well, they lost the Trophy game 3-1, lost 5-0 at Carlisle, then drew 0-0 with both Oldham and Brighton. Oh, and in that last game, which was to be the last of Rae’s career, he got sent off just after half-time. Lovely stuff.