Well now, here we are. One of those league fixtures we’ve all been waiting for. Imagine on that night back in May 2016, when Big Sam was Hulk Hoganing himself around the Stadium of Light and someone tells you then in just five and a half years, we’d be welcoming Morecambe in a league game. There’d be a lovely few seconds passing over you as you think “wow, Morecambe must have has some real investment, a proper footballing philosophy, a solid recruitment team and sent a minority shareholder to Uruguay to get to the Premier League” before it all, like Hulk Hogan, came crashing down and it hurts inside, you find yourself in League One for the fourth straight year.
So, seeing as we have to play this game through, let’s take a look as some of the luminaries of the game to have worn both the red and white of Sunderland, and the shrimp-emblazoned badge of Morecambe FC.
Back when things were going tickety-boo for Peter Reid, he hit a spot in 98-99 where, rather than tinker too much with signing immediate first team players (and really, he didn’t need to), instead choosing to fill up the reserve and peripheral squad with home grown talent and young players from the lower leagues (and, for some reason, Gerry Harrison), likely to see if he could repeat the Kevin Phillips trick. Neil Wainwright was one of those few signings who ever actually got into the team, and by “got into the team”, I do of course mean, he made two league appearances in three seasons, coupled with a smattering of cup games for good measure.
Wainwright was a solid enough winger and occasional fullback, but spent the majority of his career in what is now League Two, predominantly for Darlington before their 25,500 seater heat death. He never made the mark as Sunderland, but amassed over 300 appearances between Darlo, a few loan spells and of course, tonight’s opponents, the mighty Shrimps. If Wikipedia is anything to go by, he did…fine…at Morecambe, reaching 60 league appearances and scoring once in a 3-1 loss to Rotherham (that’ll be the Sunderland influence clinging to life), before being released and going back to Darlington for a nice, relaxing time just before their finances consumed them completely.
Still, he must have done something right, because he’ll actually be at the Stadium of Light tonight, as the current head of their academy. I can’t pretend to tell you a single academy prospect he’s been responsible for bringing through, but we can all at least rule out Kevin Ellison, who is of course, now 76 and left Morecambe last year after a 32-year spell on the wing.
The year is 1990, English football had been revitalised by the exploits of Gazza and Lineker over in Italy, Chris Waddle had immediately made us think twice about getting too excited and Kevin Ellison, then a sprightly 44 year old had just walked into Morecambe for the first time, the Shrimpers also signed another player of top class and pedigree, Penshaw-born Liverpool legend Alan Kennedy.
Granted, he was 36 at the time, and no where online appears to have any information about how many appearances he made at the club, but after a brief stint at Wrexham (funnily enough, also where we signed Neil Wainwright from), Kennedy took in spells at Morecambe, Netherfield, Radcliffe and Barrow, in a tour of places nobody is entirely sure exist.
Kennedy was a hero for Liverpool, a staple of their dominant late-70s-mid-80s team, wining the league five times and the European Cup twice, before leaving at the age of 32 to join hometown club Sunderland (we’ll pretend he didn’t also make nearly 200 appearances for Newcastle…). It’s fair to say his spell on Wearside was, while not necessarily down to just him, a total disaster, as it also happened to be under Lawrie McMenemy’s incredibly successful destroy and exit role at the club. Sunderland were relegated to the third level of English football for what was, until our recent/current/neverending jaunt, the only time.
Kennedy understandably then upped sticks and headed to Wigan, in a preview 30 years in the making of what life in League One is truly like.
Neil Wainwright isn’t the only one with links to both that might be in attendance tonight, because our very own first team coach, and hero of Morecambe (but more likely Yeovil Town), Phil Jevons had a three-year stint at the excellently-named Mazuma stadium at the start of the last decade.
Oh, and remember John Mullin? The brilliantly anonymous man who scored the final goal at Roker Park? Well, he didn’t play for Morecambe, but his brother Paul did, so that’s nice.