Way back in 1994, Watford signed a diminutive striker from Baldock Town for the princely fee of £10k. He found himself a regular place in the Hornets squad immediately until a serious foot ligament injury kept him out for large chunks of the 95/96 and 96/97 seasons, during which time Watford had been relegated from the old Division One. Upon his return, he managed four goals in 16 games before Sunderland came calling. An initial £325k was handed over and a Wearside legend was born.
Super Kevin Phillips had arrived at the Stadium of Light.
Phillips joined a Sunderland team that’d just been relegated from the Premier League and was tasked with forming a partnership with Niall Quinn, and things went terribly… for everyone but Sunderland.
In his first season in red and white, Phillips scored 29 times in 43 league games as we only missed out on promotion thanks to that trip to Wembley against Charlton. What makes that ridiculous is that from the first 12 games, he’d only scored four times; for the remainder of the season, there were only 10 games in which he played that he didn’t also find the back of the net.
His second season was arguably even better, as despite missing nearly four months with a broken toe, he still managed 23 goals in 26 league games earning himself his first England cap along the way as Peter Reid’s team won the division by thousands in the 98/99 season.
Then there’s the Premier League season, pundits and fans alike assuming Super Kev couldn’t bring his formidable form with him. 36 Premier League game, 30 Premier League goals, top scorer, European Golden Boot winner. The man was incredible.
Even when things started to fall apart for Sunderland, Phillips was still streets ahead of the rest, with the only time he failed to reach double figures being his final season, as the club plummeted out of the top flight with a record points low of 19 – the fact that he managed to get six goals probably should’ve earned him keys to the city.
We won’t go too much into detail about the rest of his career, mainly because he went on until he was 83, but when he finally left Sunderland in 2003, following that relegation, he took in largely successful stays at Southampton, Aston Villa, West Brom, Birmingham, Blackpool, Crystal Palace and Leicester, scoring another 124 league goals on the way.
Since retiring, Super Kev has been on a coaching career which has seen him at Leicester, Derby, Stoke and most recently as manager of South Shields back in the North East, as well as being permanently linked to the Sunderland job each and every time a manager is sacked.
During his career Phillips won: promotion to the Premier League five times, each time with a different club; the League Cup with Birmingham, eight England Caps, the European Golden Boot and Premier League Player of the Year, not to mention that goal in the rain up the road. He remains Sunderland’s top post-war goalscorer, and will probably remain so for quite some time.
A true club legend.