The 1998/99 season was a memorable one for Sunderland fans as the scar tissue of Wembley the previous season only galvanised the Lads and inspired them to greater things. Those things were points, a lot of them, 105 to be precise, and that was married with 91 goals and the start of what was a great time to be a massive lads fan.
So what was happening in February 1999? Blondie made a comeback to the charts hitting number one with Maria, while the Divine Comedy were riding the National Express, Terrorvision were drinking Tequila, and Fatboy Slim was praising us.
Meanwhile, the US expanded air strikes on Iraq, Northern Ireland restructured in a bid to end sectarian violence, The Met were branded institutionally racist following the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, and Dr Harold Shipman was charged with a further seven murders. In football the FA dismissed Glenn Hoddle for his bizarre comments about people with disabilities having sinned in a previous life. Come on, Eileen!
For me I was amidst my GCSE exams, which was an annoying distraction from my quest to get to as many games as possible during that era. I was living down near Bristol at the time so ironically had a Bristol City season ticket that year for something to do with my school mates.
Given the geography my Sunderland games were limited to half terms and school holidays, double games at Christmas and Easter were always good family occasions. Despite having access to the ground I paid my £10 to be in the away end for the Lads visit to Ashton Gate, and took my place in the front row behind the goal.
I remember being disappointed at not getting a ticket stub as the old wooden turnstile was cash on the day. This wasn’t ideal for a busy 16 year old who kept everything football, at least I got my programme, which will be gathering dust somewhere in my loft.
As with a 100+ point season we had been in great form all season, however there were a few choice results leading up to the game, losing three in a row at the back end of January in all competitions. The good news is they were the last defeats the lads would suffer as they went on an unbeaten run right through until the end of the season.
Peter Reid’s team back then could almost pick itself: Sorensen, Makin, Gray, Melville, Butler, Ball(c), Clark, Johnston, Summerbee, Quinn, Phillips. It’s amazing what you can achieve with a can of Budweiser and a Rothmans yearbook! They were wearing the navy Asics kits with Lambtons on the chest, this is still my favourite away shirt we’ve had of my generation, and was a welcome present during Christmas ’98.
Bristol City had Ade Akinbiyi up top, an actual brick shithouse, however Soren Anderson, the striker that nicked a point at the SoL, was left on the bench. Stanley born Brian Tinnion played left wing, “Tinman” was a bit of a City legend for 12 years service and scoring the winning goal against Liverpool at Anfield in 1994. But he did used to play for them lot up the road, so that’s enough about him.
Ironically in a top versus bottom encounter it was City who showed the most impetus as the Lads struggled to rid that recent ropey form. There were some nervous moments as balls flashed across our own box, but a defence that only conceded 28 goals that year, stood strong.
On 89 minutes a hopeful but smart diagonal ball over the top by Chris Makin found Kevin Phillips in space in the box and the prolific striker drew a foul from keeper Steve Phillips. Referee Rob Styles pointed to the spot and it was down to Super Kev to finish the job, which he did in fine style hitting the penalty into the top left corner. Limbs.. scenes.. you name it in the east end as the ruthless forward ran over to celebrate with the fans, including me and my matching top. The added bonus was I only had a 30-minute bus ride home, a nice perk considering the five-hour journeys I used to make for home games.
On Saturday the Lads return to Ashton Gate, this time the newbies to the division, and we’ll certainly take the same result again.