Cult Heroes: Eric Roy

Roker Report's David Boyle takes us through another, Cult Hero...

The 1999/00 season saw then manager Peter Reid draft in an unknown Frenchman for £200,000 from Marseille. Unlike previous entries into the Roker Report Cult Heroes Hall of Fame Eric's time on Wearside was disappointingly short, barely a season and a half, twenty-seven games and a solitary headed goal in a 5-0 league cup away win at Walsall before moving back to France on a free transfer to Troyes.

Eric Serge Roy's arrival at the Stadium of Light was something of a mystery as he starred in Kevin Ball's testimonial game against Sampdoria before having even signed a contract. Having joined as an unknown thirty-two year old for a nominal fee I got the impression that not a great deal was expected from the midfielder especially as he signed at a similar time to Stefan Schwarz and that Alex Rae was also making a return from a knee injury that had put him out of action for most of the previous season. Competition for places in the centre of midfield was going to be fierce and Roy would surely be a squad player?

Roy's inclusion in the game had Sunderland fans confused from the get go, he took part in the warm up, sat among the squad on the bench but was not named as part of the team list over the PA system. The tale then took yet another twist as the unknown man was brought on in second half to replace, who else, but Bally. Roy linked up well with Rae that afternoon in a game in which Sunderland struggled to make much of an impact as Sampdoria played a typically Italian counter attacking game.

In a seemingly apt way to end such a strange game, Ball was to reemerge to the fray in the dying moments to take place in a "Sudden Death Penalty Shoot Out" where, surprise surprise, he missed Sunderland's penalty before, having obviously not read the script, Sampdoria's Francesco Flachi slotted home his spot kick.

Roy was the word on all Sunderland fans' lips as we left the ground that afternoon. The Frenchman had made a name for himself, having began the day as a mystery figure, as a cool, calm and measured midfielder, not afraid to put his foot in when he had to but never temperamental.

Looking back on Roy's short tenure at the club there is one stand out game, that I will never forget, not only for Roy's contribution but for a scoreline that will live long in every Sunderland fan's memory. 04/12/99: Sunderland 4 - 1 Chelsea.

The game had barely kicked off when Roy received the ball inside the Sunderland half and embarked upon a mazey thirty yard run into the Chelsea penalty area, evading challenge after challenge before feeding the ball to Quinn who gave the Wearsiders an unlikely early lead and the Sunderland fans blew the roof off the SOL.

Roy marshalled the Sunderland midfield that day alongside the skillful Swede, Stefan Schwarz, to a famous victory and appeared to be the first choice central midfield partnership for the season, a blend of both skill and bite in the tackle, it seemed the perfect blend.

However not for the first time and most definitely not for the last, the Peter Reid and Bobby Saxton partnership were to alienate yet another footballer that had the ability and class to make it into the first team eleven - Thomas Helmer anyone?

Roy has since spoken out about the dated training sessions and one-dimensional tactics, the constant long balls to Quinn's head, rather than mixing things up and taking advantage of the underrated touch the big man also had with his feet, being Eric's main grumble.

The midfield maestro was unceremoniously moved out of the club on a free transfer in January of 2001.

Roy currently manages French side OGC Nice, a side interestingly enough that stars ex Sunderland speed machine David Bellion.

Feel free to add your memories of the Frenchman, and suggest future Cult Heroes by commenting on this story, or adding me on Twitter @davidboyle1985


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