The Top Ten: Sunderland's Northern Irish Connections

Come check out this weeks Top Ten, better late than never.

It's Top Ten time once again on Roker Report (we hadn't forgot, honest Guv) and here I am to try my hand at the feature David Boyle once called his own. True to the creator of the feature, I'm sure I'll get this horribly wrong.

Anyway, for this week's Top Ten, and in trying to keep things vaguely topical, I've chosen to take a look at something to do with our new manager in charge. We've already done stuff about managers, so I'm going to focus on where he's from - Northern Ireland.

A fair few Northern Irish have passed through the doors at the Stadium Of Light, from the sublime (Johnny Crossan) to the ridiculous (David Healy), so where to they all stack up on our list of SAFC's Top Ten Northern Irish Players? Let's find out...

10. Anton Rogan

Anton was only here for a bit, but he wasn't too bad across the 40-odd games he played. Often slotting in across the back four at left back or centre half on the odd occasion, he was also part of the Wembley team which lost 2-0 to Liverpool in the FA Cup final of 1992.

I'm not going to lie, I can't remember a great deal about Anton apart from he was one of the first adults to casually swear in front of me. Obviously swearing at football happens regularly, but me and my Dad had won tickets to go in the Players Lounge at Roker Park. Following a tremendously dull 0-0 with Bristol City, I headed in and asked a tipsy lookin Anton for his autograph. Slurringly he asked what I thought of the game. Excited that a 'famous' person was talking to me I answered "Good" (it wasn't) to which Anton retorted "It was a load of f*cking sh*te I thought" and sent me on my way. For the sheer honesty, Anton's in.

9. George McCartney

"Never go back to the scene of the crime"... that's what they say about ex-girlfirends and erm, actual crimes. Add football clubs to that list as George McCartney joins our list of Norn Iron's.

Ok, so it wasn't a crime that we flogged him, nor was it too much of a crime that he came back, but perhaps the return of Ringo was so underwhelming due to the success he enjoyed first time around. Breaking into the first team back in 2000 whilst we were riding the crest of a wave in the Premier League, the little lad from Belfast went on to make over 100 appearances in his first stint, with a further 40 or so the second time.

Player of the Season in 2003/4, club captain and the praise of Big Mick McCarthy who labelled him "Mr Consistent".

Arguably, since that first period we've never had a decent left-back since. Even more arguably, the least likely person to own a Hummer. He does (or did), I saw him picking up a Pizza from The Snow Goose once in it.

8. John Fraser

John Fraser may not be all that familiar to some Sunderland fans, including myself, but everyone who seems to have known about him seems to say he was quite the player. Born in Glentoran, he moved to the club to replace fellow countryman Billy Bingham who had since moved to Luton. John's also possibly one of only a handful of players to have ever been mentioned on the TV show "This Is Your Life"... How? I'll explain.

Following a short but successful spell at Sunderland, where he earned Northern Ireland 'B' honours after playing 22 times and scoring 1 goal us, he eventually wound up at Watford via Portsmouth and Margate. With the Hornets he became good friends with a young keeper by the name of Pat Jennings. Yes, the Pat Jennings. Pat was thinking of packing in and heading home but John and his wife took Pat in and made him feel more at home. The rest is as they say, history. Pat later went on to appear on 'This Is Your Life' and state it would never have happened for him without the kindness of the Frasers. Top fella.

7. Jonny Evans

A more recent one, and a lad who certainly needs little introduction. Hands up who else had heard little of Mr Evans outside of playing Football Manager? Nope, not many of us.

Arriving at the club for the first time under the tutelage of Roy Keane, Evans went on to become a bit of a monster for us. To nick a phrase from ALS "looks like a boy, plays like a man"... which couldn't have been more apt for the then 19 year old centre-half.

Coming in and making Nyron Nosworthy into a half decent player is one thing, never mind clinching the Championship title and taking home to Manchester the "Young Player Of The Year" award from the fans. All in just 6 months of arriving at the club.

Attempts were made in vain to try and tie him up on a permanent deal, but Sir Alex Ferguson was not for turning and would only allow him a further six month stay. Jonny wasn't quite as magnificent as he was the first time around, but this was Premier League stuff with the big boys, and despite playing 'alright' by his own high standards, Evans did help us stay in the league that year.

Now he's been handed the No.6 shirt at Manchester United, with the incentive to keep it, however with certain sections of the Old Trafford faithful not seemingly too hot on the man from Belfast, I'd be more than happy to see him return to the place where he really made a name for himself.

6. Phil Gray

Phil Gray was one of my first footballing heroes back in the day. 'Tippy' as he was more commonly known was everything I seem to look for in a player rightly or wrongly, solid if unspectacular. That's not to say he didn't have his moments, and a key one at that being when we played Manchester United in the FA Cup.

Having earned a replay after a draw at Old Trafford, we brought them back to Roker under the floodlights. I'll always remember Tippy nutmegging Peter Schmeichel to give us a half-time lead. It wasn't to be as we lost 2-1 eventually, but from the Main Stand Paddock it was a glorious moment.

Nowadays you'll often find him playing for us in the Northern Masters, although you may have to double take as he's 200% larger, and with 200% less hair.

5. Ian Lawther

Ian was with the club for a golden period around 1958 to 1961, and whilst he was a prolific scorer throughout his career, he perhaps never had it quite as good as he did at Sunderland, where he scored 41 goals in 75 games over the course of three seasons.

As the club grew, then manager Alan Brown made a grievous error. Already having the prolific Lawther leading the line alongside Ambrose Fogarty and Harry Hooper, we picked a young Brian Clough from Middlesboro. The stage was set for Lawther to shine alongside Clough in what could have been one of the most awe-inspiring pairings we've ever seen in red and white.

Alas, it was not to be as Brown favoured the newbie, and Lawther was transferred to Blackburn Rovers where he also enjoyed a decent career for the sum of £12,000. When Clough later got the injury which would end his career, how Brown must have wished he still had Lawther.

4. Jimmy Nicholl

One of the most decorated Northern Irish players also enjoyed a good spell with Sunderland in the early 1980's following a loan from Manchester United, which eventually became permanent after starring for his country in the 1982 World Cup.

A ferocious full-back, and certainly one of the finest to play for our club, Jimmy won a further five caps for Northern Ireland (his adopted home having been physically born in Canada) whilst in the red and white. A super crosser of the ball, and certainly a prototype for what we now call 'the modern day fullback'.

Jimmy, we salute you.

3. Martin Harvey

Harvey was something you just don't really get these more fickle days. A one club man. Something all to familiar to the modern game however is how he got his start. Booted out by Burnley for being too small at a meager 5'3, Martin went on to play over 350 times for the club before retirement through injury.

Arriving in 1958 he learnt his trade behind the legendary Stan Anderson (whom we've also featured recently) before being handed a start ahead of Anderson (rather than filling in elsewhere or through injury) against Newcastle United and never looking back.

Looking back at that time Martin told the clubs official website (in a recent interview)... "The first time I was ever picked in preference to Stan was against Newcastle at Roker Park, and we won. On the Saturday I represented Northern Ireland, being picked in preference to Danny Blanchflower for the first time. That was quite a week!"

Martin enjoyed a good cup run with the club too and promotion in 1964, but was to be dealt a cruel blow when he was forced to retire with a meniscus problem in 1972. He would have been a shoe-in for the 1973 cup winning side, and would have joined many of those names in Sunderland folklore.

Having been forced to retire, he went into coaching and was part of Bob Stokoe's back room staff before enjoying stints at Carlisle United and notably Raith Rovers, where he took them into Europe, and at one stage were leading German giants Bayern Munich... "In actual fact I've got a photograph on my kitchen wall which was taken in Munich. It's of the scoreboard, which reads 'Bayern Munich 0 Raith Rovers 1"... they'd go on to lose the game, but for a brief moment, Harvey was the hero.

Here's hoping a fellow Northern Irish Manager can take us to similar glories...

2. Johnny Crossan

I was doing my research here (no, seriously) and stumbled across something which made me realise Brian Clough was a manager before he was a manager. Whilst at the club together, Clough yelled to Crossan "Young man - do you realise this club has paid £30,000 for you to get goals for me and since you arrived you've not created one chance!"... And so he did.

Johnny however, may never have actually made it as a footballer without some improbable luck. Whilst playing for Derry he was banned from playing in the United Kingdom having recieved illegal payments as an amateur player. Payments of a meager £3, which barely covered the money he had lost by quitting work on Sundays to play for Derry.

Following a partial lifting of the ban, Johnny thought sod this, and moved to Sparta Rotterdam, before finding more success at Standard Liege. At the Belgian side he reached the semi-final of the European Cup, but he shared a pitch with greats such as Di Stefano, Puskas and Gento in a 4-0 hammering by Real Madrid. Crossan did put himself on the radar of British clubs however, hitting the post twice before the scoring was opened.

Alan Brown wanted Crossan, and by hook and potentially crook, SAFC chairman and England selector Syd Collings made it so. After that stern piece of advice from Clough, Crossan and he went on to form a formidable partnership. Crossan even took up the reigns when Clough's career was ended, and despite the sale of fellow Norn Iron Ian Lawther, Crossan went on to become the top scorer for the club with 27 goals in his first season as the main man.

Crossan finished with his Sunderland career with 39 goals in 84 games, before moving to Manchester City, Liege once again and several other sides before retiring through injury himself.

A player who's skill transcended a generation, and a member of one of the all-time great Sunderland sides, Crossan takes his place on our list.

1. Billy Bingham

I'll be honest here, it was a bit of a toss up between Bingham and Crossan for No.1, so I'm happy to accept arguments that either should be a the top.

Bingham however, takes the top spot due to not just being a Sunderland all-time great, but a Northern Irish legend too, both in a playing and managerial capacity.

Billy left his home country with a goal every three games on average, he was immediately made to feel welcome at the club "I arrived at Sunderland as a 17-year-old. I boarded with a lady in Roker and immediately felt so welcome"...

It was under the stewardship of manager Bill Murray, where Bingham made an impression on the side, eventually forcing Tommy Wright out of the team and going on to score 47 goals in 227 games for the club.

However, in the late 1950's Alan Brown came to the club following the departure of Murray, and things turned bleak for Bingham. Regularly out of the team for no particular reason, and not wanting to waste his undoubted talent, Bingham went off to Luton Town where he went on to become quite the superstar.

Following retirement, he went into management, and after successful spell at Southport he went on to manage the Northern Irish national team, leading them to the World Cup finals in 1982 - perhaps their finest moment.

Perhaps most pertiently to Sunderland however, he made a young Martin O'Neill captain. We're all well aware of the influence Charlie Hurley on a young O'Neill, but hopefully Bingham steered him in the right direction too.

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Agree, disagree? Well comment or vote in the poll for your favourite of our little Northern Irish Connections, Topical Top Ten!

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