Cult Heroes: Cool As Fridges, It's Michael Bridges!

In keeping with both the new "Played For Both" theme for the new season of Cult Hero and the build up to Saturday's Derby today see's a player that has crossed the North East divide and represented both the Good and Evil of the region's top flight sides. I'll leave you're fine taste as a Roker Report reader to determine which colours represent which side of the coin.

There are numerous players which could have featured here, many great players in fact; Len Shackleton, Pop Robson, Bobby Moncur, Chris Waddle, Barry Venison, Paul Bracewell and more recently Steven Caldwell, Michael Chopra, Andy Cole not withstanding Titus Bramble and Danny Simpson who are both still first team players for their respective clubs. 

In the past possibly the most controversial player that made the switch between Tyneside and Wearside, Lee Clark, has even made his way on to Roker Report as a Cult Hero in undoubtedly the most discussed selection I have made, refresh your memory here.

So without further ado, may I re-introduce you to a man who was apparently as cool as fridges, Mickey Bridges.

Michael's footballing career began in spectacular fashion. Having made a name for himself as a deadly marksman as a youngster, discovered by the famous North East scout Jack Hixon and making the move from hitting the net at school level to the Premiership in two short years. Bridges signed as a trainee at Roker Park in May of 1995 but it took him just six months to make such an impression that he was given a Professional contract.

Bridges was touted for great things for all of his young career. He had great awareness, an eye for goal and the much fabled "good touch for a big lad". He even went on tour with England at U18 and U19 levels, rooming with a certain other young English striker by the name of Michael Owen. It certainly appeared that Sunderland had a gem that would go on to great things.

Bridges scored a number of memorable goals whilst on Wearside including the goal that no-one saw. The game in question was Southend away in February on 1996 when Bridges was introduced as a substitute. Only twelve seconds had elapsed when SAFC disappeared into the horrific blanket of fog that had engulfed the ground, only for Michael Bridges to appear running towards the travelling fans to celebrate, it was only at this point the majority of the ground knew a goal had been scored!

Michael also scored what was voted as the Football Echo's Goal of the Season in 1998/99 for his effort at Goodison Park in a League Cup Fourth Round tie which Sunderland would go on to win on penalties, yes, we actually won a game at Goodison Park at some point! The goal itself came from a Thomas Sorensen clearance which Everton's defence did not deal with allowing Bridges to control with his right, swivel and finish with his left.

The 1998/99 season was to be Bridges' last on Wearside. It was also a season which showcased his potential, which was no doubt helped by more involvement with the first team as he often played second fiddle to the Quinn and Phillips show. Michael's season was also cut short by knee injury, leaving the forward with extended absence on the sidelines, an unfortunate precursor of what was to ruin a career which promised so much.

Michael also made the mistake of falling out with Peter Reid over a contract extension which he was offered that summer. With his commitment in doubt Sunderland moved quickly to seal a deal with an "on the up" Leeds United worth a then record £5.6m

The Whitley Bay lad would quickly make a mark at Elland Road and repay the fee tabled for his services with an impressive return of 19 Premiership goals in his first season. All would appear to be going well until a Champions League tie against Besiktas the following season when a freak incident nearly ended his career aged only 22. The next four years were a continuing nightmare as he suffered setback after setback.

Here is where our friendly Magpies step into the equation. To help aid his rehabilitation and to aid a striker crisis at Newcastle, Michael made the short move North in a loan deal which involved Steven Caldwell moving in the opposite direction in 2003/04. Michael's time at St. James' however was a frustrating one, making only a handful of appearances and being utilised on the wing by Sir Bobby Robson. Having returned to Leeds at the end of the season Michael's contract was to expire with Bolton Wanderers chancing their luck with the injury ravaged striker.

This should be where the story would end. An unfortunate, if not all too familiar tale, of a young footballer who's bright future was ripped from their grasp by injury. We could all have thanked Michael for his time on Wearside where, for a while, we believed we had one of the best young talents in the country on the books. However Mick McCarthy had other ideas and rescued Bridges from a torrid spell with Bolton. Ironically brought in to deputise for the injured Kevin Kyle and made 19 appearances as Sunderland won the Championship.

Never one to lay roots, Bridge's second spell with the Black Cats was a short one, before he took in the sights of Bristol, Carlisle, Hull, Sydney and Milton Keynes before seeing out his career with Newcastle. Newcastle Jets in the Australian A-League that is.

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