David Boyle - Yes!
Cult Heroes by the very definition are never the greatest footballer on the pitch. In fact they may in fact be the least technically gifted player on display but they have something about them which just endears them to the fans, be it a love for a good ‘ol 50/50 tackle like Kevin Ball, a never-say-die attitude like Stuart Pearce, a Jimmy Bullard-esq sense of mischief or in Nyron Nosworthy's case, just being so shit it was bloody hilarious.
However some players earn Cult Hero status not for a reputation they built up over a prolonged period at a club but rather a defining moment. Mart Poom's towering header in the dying moments of his return to Pride Park to earn Sunderland an unlikely point against his former side a perfect example. Poom was a solid, reliable and likable keeper but was never likely to have been remembered with such fondness if it was not for that one magical, unbelievable moment.
This is the category of Cult Hero where we can neatly store Kieran Richardson, as well as that ridiculous pony-tail. The reigning Dave Lister Lookalike Champion of the World for an unprecedented eight years running had a solid if unspectacular spell on Wearside. His progress at the club not helped by being used in more positions than your standard Brazzers pornstar.
However, the stars were to align for Keiran on that one memorable day, which seems a lifetime ago now, when with the weight of hope and expectation of the Sunderland crowd upon his shoulders he fired a freekick into the back of Shay Given's net which will live long in the memory.
Still to this day that match winning moment of brilliance inspired the only victory on home turf over that lot up the road in my lifetime. If that is not worthy of a wry smile when you watch it back and therefore Cult Hero status I don't know what is.
Chris Weatherspoon - No!
Right, let's head off the main argument straight away. I have few doubts that whomever places a tick in Kieran Richardson's 'Cult Hero?' box will immediately turn to one particular event - that free-kick which earned Sunderland their first home victory over Newcastle United in decades.
"And why not?" I hear you call. Well, yes, Richardson's set-piece that day was stunning, in both aesthetic and emotional terms. The sight of the ball rasping its way past a despairing Shay Given, swerving one way then the next, with stunning ferocity, will live long in the memory of the Wearside faithful. Deeper in their hearts it will signify the moment that ended - for at least a little while - years of taunting and jibing from their poorly dressed, soap-avoiding neighbours.
Yet, I struggle to reconcile this one event with the achievements that define a cult hero at Sunderland. Of course, Richardson brought far more to the scene than a single free-kick. Over the years he developed into one of the first names on the team sheet, making an effective transition from inconsistent attacking midfielder to solid left-back. When he left, back in the summer, plenty - myself included - groaned. The arrival of Danny Rose has dampened the blow but, should Rose not be acquired permanently, then the hole left behind by Richardson at full-back will be a tough one to fill.
However, to say this is deserving of 'Cult Hero' status is wrong. Was Richardson an admirable stalwart for the club, one whom helped Sunderland to solidify themselves as a Premier League side? Of course he was.
But did he have that 'hook' that other cult heroes have? Did he have a song about him? Did he have a reputation for a particular aspect of his play that endeared him to the Stadium of Light faithful? The answer, simply, is no. And for those who try to suggest his free-kick prowess was legendary, let us remember that his effort against Newcastle was very much a departure from the norm. Aside from an effort that struck the Fulham post a week prior to that Wear-Tyne derby and a goal at home to Chelsea a few years later, memories of Richardson's other free-kicks merge into a composition of balls either finding Row Z or a member of the opposing wall.
In the fight to become a Cult Hero, Richardson's versatility and consistency, particularly later in his career when deployed in defence, count against him. He became regarded as a solid performer and, for that reason, never truly stood out. He had no defining quality about him - he was lost in a milieu of other players at the club, where only a handful stood out from the norm. That is not a criticism, but to be a cult hero there needs to be something more than just being a good player for the club.
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