I love Kevin Phillips. I'm sure we all do. As it was confirmed this week that the Basildon born striker would be given a seemingly last pop at the Premier League, the news was celebrated and toasted way beyond Wearside. With Sunderland being a side always unlikely to be blessed with winning trophies and being thrust into the global spotlight for their on-field antics, those of us who witnessed those two seventh placed finishes at the turn of the century probably should have realised that we were witnessing something special. As special as it gets for Sunderland anyway. Maybe the older generation did but I never had time to think about that. Growing up in the Crosby, Butcher and Buxton eras should have acted as guidance that witnessing Sunderland look so at ease at the top level wasn't the norm. But I just enjoyed it without thought.
Kevin Phillips was the one player who stood out from the rest and I will always thank him for it. He was the player who people asked you about when you ventured outside of the North East. He was the player who the national media campaigned to play for his country, despite the unfashionable location of his employees. I'll always thank him for memories such as his effortless dismantling of a Derby County back line at Pride Park, helping himself to a hatrick in a 5-0 victory. Or the swivel and lob over Tommy Wright at a rain soaked St James' in an iconic victory that eased years of pain constructed by a stinking inferiority complex to our rivals eleven miles up the road. Because as a very much working class lad either side of my twenties, being witness to such events will never escape from my memory and that's what being a football fan is all about. I spent my entire week's apprentice wages on travelling the country and the little number ten's contribution made it worth it.
For the large part.
Because as I stand to applaud the Crystal Palace striker next March, it will be as loud as anyone else in the ground. The ground that once was the worshipping place aimed at the subject in question. But as all the love is shared and celebrated through social media sites and on into the pubs on the match's completion, I'm sorry to say that it's likely I'll address the taboo subject. The great, big, huge elephant in the room. How can i put this delicately? Kevin Phillips wasn't arsed about Sunderland in his final two, if not three years, at here.
I've had this debate with many over the years, the majority of whom think I'm wrong. The common notion is that it wasn't his fault that the quality around him eroded, and that he was within his rights to be a little dismayed. But if I can credit him for making my trips worthwhile, despite my weekly allowance being blown on an away-day out, then I can lament his attitude when I don't think it was acceptable. The most common form of defence I'm offered when debating his evident lack of desire in the final two seasons, is that why should he look happy celebrating a goal? That he was only reflecting the dismay of the crowd at what the performance levels had sunken to. Nonsense. The beauty of attending live matches is the appreciation of watching things unfold off the ball. And Phillips stopped chasing back like he had done previously. He stopped making the same gruelling off-the-ball runs. He stopped acknowledging the fans as he had done previously. I won't have anyone tell me otherwise, I was there and witnessed it, me with the holes in my pockets due to the funding of it. And no matter how justified you think he was for seeking a bigger move, he was wrong to go out of his way to display his disdain.
I understand that he didn't go all Darren Bent and go bolting off to Birmingham to sit in a hotel on hearing Aston Villa wanted him (something which Niall Quinn brought to light a few years back when he admitted Murray turned down a £15m bid) I'm not asking people to remotely consider comparing the two of them though, I'm merely speaking up for the 21-year old in me who witnessed an ungrateful attitude and felt very let down by it. For the 21-year old who wondered why he gave a dismissive gesture in the face of Howard Wilkinson who dared to take him off once, as if he was saying "That's me done". He may have had an extremely valid point but it wasn't what was needed or necessary and it summed up his relationship with the club, and with the fans, at the time. For the 21-year old who wondered why he constantly and rather petulantly stamped about the pitch as if the club owed him something. He'd argue the club owed him a move perhaps, we'll that's all well and good, but I'd suggest that the proof of his performance levels dropping was made in his failure to secure a move to one of the country's big boys on departing Sunderland. Mick McCarthy also once bemoaned his contribution in a talk-in at The Stadium of Light, saying he never kicked a ball for him when he needed his support, and it would be hard to argue with that.
So, disagree with me all you like and stick to the nostalgia tinted defence of him. Hell, I'm not even arguing with you, I've already announced I'll salute him as much as the next lad this season. Time has comfortably allowed me to forgive Super Kev for this, lets face it, small black mark on his Sunderland career. But I won't forget it.
Doesn't mean I don't love him though. I'm allowed to recall things as I saw it for a brief moment in time so put those stones down.