Another Saturday looms and yet another chance for Brucey to get the SAFC bandwagon back on track. Am I confident? No. Am I optimistic? Always. It’s the age old dilemma that all Sunderland fans face, belief in the face of despair. So as we gear up for a trip to the Reebok here on Roker Report it is time yet again to give a Cult Hero from yesteryear another day in the sun.
This week we turn our attention to midfield maverick, Gavin McCann, who served both Sunderland and Bolton well during his sixteen year career in English football. He also developed a cracking hairstyle as his follicles receded over the years, but more on that later…
Gavin started his career as a graduate of the Everton Academy in 1995 and went on to make his debut in September of 1997 against Newcastle United. Chances with the first team were few and far between for the midfielder when former Everton favourite and then SAFC gaffer Peter Reid paid £500,000 for his services.
Reid was clearly a fan of his new signing and probably saw a lot of similarities between himself and McCann; both tenacious, hardworking midfielders that liked to put a tackle in. In fact many at the time believed that it was Reid’s own belief in McCann that saved his career, plucking him from the relative obscurity of reserve team football with The Toffees and employing him as an integral part of his promotion winning side.
I always quite liked McCann, which kind of helps when it comes to writing these kind of things. He was a no nonsense midfielder, a ball winner, broke up the play etc. Whilst he was never the most creative player Gavin was always aware of where his team mates that could cause the damage were on the pitch at any given time and was quick to work the ball into their possession.
McCann is probably most fondly remembered on Wearside for his stunning strike at Highbury in late December 2000. The lads found themselves 2-0 down at half time following goals from Patrick Vieira and Lee Dixon for the Gunners. Whilst a relatively fortuitous penalty decision from an adjudged handball by Vieira allowed Sunderland back into the game via a Kevin Phillips penalty it looked all the while as though the home side would still come away with the three points. However the points were shared courtesy of a rasping, curled effort from the edge of the Arsenal area from McCann that whistled past a despairing Alex Manninger on 83 minutes.
I will also remember McCann’s time with Sunderland for his hand in the 2-2 draw with Manchester United in the away side’s first visit to the Stadium of Light. Whilst some home fans may have been expecting a tough ride as Sunderland went in to the game without leading goalscorer Kevin Phillips, who sat the game out with a hamstring injury, they needn’t have worried. SAFC took just 76 seconds to get off the mark as Quinn headed a long ball from Michael Gray into the path of McCann who took a touch with his chest before prodding the ball home.
McCann’s time with Sunderland came to an end in 2003 when he left Wearside as part of a mass exodus following relegation, joining Aston Villa for a £2.5m fee. We were reportedly trying to hold out for £4m but were hardly in a position to barter given the club’s debts and wage bill at the time.
The midfielders spell with the midlands club was one beleaguered by injury, yet he still managed over 100 appearances before moving to this weekend’s opposition, Bolton Wanderers, in 2007.
McCann’s transfer also saw his career benefit from a brief resurgence in form with his new side. His £1m transfer to the Trotters also coincided with their foray into Europe. Indeed Bolton would make it through to the last sixteen of the competition before finally succumbing to Sporting Lisbon, despite Gavin getting his name on the scoresheet in the first leg.
Quickly "Googling" Gavin McCann throws up a weird and wonderful suggested search topic; Gavin McCann’s Hair. It is unmistakable if you look at photo’s of the combative midfielder since his early days with Sunderland up to present day. Basically Gav has developed a badger-esq stripe across the top of his head for some unknown reason. It’s pretty staggering how many pages have been dedicated to this strange phenomenon. I’m just glad I wasn’t the only one who noticed! If you don't believe me have a look yourself!
Gavin was forced to hang up his boots at the end of last season following a 16 month layoff with an ankle injury and finding himself out of contract. However his days with Bolton are far from over as has been given a assistant coach role with the club’s academy and is currently working to obtain his UEFA coaching badges.
So there we have it, another player past makes their way into The Roker Report Cult Hero Hall of Fame. Memories of Gav? Leave them in the comments, there's good chap! Don't forget it is Thursday, which is also Roker Report Podcast Day! So get your copy now!