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Cult Heroes: The Mercurial Don Hutchison

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The Boxing Day match is one steeped in tradition and one I always look forward to, especially if the fixture list has been kind and Sunderland are at home. Yes there may be one or two hangovers still lingering and an array of dodgy Christmas knitwear on show but given the alternative of the sales or more Turkey there is surely no better alternative. This year see's David Moyes' Everton make the cross country trip for Monday's game where Martin O'Neill will be desperate to put together back-to-back victories following his sides midweek win in London over QPR.

As we look forward to the festive clash it is time to look once again at a "Cult Hero" who has had the distinct pleasure of representing both clubs during their career, a man who needs no introduction, the mercurial Don Hutchison.

Hutchison was born in Gateshead in the early 1970's but it was with Hartlepool United he would start his career, signing as a trainee in 1989. Don progressed to the full squad for the 1990/91 season, a term which saw Hartlepool seal promotion, not that the midfielder got to taste the Champagne as he had long since moved on, his talents having been spotted by everyones favourite side at the moment, Liverpool and signed for then, and now, boss Kenny Dalglish in November on 1990.

The combative midfielder would spend four years on Merseyside, a lifetime in the grand scheme of the Scottish International's career. Don forged an effective partnership with Mr. Sky Sports Jamie Redknapp during the 1992/93 season, undoubtedly his best with the club, where he managed to bag an impressive ten goals before falling out of favour following a number of off the field incidents, his finest hour perhaps involving his crown jewels in a City Centre bar.

Don then swapped Merseyside for London, joining West Ham United for a club record fee of £1.5m and spent two seasons with the Hammers. Hutchison really suffered from itchy feet during the late 1990's, having joined West Ham in 1994 he would then proceed to sign for Sheffield United in '96, Everton in '98, Sunderland in 2000 and back to West Ham in 2001. Talk about signing on bonuses!

Hutchison flourished working under Howard Kendall at Everton having followed his manager back to Merseyside following his departure from Sheffield United and having the envious task of replacing Gary Speed in the Toffee's midfield. Hutchison and Kendall enjoyed more of a friendship than the usual player/manager relationship:

"Howard Kendall is probably the most influential person on my whole career because he took me to Sheffield United and then bought me again at Everton. He just helped me with being relaxed. I'll never forget the first time I signed for him. He had a fridge in his office and he opened a can of lager for me. We just hit it off and we were good friends. We just hit it off and we were good friends. Then I went to Everton and while a normal manager would shake your hand and say "welcome", Howard gave me a cuddle and said "it's nice to have you Back"

Evertonian's however did not see the best of Hutchison until the arrival of Walter Smith. Whilst it may not have been the best of times for the Merseyside club, Don was commanding in the centre of the park, operating as a midfield general and putting in performances which saw him award the player of the season. However Don's time with the club would end on a sour note with the fan's not taking kindly to prolonged contract discussions and the midfielder's public condemnation of the offer made by the club.

In the end Hutchison hightailed out of Goodison making the move to his native North-East, joining Peter Reid's Sunderland in a £2.5m transfer. Don made an immediate impact on Wearside and was integral part of that setup which went on to achieve a seventh placed finish in the new millenium with Don chipping in with eight goals. Sunderland fans were admittedly apprehensive at first having already been stung by another Geordie midfielder, Lee Clark, however unlike the current Huddersfield gaffer Don had no problems playing against his boyhood side and seemingly took great pleasure in finding the back of the net at St. James' and setting off on a wild celebration which probably still see's him barred from every bar in the Bigg Market.

Hutchison's stay on Wearside was a disappointingly short one. The midfielder and the board fell out following the Scottish international's demand for a pay rise as a result of his impressive first season. The club stalled on any deal and in time West Ham made an offer of £5.25m which was enough to see Bob Murray allow the instrumental midfielder leave. For my money we never really replaced Don who was arguably at his peak whilst with Sunderland and who's goals during Kevin Phillips' absence with injury that year were priceless. That said, just two months into his second spell with West Ham Hutchison suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury, from which he never really recovered. So maybe SAFC hit lucky with this one.

Either way the one season Hutchison spent with Sunderland was enough for him to have left an indelible mark on the club. His creativity, vision, range of passing and eye for a goal were a joy to behold and an attribute to the side we have struggled to replace ever since. Maybe David Vaughan can finally fill this void.

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