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Cult Heroes: Andy Melville

As the season draws to an end, today see's the last Cult Hero for this term. I know, I know, but dry your eyes, as we have another top drawer choice for you all this week!

Today's choice is an often forgotten defender who, unlike recent selections, rather than disappear into obscurity having left Sunderland, he continued to ply his trade at another big club.

Described as "The most underrated centre-back SAFC have had in my lifetime" by Roker Report's very own Michael Graham - big praise indeed!

Ladies and Gentlemen... it's Andy Roger Melville!

Andy, born in Swansea in 1968, began his footballing career with his hometown side, making his league debut before he had even turned seventeen. Andy started out as a midfielder, but he was quickly acknowledged for his defensive attributes and was moved to a new berth in the centre of defence. Melville was even to gain international recognition at both under-21 and "B" levels before being handed his first full cap in a game against Germany in Cologne just weeks before his twenty-first birthday.

After one-hundred and eighty five appearances for the Welsh outfit, Andy was part of a £275,000 move to Oxford, where he stayed for three years before the North East came a-calling.

Terry Butcher was in charge of the Black Cats at the time of Melville's transfer, a cash-plus-exchange deal, with an initial payment of £500,000 with Anton Rogan "Josh" making the trip South in 1993.

Andy joined Sunderland at a turbulent time, playing under three managers in his first two seasons, however he remained an automatic choice in the defensive line.

Melville was a commanding central defender. Standing at 6 feet tall he was a powerhouse in the air, repelling crosses with ease. Andy was also extremely competent with the ball at his feet, with excellent distribution from the back line, looking to play the ball into midfield. Think Rio Ferdinand, but less expensive and not as much of a tit.

Andy remained a permanent fixture in the Sunderland side until the 1997/98 season where following Sunderland's poor start to the season he found himself part of the shake-up to the team by Peter Reid and lost his place in the side.

First team action was at a premium for the assured defender that season and a loan deal with Bradford City was put in place to earn Melville some first team action. In fact the Bantams were so impressed with Andy that they looked to make the deal permanent but couldn't match Sunderland's asking price of £1m.

So back to Wearside it was for the slim fella, who put in the extra hours during the close season in a bid to be fighting fit ready and prove his worth going in to the 1998/99 season. His hard work paid off as an injury to, fellow Cult Hero, Jody Craddock presented him with his chance.

Andy grabbed the chance with both hands and formed a formidable partnership with Paul "Pies" Butler. It was this solid foundation that Sunderland's fantastic form that term was based upon. Melville's form that season earned him a recall to the Welsh international setup for a game against Switzerland in March of 1999.

Despite being Sunderland's most capped Welsh international, Andy's contract with the Black Cat's came to an end. Melville turned down an offer of an extra year on Wearside for an opportunity to join former Sunderland midfielder/assistant manager Paul Bracewell with Fulham as part of a decidedly Welsh defense where he lined up alongside Kit Symons and Chris Coleman.

My most memorable Andy Melville moment came in March of 1997 when top of the table Manchester United rolled in to Roker. It was my first full season at Roker and I remember being in awe of the Manchester United side that day, all the greats were there; Schmeichel, Beckham, Cantona et al. Sunderland weren't given a chance and as relegation fodder we were thoroughly expected to roll over. This was a game I will never forget! Goals from Michael Gray and John Mullin were only cancelled out by an Andy Melville own goal. Andy may have differing memories of that famous day in 1997, but for me, it only added to the drama!

Andy Melville clips on YouTube are rarer than NUFC winning anything, so here's a clip from the BBC series Premier Passions, look out for Andy taking on-board all of Reid's "constructive criticism"

Peter Reid and Bobby Saxton - Sunderland 96/97 (via SAFCMark)

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