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Cult Heroes: We All Live In A Gary Rowell World!

Well ladies and gentlemen, the game may not be until Monday night as we make our Sky debut this season but we're already in full match preview mode here on Roker Report. So as per the norm it is down to myself to provide you with a Cult Hero, someone who represented both sides.

Part inspired by a Saturday night sing-a-long to a certain classic by The Beatles during a car journey with the lads to a birthday party and also due to the fact that there is not a huge selection to choose from when looking back over the years between ourselves and the Canaries, however there are definitely two stand out candidates. You will have to wait until the New Year to find out who the other fella is, but for now, a man who needs to introduction; its only bloody Gary Rowell!

If you had to name a definitive "local lad done good" for SAFC you would struggle to find a better example than Rowell. To give you an idea of his pedigree the BBC Football Focus show ran a poll a few years back to identify each club’s All-time Cult Hero and Rowell won by a landslide 65% of the votes from you the Sunderland fans. Born in Seaham in 1957 Gary signed his apprentice papers at Roker Park in 1972 and would become professional in 1975 having left Northlea Grammar School. Gary spent his first few formative years with the club playing either a deep lying forward, almost in midfield at times and his more accustomed role as centre forward.


Rowell made his senior debut as a substitute against Oxford United in December of 1975 and would go on to become, for the younger amongst us like myself, the Kevin Phillips of his generation. Rowell was not just deadly from open play but he also made a name for himself for being dependable from the penalty spot.

Gary really got going following the clubs relegation to the old second division in 1977/78 where he established himself as a first team regular in the side and notched 39 league goals across the following two seasons. Many Sunderland fans at the time expected great things of their prodigy and touted him for full international recognition sooner rather than later. Unfortunately for Gary fate dealt him a bad hand and he suffered a serious knee injury in March on 1979 in a game against Leyton Orient. Rowell’s season was over.

Even without the goalscoring exploits of their hero Sunderland earned promotion back to the First Division and Rowell was a welcome return to the squad going in to the 1980/81 season where he managed 10 league goals. Gary continued to be a regular goal scorer for the lads for the next few seasons including an impressive tally of 16 in the 1982/83 season.


However despite Rowell’s reliable record in front of goal then manager Len Ashurst, concerned with the forwards fitness, would move the popular forward out of the club as part of his re-structuring plan for the team in 1984. Of course we all know how disastrous this masterplan turned out to be as the club dropped to the Third Division for the first time in its long and illustrious history.


Here is when Monday nights opponents Norwich City enter the Gary Rowell tale as they were more than happy to pick up the accomplished forward on a free transfer. However the hitman’s time with the canaries was to be jinxed by yet another knee injury. Rowell made just six first team appearances at

Carrow Road
and scoring once as a substitute. His Norwich career lasted just a single year, which was almost completely spent on the sidelines as a result of his knee injury.


Rowell would never recover fully from that injury and between 1985 and 1990 he played for a number of clubs including; Middlesbrough, Brighton, Dundee, Carlisle and Burnley but could never repeat his goalscoring exploits. A disappointing end to a career that deserved so much more.


Gary was first and foremost always a Sunderland fan who lived the dream that everyone of us would give an arm, leg, left testical for and has carried his passion for the club into his media career. For many a year Rowell was the Barney Rubble to Simon Crabtree's Fred Flintstone as part of a commentating team on local radio, offering a more, how shall we put this, down-to-earth opinion on the goings on as Simon would lose himself in the excitement of the game. He also pens his thoughts and opinions in his Sunderland Echo column and clearly has the same emotional attachment to the club that you and I share because he is just like you and I; a fan. Of course not all of us get to score a hat-trick at St. James Park...


The name Rowell has also been immortalised in a chant that is still given an rousing rendition both at the Stadium of Light and at football stadia up and down the country as our fans come together to proclaim that we all do indeed live in a Gary Rowell world.

Please feel free to add your Gary Rowell memories, favourite games, goals and all that kind of stuff in the comments below!

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