It's been difficult to escape the mention of 8-0 this week. What could have feasibly just been another football match prolonged itself by snowballing into something much more, a debate centred on the consumer-brand relationship, prompted of course by Vito Mannone suggesting a refund to fans. Thankfully that's over and done with now, it was all a bit silly. The additional option of a charitable donation also ensures that, much like Andy Dufresne in 'The Shawshank Redemption', Sunderland AFC crawled through a river of sh*t and came out clean on the other side.
It got me thinking of the other side of the coin, when Sunderland have been on the positive end of a thrashing. I didn't have to think for very long, as it doesn't happen very often. The one that stands out in my memory though is the 7-0 win over Oxford in the 1998/99 season. It came at a very impressionable time for me in my footballing genesis, I was 6 years old and only just getting over the play-off final defeat to Charlton. It happened very much at the beginning of my addiction to Sunderland.
19 September 1998. Fans went into the game nervous, we were unbeaten thus far in the season, but our top scorer Kevin Phillips (remember him?) was injured in the previous game and was set for several months on the sidelines. Super Kev had scored in all but one of the games we had played so far that campaign, so we had a right to be apprehensive. It was set to be the beginning of our slide down the table, our early season form being but a false dawn.
My dad had recently landed himself a job as a TRU at the Stadium of Light, which I thought was the coolest job in the world. Basically if you don't know what a TRU is (I'm not even sure that I do), it's basically a steward with a better coat and more authority. He'd not only get to watch the match, but be paid to do it! In reality he probably spent the majority of time telling people to sit down (that's what stewards do isn't it?). Either way, he couldn't take me to the matches anymore and I would listen to them on the radio, dressed in my Lambtons Sunderland shirt with the collar. Loved that shirt.
As the legend goes, we didn't need Kevin Phillips. Micky Gray got one, Alex Rae got two, Micky Bridges got two and Danny Dichio got two, one of them being a penalty. Easy! I used to idolise Bridges. I was a bit lanky back then as well, so I was always him in the schoolyard (I wasn't good enough to be Quinn, that was always Dalton Jackson, the swine!). Obviously I gave up on Bridges when he did the dirty on us but for a while he was my hero. Summerbee and Johnston were on form again, two of the best wingers that have ever played for Sunderland, and Alex Rae scoring two goals in a single match was mind-blowing to me, even in my short time of supporting the lads. A fantastic game and a massive relief for the whole of Wearside. We could cope without Phillips.
We weren't spoiled by the necessities of on-demand content back then, so you'd be lucky to catch the goals on Tyne Tees, Mike Neville becoming a defining character in my childhood. My dad wouldn't get home from the stadium in time to see them, but on this occasion he rang my mam up on his Motorola to tell her to watch out for him on the news. "Watch when Dichio scores and runs into the crowd, keep a look out for me". Here we go.
Now you can check this yourself if you're lucky enough to have a 98/99 season review VHS knocking about, and of course a fully operational VHS player. When Danny Dichio puts the ball in the net and ventures into the crowd behind the goal, you can quite clearly see a steward grab Dichio's shoulder and shout something at him, prompting the player to turn around looking disgusted and agitated. What my dad actually said to Dichio that day was; "I love you, but get back on the f*cking pitch".
Obviously seeing my dad not only on the telly, but on the Sunderland highlights made him the coolest bloke in the world, even cooler than Michael Bridges, and I still idolise him for it. It's not very often we beat teams 7-0, so it's nice that he can say he played a background part in that one, even if he has clung onto it for 16 years.
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