Gerry Harrison is a name most Sunderland fans probably wouldn't remember, which is all the more strange when you consider he was signed during probably the most memorable period in Sunderland's recent history.
Brought to the club in the summer of 1998 by Peter Reid, Harrison was snatched from under the noses of Lennie Lawrence's Luton Town upon the expiration of his contract at Burnley. Peter Reid's first black signing as Sunderland manager, Harrison was a rugged central midfielder, famed for his tough tackling, and was signed in order to beef up a Sunderland side that had only just missed out on promotion to the top flight following a loss at Wembley in the playoffs to Charlton Athletic.
'I was going to sign for Luton but the Sunderland opportunity came up and, no disrespect to Luton, but I didn't want to finish my career thinking what would have happened if I hadn't gone to Sunderland', Harrison said of his arrival on Wearside.
It was around the time that Gerry Harrison signed for Sunderland that all of his problems came to a head. Unbeknownst to the player or the football club, Harrison was suffering from a rather rare and brutal illness which was affecting his fitness.
When I got there I started training and felt tired all the time. They went on tour and left me with a fitness coach and I found that really hard as well.
It appeared to both the supporters and Peter Reid that they had been sold a dud. Harrison was not the player that Sunderland were expecting, nor was he remotely near fit enough to play first team football. It was after his first match for the club - a league cup tie away at York City in 1999 (I was at that game...) that the decision was made to look further as to why Harrison was so unfit, and to his despair he was given devastating news.
I played against York in the Worthington Cup and could hardly run so I had some blood tests afterwards and found that I was getting over hepatitis A.
It's typical Sunderland, really. Only we could sign someone without noticing they had a severe Liver condition.
After that, Harrison struggled to make any mark on his time at the club. By the time he was over the Hepatitis he found himself well behind the likes of Lee Clark, Kevin Ball and Alex Rae in the pecking order and was restricted to playing for the reserves at New Ferens park on the occasional Monday evenings - to say that things hadn't gone to plan would be an understatement.
It was from there that Harrison's career rapidly went downhill. He was allowed to join the side he almost joined in the summer, Luton Town, on a loan deal which took him from January until the end of the season. Sadly for Harrison he didn't do enough to encourage Luton to sign him permanently and, after failed loan spells at Hull City and Burnley, Harrison was released by the club in 2000, going on to play for a vast array of non-league sides before retiring in 2010.
As an aside I recently came across a scrapbook in the house I kept as a kid, and in it I had a page reserved for the signature of the esteemed Gerry Harrison. Blank.
Sadly, it's inclusion in my childhood scrapbook is about as prominent as his contributions as a Sunderland player.