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Roker Report Meets... Darren Williams

Darren Williams was one of those players who never gave you less than one hundred percent. Bought from York City in 1997, he played across the Sunderland defence and midfield over almost a decade, tallying up exactly two-hundred games before moving to Cardiff City in 2004. He went through two relegations, one record breaking title win, an astonishing Play Off Final and played in my generation's ‘Golden’ Era, so our new boy Graham thought it was only fair to grab Daz for a bit of a chat.

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You were always one who had more than enough time for the fans, but when your name is mentioned to us, most of us talk about that goal at Middlesbrough. What were your memories of that game?

Well to start with, I'm a big believer in the thought that the fans create the football you play. Without them there, there would be no beautiful game. Though I have great memories of the game, it wasn't all good, I must be honest!

I took a load of abuse from the ‘Boro fans as I warmed up. The goal mainly came from me being given a free role in the first half by Reidy. That gave me chance to get forward more than I would usually. Paul Bracewell encouraged me to try and break into their box and from Chris Waddle’s cross I managed to get my head onto the ball. That gave us the goal we required to go on and win a really important match.

That was of course in your first season after signing from York for £50,000. Unfortunately, we got relegated that year at Wimbledon. Fans were at that game in their thousands. Was that when it really hit home how massive this club was, despite the disappointment?

It was an unreal day despite the disappointment. The fans were fantastic all game from start to finish. It was so disappointing to go down that season. In regards to the size of the club, I realised the clubs potential and size from the moment I had chance to sign, to be honest. I met and spoke to Peter Reid and Bobby Saxton at length.

From there I just knew I wanted to be part of what they had in mind for Sunderland.

The season that followed was probably the most memorable ones of my lifetime. You came into the side at central defence and never got dislodged. What made that partnership with Jody Craddock so successful?

Myself and Jody just clicked from the day he arrived at the club. Peter and Bobby had a vision of us having a similar relationship on the field. We were really good mates from the day he came in.

We got along well from travelling in together. We lived close by and we were roommates on away trips. Me and Jody had some amazing laughs at the club, from having our own tuck shop on away trips for the lads, computer games and most notably shooting John Cooke with BB guns!

We had a great friendship which naturally developed onto the pitch that season.

The team spirit from the disastrous 4-0 game at Elm Park just seemed to grow and grow, starting with a 1-2 win at Stoke when Clarky scored a brace. What was said in the dressing room after that Reading game?

It was just about believing in ourselves more, really. Coming together as a team. We had the spirit already; we just needed to believe in our talent. We had a fantastic bond as a team and we tried to do lots of team building socially together to keep that team spirit fresh too. I think anyone could see we would die on the pitch for each other.

Fast forward to the Premiership years - after the first two seasons we seemed to drop like a stone and eventually got relegated with a record low nineteen points. Why did we go from European challengers to the worst team in the league so quickly?

It's tough to say the exact reason why, but I think things just got a bit stale and we didn't probably get the players we required at the right time. I think most people could see it and would agree.

Peter Reid brought you to the club, when he left Howard Wilkinson took over...what was the dressing room like under Wilko and how was your personal relationship with him?

Personally I didn't see eye to eye with him. I couldn't see how his ways would help us get out of the situation we were in with relegation. Most importantly, I think lads kind of seen the exact same, which obviously tells you a lot too. It wasn't going to work. We just did a lot of non-related football stuff.

Who was the best player you played with at Sunderland and why?

I think Kev and Quinny were a great partnership and did extremely well, what they achieved at the club is obvious. I thought Claudio Reyna was very, very gifted and was a great lad too.

You left during a period of transition for the lads, as Mick McCarthy had to rebuild a team that had lost key characters and quality in Gavin McCann, Thomas Sorensen and Super Kev. Chris Makin, Kevin Ball, Niall Quinn. Who were the characters who came through during that tough period after your second relegation in 2003?

To be honest, I don't think there were any individual characters during the successful period we had in the early 2000s. I believe Peter and Bobby got the right mix of different personalities which blended well together and created that success on the pitch.

As for 2003, Marcus Stewart was a big character to have in the dressing room during that time, and I would also say Jeff Whitley was a good lad to have around.

You played at right back, centre back, left back, right wing, central midfield and left wing when at Sunderland. What was your actual position?

Utility player was my tag so it’s difficult to say, really. Being a utility player isn't easy. Your position can change from week to week or even in same game.

I preferred centre half if I had to choose. I had pace and I felt I could read game well. For my size, I was good in the air too.

You managed to play at Roker Park and the Stadium of Light - which stadium did you prefer and why?

Both, for different reasons.

Roker Park had great character. It was an old fashioned ground with a great history. The pitch was unreal to play on and the atmosphere was compact… I don't have to tell anyone about how good that was really do I? Roker was brilliant.

The Stadium of Light was fantastic. It was the start of Peter and Bobby’s vision. Those were was exciting times. The increased numbers through the gates and the passion from the fans made the noise just sensational.

Finally, what was the most memorable game you ever played in for the Lads?

Well the Play-Off Final was a fantastic learning curve for us as a team and not just me individually, but the Play Off Semi at home to Sheffield United would be the game I’d pick out. The atmosphere was unreal. In fact as speak, I've got a shiver going down my spine just thinking about the atmosphere that night in the Stadium of Light.

It was just one of those nights that I couldn’t forget if I tried.

On that note, I would just like to say to all Sunderland supporters and staff that I came across over the years - thank you so much for letting me be part of an amazing club, and hopefully I will be part of it again in the future in some way.