RR: Despite 2008/2009 being a tough season for the club, it ended in hilarious fashion when we stayed up at the expense of our neighbours up the road on the final day of the season - the roar that went up when Aston Villa scored was mad. In that game you came off the bench with 25 minutes to go - how did it feel being a part of that day?
AR: I think we were maybe 1-3 down at the time. I set up a goal for Kenwyne. I was really disappointed that I didn’t play as much as I’d have liked that season - I got on really well with Ricky Sbragia but for one reason or another, I didn’t play as much.
It was an odd feeling because from the outside, it’s a perfect situation (Sunderland staying up and Newcastle going down), but there was a general feeling around the place that we had got lucky. The season beforehand we had put together a run and worked to stay up, but I felt we had got lucky, and I’m sure it wasn’t just me.
It was a difficult game and I think getting a result from Chelsea at home was perhaps a bridge to far, we’d only lost a few days previous to Portsmouth. It was a great day, but personally, I just felt like we’d got lucky that season.
RR: Steve Bruce took over the following summer. What was it about him that transformed us from relegation candidates to pushing for Europe?
AR: I felt I hadn’t had a good pre-season for a couple of seasons to be honest, but that year I had a really good summer. I worked really hard and came back in good nick. It showed in my performances, certainly.
I had been playing most of the pre-season but got a little niggle in my thigh so didn’t start the season in the team, when I perhaps would have otherwise.
I saw the cup game against Norwich as an opportunity for me. I just wanted to go out and show what I’ve got. I scored two and got man of the match, so thought I’d be starting the next game against Stoke. Bruce came to me before that game though and said “you’re not starting tomorrow, but I’ve noted that performance against Norwich and you’ll get your chance, just be patient with me”. I started a week later against Hull and got another goal, and set one up and ended up feeling a really important part of the side.
There are some things about Steve Bruce’s management I didn’t particularly like, but he’s a good manager, there’s stuff he does really well. He knows how to put a good team together and it shows in his clubs he’s managed. He has a lot of good stuff going for him.
RR: One of your more famous Sunderland goals was a chip to lob the keeper against Norwich in the League Cup - it was ridiculous. How high up does that strike rank in the best you’ve scored?
AR: I don’t want to be big headed, I never have been, but I was lucky enough to score some beauties, so I’m not sure that goal is up there, but it is one of my most enjoyable.
I’ve always enjoyed lobbing goalkeepers; it’s just a little cheeky goal isn’t it? It was a nice goal. Like I say, that game was an opportunity to show what I’ve got.
RR: Steve Bruce brought in Danny Welbeck, Ahmed Elmohamady and Christian Riveros after that season though, and you couldn’t get back in the side mainly due to injury so you were loaned to Sheffield United. What did Steve Bruce say to you about your future at the club leading up to your exit in January?
AR: Honestly, he never really said too much. I picked up an injury in the January the season before. I had to have an operation and missed out on a lot of football. Part of the loan move was just to get games, to be honest.
He (Bruce) still kept saying to me he’d give me a chance, that I’d get an opportunity. I almost went on loan to Forest but then Gary Speed rang me and asked if I wanted to go down to Sheffield United on loan.
I really enjoyed just playing football again in all honestly. I’d been out a while, so to play football again just felt great. I had full intentions of going back to Sunderland though, getting a chance and getting back into the team – but by that point Bruce had started to play a 4-3-3 formation, I don’t think he seen me as part of that.
Brucey had given me words of encouragement but I think behind the scenes, it was known if a bid came in, I was welcome to leave.
It’s a shame because you know, honestly, it was a really good time for me at Sunderland. I don’t just mean as a footballer, but as family. We had a really good time there. We lived in Durham and it was one of the best times we’ve ever had, so leaving gave mixed emotions.
At the end of the day though, what I wanted to do was play football and sometimes things in football just come to a natural end.
RR: You left the club at the same time as Darren Bent more or less - a player that had become vitally important to the entire football club. What sort of impact did him leaving have on the rest of the players? Did you see it coming?
AR: It put the club in a really awkward situation. It was such good money. It was stupid money really, I know he was important but you have to look at it from the club's perspective. If they reject the move, not only do they lose out on the money but they have a player that really doesn’t want to be there.
I didn’t envy Sunderland at that point, because they couldn’t win.
Steve Bruce definitely didn’t want to lose him but the bid was accepted and the club had a tricky situation. It was the beginning of the end for Steve Bruce when that happened, I think.
RR: Finally, you retired little over six months ago after a great career - how’s retirement treating you? Are you planning to stay in football, or are you finally going to release that album? You were known to get a guitar out at any given opportunity!
AR: One of the reasons I quit football was to play more guitar! No, I’m definitely not releasing an album. I don’t get to play half as much as I would like.
I did some of my coaching badges and did some coaching with Forest last year and really enjoyed it, so I’m just finishing those off. I knew I was going to retire because of the injuries so I tried to start of doing coaching stuff. I had five operations, and honestly, my body just wasn’t up for it anymore.
I’ve been doing a ton of media work though and I’m really enjoying that. I’ve been commentating on matches, doing bits and pieces on TV – I’m just enjoying that at the moment.