Tom was awarded Young Player of the Year in Belgium and there are some good footballers over there. I think he has the potential to become a very, very good player and one who I believe will certainly make the Belgian international team.
Tom Peeters arrived at Sunderland in the summer of 2000 - on the same day as Don Hutchison and Jurgen Macho - for a fee of around £250,000 from KV Mechelen.
After winning Young Player of the Year in his native Belgium, KV Mechelen been reluctant to allow their key midfielder to leave the club. But, with us flying high in the Premier League and with a solid 7th placed finish under our belts, Peter Reid had his man almost as soon as he showed interest.
Within days, he was given his debut in a pre-season fixture, ironically against his former club. In a game where Niall Quinn scored a spectacular forty-yard lob (yet sadly it was not captured by the TV cameras), a young looking Sunderland side surrendered an early 0-2 lead as they built up fitness ahead of a tough season opening, a home game against Arsenal.
He had further brief appearances for the club during pre-season to little or no fanfare, although he gained a man of the match award in our 0-9 win over amateur dutch side Appeldornse.
The Sunderland Echo said of Peeters’ performance that "he had a strong game playing mainly as a holding midfielder and looks confident on the ball". Although they did later go on to comment that it was difficult to judge against such weak opposition. He would come off the bench at half time for Don Hutchison a few days later too, but his less than impressive performance helped Heerenveen to a simple 4-1 win in our final pre-season game.
It was to no suprise that he failed to line up in the opening match against star studded Arsenal - despite suspension ruling out Hutchison, and injuries to Gavin McCann and Alex Rae.
An impressive 1-0 home win over Henry and co. was quickly forgotten about though - A Paolo Wanchope inspired Manchester City and a fine solo Titus Bramble goal for Ipswich condemned the Lads as three defeats in the next four games would put us into 17th place before September had barely began.
Peeters would eventually get his first start though when he was part of a routine 3-0 Worthington Cup win over Luton Town. A much changed Sunderland side would gain an massive advantage going into the second leg of the cup with goals from Kevin Phillips, John Oster and Paul Thirlwell.
Peeters, however, did not stand out. Fellow midfielder Eric Roy gained the plaudits as the architect of the win, which was as comfortable as the scoreline suggests. For that was the first and last time we would see him, as he didn’t even make the bench for the return fixtures. He would spend the rest of the season hovering around the reserve squad, as the first team went from strength to strength, finishing 7th again - spear headed once more by the unstoppable forward line of Quinn and Phillips.
He would later be loaned back to his homeland, but his move to Antwerp would be almost as unsuccessful as his move to the North East. By the time 2003 had came around, he was almost two and a half seasons deep into his Black Cats’ career and most of Wearside had forgotten he existed - it was no suprise an early exit from the club would come for him as the two parties agreed to a mutual termination of his contract.
In a hilarious story told by former Sunderland winger Matt Piper, Peeters’ most memorable moment perhaps came behind closed doors though.
Months before his release a certain Howard Wilkinson had been relieved of his duties and had call a team meeting to announce his departure. With the room deadly silent, a visibly upset Steve Cotterill to his side, Wilko assembled the squad and started to annouce the news. "I've been fired as the Manager of the football..." but before he could finish his sentence, the midfielder jumped out of his seat shouting "Good! Good! Get in there! Good riddance! Great news!"
The managerial duo stood stunned and speechless as the squad broke into a mixture of laughter, shock and anger.
He would later return to KV Mechelen for three years, but he never did turn out for the Belgian national team - he never quite made the grade that Peter Reid had tipped him for as he saw out his career in the Belgian lower leagues.