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Roker Report Meets... Darren Holloway! Part one - His SAFC XI, Playing for Reidy, & '98 Play-off disappointment

Darren Holloway broke through from the youth system in to the first team at the club under the management of one of our most famous and loved managers, Peter Reid. Today, in part one, we sit down with the former Sunderland right back to discuss his time on Wearside - including his memories of THAT infamous play-off final game at Wembley against Charlton Athletic.

Darren Holloway of SunderlandIan Harte of Leeds Getty images

RR: Here's a nice, easy one to begin with - what is your best Sunderland XI from your time at the club?

DH: Thomas Sorensen in goal. Then, I would have to say Chris Makin at right back ahead of myself - I think he probably deserves to be! - and alongside him I’ll have Steve Bould and Thomas Helmer at centre half.

On the left hand side I'd have Micky Gray and Allan Johnston, because they were telepathic together, and then in the middle I'll put Gavin McCann - he could tackle, he could score, he could do everything. Alongside him in the centre I’ll have Kevin Ball - someone I always looked up to - complimenting (McCann), which gives Gav a bit more of an opportunity to get forward. Then on the right, Nicky Summerbee putting in the crosses for the two up top, who are of course Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips.

There is so much choice for who I could choose in the middle of the park, mind. Alex Rae, I played against him for Wimbledon at Wolves and he was the best player on the park. Don Hutchison, Stefan Schwarz, and even Lee Clark - he was a good footballer, even though he was a Mag!

The Helmer choice at centre half may suprise people. I played a lot of reserve football with him and I just think from playing and training alongside those (Helmer and Bould) every day that they were the best two.

RR: You came through the youth system at Sunderland and likely played with many good prospects that were expected to make it, but didn't. Are there any notable examples that you can recall?

Honestly, I know that he did well, but for the potential he had, the ability - I’d say Martin Smith.

With the potential that he had, he should have done better than he did. I think he just didn’t fit in at the time. He was a top class footballer, but Reidy wanted the team to play a certain way, and the work rate had to be high.

Smithy had all the attributes, but with the quality that he had he should have played at a much higher level.

RR: Although you had been in and around the squad for a couple of years beforehand, you didn’t actually make your league debut until 1997 in a game away at Stoke. We won the game 2-1 and it was the first time the defence of you, Jody Craddock, Darren Williams and Micky Gray played together. What are you memories of your debut?

DH: It was our youngest ever back four I think, wasn’t it? Initially, I had to go on loan to Carlisle to show Reidy I was ready to play league football. I went there and did well. They stuck a bid in for me, which worked in my favour because that gave me the opportunity to knock on the manager's door and ask if I was going to get a chance.

A few weeks before, we had got battered at Reading and the defence just didn’t look that great in all honesty, my return from loan coincided with that and I was in the side at Stoke.

I wasn’t that nervous to be honest, I felt really good. I felt like I fitted into the team well and I saw it as a chance. I’d been around the first team for a while, trained with them day in day out, so I knew their capabilities and they knew mine, which helped.

Allan Johnston of Sunderland and Paul Devlin of Sheffield United
Allan Johnston got the goal that took us to Wembley on one of the best nights the Stadium of Light has ever witnessed.

RR: At the beginning of the season Peter Reid brought in Chris Makin, but he also offloaded two right backs in Dariusz Kubicki and Gareth Hall. Were you given any assurances about game time during that summer or did you get thrown into the team without much warning?

DH: Pop Robson pushed Reidy to give me a chance. I was captain of the reserves for a while. Pop thought I should have been in the team long before I was.

Mervyn Day was the Manager at Carlisle then and he played me at right wing back, a position that I had never played before. I went up to him after the first time he put me there and just explained it wasn’t really my position and I wasn’t really fancying it, and he was all like, "nah, honestly, you’re going to do well there" - but we lost the next match at Blackpool, Mervyn got sacked and I got put at right back for the next set of games. I did well and came back to Sunderland, everything worked out for the best and I got in to the team.

RR: As the season progressed, we just kept getting better and better and got into second position. A defeat on a Tuesday night at Ipswich though handed the baton to Middlesbrough to push us into the Play Offs. How was the dressing room that night?

DH: My view of Ipswich was it was always a difficult game. They always seemed to have a decent team. I’m at Blyth with Alun Armstrong now (who played for Ipswich) and we always talk about that team that they used to have.

I remember the Middlesbrough away game more to be honest, where we got beat 3-1. I thought that they had a bit more than us as a team. I thought we were better than Forest - we went there and won 3-0. They had a decent start though and that helped them, and we had to try to go through the Play Offs.

RR: I couldn’t possibly bypass the Play Offs that season. That Sheffield United semi-final at the Stadium of Light needs no introduction - what was it like playing in that game?

DH: Brilliant. People ask me about my time as a footballer and that is one of the best memories. Atmospheres at the Stadium were brilliant back then. The Boxing Day games and New Year’s games when it was packed were great, but that Sheffield United game was just on another level.

I was actually struggling quite a bit with a back injury, but I was desperate to play. Just being part of that night was brilliant. It stays with you, those sorts of nights. Off the back of that going into the final - we thought we had a really good chance.

RR: I always remember the Play Off final when Quinny got his second and the camera panning to our bench and you, who had been substituted at half time, going ballistic! Have you ever had a more emotionally draining day? How did you get over that disappointment as an individual and as a team?

DH: Ha, yeah. I’ve never came across another day like that.

We were confident going into it, we knew we had a good chance of beating them; we also had been practising penalties too. Not many people know this, but I was due to be one of the five penalty takers had I been on the pitch.

Before the game I had a kick about with this little mascot and didn’t really do a proper warm up. I was young and naive really. I’d been struggling with my back and the lack of a proper warm up just meant I didn’t do myself justice in that first half and I was taken off, and deservedly so.

The ups and downs of the day were incredibly draining. We had a lot of time off after that. We had a place booked for a celebration. It was up in the air if we were going to go afterwards, obviously, but we did and it was good. Ordy got up and had a bit of a song and a dance and it lightened the mood a little. It helped.

When I got home I was actually house-sitting for a lass I was seeing at the time. I just sat for a few days, drowned my sorrows with the odd drink thinking, "what if?”

For the first couple of days afterwards, it hurt.

I’ve never watched the game back in full. I've seen highlights now and again on Sky, but it is not something I’ve put on the TV.


Join us for Part Two tomorrow - the Premier League years, losing his place in the team, not wanting to move to Wimbledon, and why he thinks we'll be relegated from the Premier League this season.