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Kevin Kyle - from heir to Quinn to becoming a darts-wielding, bollock-burning ship storeman

Tonight’s opponents Hartlepool have had many a former Sunderland player in their ranks but none of them, bar Kevin Kyle, have gone on to beat professional dart players at their own game after their retirement.

Kyle celebrates Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images


Kevin Alistair Kyle was born in Stranraer on the 7th June 1981. The 6’3 striker was fashioned from Buckfast and girders and possessed ox-like strength. He played just ten times for his country but was pure Scotland.

Kyle scored 59 career goals in a much-travelled career spanning 274 games with spells at Sunderland, Huddersfield (loan), Darlington (loan), Rochdale (loan), Coventry City, Wolves (loan), Hartlepool (loan), Kilmarnock, Hearts, Rangers, Ayr United and Newton Stewart before he retired in 2014.

Kyle scores
The human tower of Buckfast himself, scoring in a 0-1 win at Bramall Lane.
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

At Sunderland...

A mention of his name in Sunderland now perhaps conjures up memories none too fond, but in truth the legacy of ‘Kyler’ on Wearside is a little unkind.

He was not as bad as the legend is to be believed. The big Scot was simply an unfortunate victim of not being able to develop his own identity. Throughout his years at Sunderland, Kyle was consistently referred to as the heir and replacement for club king Niall Quinn.

The legendary Irishman enjoyed the best spell of his career at Sunderland, so the prospect of not being able to worship the Wearside dual gods of Quinn-Phillips sent shivers down the spine of the Mackem faithful and Kyle was the unfortunate heir-apparent who no one really wanted.

By the time Kevin Kyle arrived at the Stadium of Light in 1998, Quinn was ageing but the prospect of the big man not continuing as number nine was an unthinkable prospect to be put to the backs of Wearside minds.

Niall Quinn of Sunderland
Niall Quinn in 1998, at 32-years-old

However, when questioned on who he felt he could bring in to eventually replace the former Manchester City target-man, Peter Reid simply replied I’ve already found him - Kevin Kyle.

It was a quote that would return to haunt Kyle. Very different in style, he lacked the wily experience of Quinn. With the team pushing for a European spot though, it was hoped the Scotsman could bed into the side slowly without the added pressure and burden of a relegation scrap.

The following year, the summer signing of Lilian Laslandes was also intended to shoulder the burden on the Sunderland forward line. As it was, the Frenchman was a complete failure. The team finished in 17th and the total reliance on the Quinn-Phillips partnership became all too apparent.

He could be top class. I think he looks at Niall Quinn and learns from him; he has to, Quinny's positional sense is so good that any target man can learn from him.

When you see some of the things he does, you can tell he has been watching Quinny.

The words of Reid once again likened the young Scot to Quinn in April 2002 and came only months before the soon-to-be Sunderland chairman retired. Despite that confidence Reid appeared to have in Kyle, he then spent £10m on striking duo Tore Andre Flo and Marcus Stewart - signings that failed to reignite his Sunderland team and would eventually hasten his sacking.

Kyle Naysmith
Fond of a battle - Kevin Kyle in 2002
Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images.

Flo’s failure would be the break that Kyle needed. After the second managerial sacking of the campaign saw Howard Wilkinson depart, Mick McCarthy would go on to put a faith in the reserve team regular that his predecessors never truly had and it was a belief that would be rewarded.

Handed the number nine shirt following relegation in 2003, the new manager praised Kyle’s tenacity and brutish strength - he also most importantly steered clear of comparisons to other forwards, instead choosing to focus on Kyle’s own individual qualities.

Thus Kyle hit a career-best 16 goals in 2002/03, proving a real menace for Division One defences with his tenacity and strength in the air. He didn’t have the delicate touch of Quinn, but his sheer strength almost led us back to the Premiership as we narrowly missed out in the play-offs.

Kyle and Jagielka
Kyle and Phil Jagielka get to grips with each other after another battle in the air in 2003
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Just as Kyle found his feet at the club, a troublesome hip injury meant he missed most of the following season. His recovery was aided by visits to famous Bayern Munich doctor Hans-Wilhelm Müller-Wohlfahrt, which hit the press.

Sunderland would go on to win the Championship in his absence, with his injury forcing him out of the entire run-in. Kyle eventually returned to first team action in February 2006, scoring his first and only Premier League goal in March 2006, away to Manchester City - a season that saw Sunderland relegated on a then-record low points tally.

Kevin Kyle’s Sunderland career ended shortly afterwards - with his biggest advocate Mick McCarthy long gone, he was allowed to join Coventry City for £600,000 in August 2006.

Perhaps the big fella’s most notable moment whilst a Sunderland player came after he missed a game with Everton having scalded his bollocks with boiling water. What a legacy.

At Hartlepool...

Kevin Kyle’s move to the Midlands club would be disastrous. Scoring only three goals for the Sky Blues in his debut season, the Coventry fans barracked the Stranraer-born forward.

He was signed as a replacement for Coventry hero Gary McSheffrey - a move that was described by one Sky Blues fan as a decision about as progressive as lobbing your 3D printer out the window and dusting off the hammer and sickle”.

Northampton Town and Hartlepool United Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Following his Coventry nightmare, Kyle made numerous loan moves, one of which was to our neighbours and opponents tonight, Hartlepool.

Five goals in fifteen appearances helped his new club stave off relegation, two of those coming in a pulsating 5-3 win over Huddersfield. A permanent move to Victoria Park was mooted, but for various reasons (including injury doubts) it never came to fruition and he moved back home to Scotland, joining Kilmarnock, where he was very successful, scoring 16 goals in his one season in Ayrshire.

Kyle later moved to Hearts, Rangers and Newton Stewart but was dogged by his troublesome hip injury, forcing his retirement in 2014.

After football...

Our former target man takes a well earned coffee break whilst working as a storeman in 2014.

Kevin Kyle’s career outside of football is perhaps the most interesting of them all. In 2011, whilst at Kilmarnock, he admitted blowing his reported £10k a week wages on gambling, admitting he had a problem since the age of 13.

I could have been a Premier League player for the rest of my days but because of the gambling I had other things on my mind.

Some days at training, my head would be somewhere else completely, and that's maybe why my career was so up and down.

When Kyle left Ayr United in 2014, he was pictured working as a storeman on a ship in the Shetland Islands, allegedly earning £400 a week. The story received big attention in his native Scotland, being seen as a huge fall from grace for a former Premier League footballer, but Kyle, father to three children, simply commented I’m providing for my familywhen questioned on the reasons behind his new career choice.

A true working class bloke from a working class area, with Kevin Kyle there was no super stardom about him and much like his footballing ability, he was nothing if not honest.

It didn’t take long for the big man to get back to hitting the target though, but not perhaps not in the way you’d think. Following a long-held interest in darts, Kyle played in the BDO Scottish Open, where he beat Dutch number nine seed Richard Veenstra - although he has since decided against a professional career.

So there you have it, the heir to Niall Quinn’s throne actually became the family man who wasn’t bad at hitting the target - in darts! Who’d have known.

Kevin Kyle takes aim

Also played for both:

John MacPhail, Darren Williams, Peter Hartley, Ambrose Fogarty, Scott Harrison, Don Hutchison, Ryan Noble, Thomas Butler, Ben Clark.

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