Throw your mind back ten years to that summer. 2006, that was an unnerving pre-season, a lack of a manager, signing Kenny Cunningham on a free transfer, Ben Alnwick in goal and the unknowns from Drumaville lurking in the backgrund.
Sunderland had just been relegated with a record low points total of fifteen and despite the positive energy emanating from new Chairman Niall Quinn, the prospect of a struggle in the Championship was very real.
Martin O’Neill, David O’Leary and Sam Allardyce had already rejected the offer to become head honcho on Wearside. So, with no manager on the horizon, Quinny went on a scouting mission himself, inviting potential loans and free agents to the Academy of Light for a trial, hoping to bring in hungry youngsters or potential bargains from the continent. Remember young William Mocquet? Of course you do.
A certain Anthony Stokes of Arsenal was one of those youngsters but he failed to initially convince our interim manager. However, within months the Irishman would return.
Despite being highly rated by the Gunners, it had become abundantly clear that Stokes needed a loan move to prove himself. After failing to grab a move to the North East, he instead moved to SPL newcomers Falkirk.
It was at The Bairns where the Dublin-born forward would come of age, scoring sixteen goals in eighteen games during a six month loan spell. This period was underpinned by a healthy relationship with manager John Hughes; a man Stokes would come to build a special relationship with.
The young forward's goalscoring exploits grabbed headlines and attention and as Sunderland searched for a number nine, once a certain Irish legend was installed at the Stadium of Light, the lure of playing for Roy Keane was enough to convince young Stokesy to head for Wearside and we beat Charlton and Celtic to his signature for a fee of £2m.
I spoke to Roy Keane about everything; he told me his hopes for the club, and it made up my mind.
Sunderland achieved promotion during that first season, though Stokes spent the majority of the run-in on the bench, scoring a measly two goals in fourteen appearances.
His start on Wearside was marred by rumours of issues around attitude and the excitement that surrounded Stokes' signing soon fizzled out.
On our return to the Premiership, the player was given a huge vote of confidence, starting ahead of key summer signing Michael Chopra for the opening day visit of Tottenham. Spending most of the game anonymous, he was replaced by the former Newcastle striker in the 72 minute who went on to smash home a memorable last minute winner.
Despite scoring a last winner of his own in a 1-0 win over Derby County a few months later, Stokes reverted to something of a bit-part role as off-field problems festered, most notably with a ban from The Glass Spider.
The following season, as Stokes looked increasingly slow, decidedly unfit and uninterested, he was loaned out to Sheffield United and Crystal Palace shortly after scoring two late goals against Northampton in the League Cup; a game more famous for Keano kung-fu kicking a tactics board such was his intense frustration at the performance.
Stokes was then reunited with former manager John Hughes at Hibernian for a fee of £500,000 and returned to the SPL after a two-year absence. He would later criticise his former Sunderland teammates in an interview with The Telegraph, claiming
When I was at Sunderland you had boys coming in who were on £100k a week. There were incidents where boys wouldn’t do gym sessions or wouldn’t do swimming sessions because they were getting braids put in their hair.
In years to come he would praise the management style of Hughes, claiming "I've had some of the happiest times of my football career under him".
It didn’t take long for the relationship to aid the Dublin-born striker rediscover his scoring touch; as he hit 22 goals in 40 games.
This upturn in form earned a move to Celtic, which presented him with his most successful period of his career, winning the Scottish Premiership four times, alongside two Scottish Cups and a League Cup. He would also appear regularly for The Bhoys in Green during their Champions League runs.
An Irishman with a penchant for a Guinness was embraced as you would expect on the green side of Glasgow; becoming a cult hero at Parkhead for his misdemeanours off the pitch as much as his efforts on it. Famously, his Dad’s pub banned The Queen and the royal family in 2011, coining the chant ‘Stokesy’s Da, he hates The Queen’ on the terraces of Parkhead.
A hair transplant later and a fall out with Ronny Delia saw him move back to Hibs on loan in 2016, where he wrote himself into Hibernian folklore. Stokes scored two goals in the Scottish Cup Final, being named man-of-the-match in the process as the Easter Road side won 3–2 against Rangers - their first win in the competition in 114 years.
Still only 28, the Dubliner has just been relegated to League One with Blackburn Rovers, where he was comprehensively outscored by a certain Danny Graham.
True to form though, Stokes still manages to get in the headlines for off-field misconduct. In February, he was charged with headbutting an Elvis impersonator in his hometown, the footballer paying his victim €30,000 for breaking his nose and two of his teeth.
Oh Tony, when will you ever learn?
Also played for both:
Liam Miller, Neil Martin, Steven Fletcher, Craig James, Gordon Chisholm, Joe Baker.