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PLAYERS OF THE DECADES: Sunderland’s greatest player of the 1980s - VOTE NOW!

We’ve looked at the 50s, 60s and 70s, but now it’s time for the 1980s - a decade which saw the club jump up and down the leagues, with a cup final thrown into the mix. We had some good players then, but who was the greatest of them all?

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The 1980s started with Sunderland fresh from promotion back to division one. What followed was a few years of battling against the drop and the sadness of seeing the Roker End chopped in half.

After a Wembley appearance and defeat in 1985 we limped out of the First Division and endured two disastrous years of Lawrie McMenemy, leading to a further relegation to the Third Division for the first time in our history.

A long running board room battle saw Bob Murray eventually take control of the club, and the subsequent appointment of Denis Smith as manager in 1987 lead us to promotion back to Division Two. At the end of the decade, under Murray and Smith, we were a much more stable and happy club - with some top players to boot.

But who is our favourite? Who is the player of this decade?

Read our suggestions below before voting for who you think deserves that mantle - the poll closes at 10pm BST on Saturday 3rd of November.


Who was our player of the 1980s?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    Chris Turner
    (34 votes)
  • 3%
    Stan Cummins
    (23 votes)
  • 25%
    Gary Bennett
    (195 votes)
  • 5%
    Eric Gates
    (41 votes)
  • 61%
    Marco Gabbiadini
    (464 votes)
757 votes total Vote Now

Chris Turner

Chris Turner signed for Sunderland in 1979 from Sheffield Wednesday for £80,000. He had to win a big battle to replace the popular Barry Siddall as first choice goalkeeper, and for a couple of seasons they shared the #1 spot.

In the 1982/83 season Turner truly became first choice and, by the time he signed for Manchester United in 1985, he had racked up 223 appearances for Sunderland.

Turner was small for a goalkeeper but made up for his lack of height with speed across his line, great agility and fine reflexes.

Who can forget his performance in the Milk Cup quarter final away to Tottenham? His form that season was outstanding, with the Fulwell chanting “Turner must stay” as his sale seemed to be an inevitable consequence of relegation. A mark of his popularity was that supporters held collections to try and raise the cash to keep him at the club.

Getty Images

Stan Cummins

Stan Cummins was a small man, but a big £300,000 signing from Middlesbrough in November 1979. Cummins was a winger or attacking midfield player and stood five foot four.

He made a huge difference to Ken Knighton’s side, though, and was the catalyst to help us to promotion. In that 1980 promotion year, Cummins scored four goals against Burnley and, of course, the winner against Newcastle at Roker Park.

He also managed to make the step up after promotion and was our best attacking player for a further three seasons in the top flight before a cock up with his contract lead to him being granted a free transfer to Crystal Palace at the end of the 1982/83 season.

Stan returned to Sunderland in 1984 for a short spell and, by the time he left again in 1985, he had racked up a total of 32 goals in 165 appearances.

Gary Bennett

Len Ashurst brought Gary Bennett to Sunderland from Cardiff in the summer of 1984 - and the initial £65,000 spent was one of the best pieces of business made by the club, probably ever.

Bennett - who now of course still lives in the north east and works as a match summariser for BBC Radio Newcastle - was a fixture in Sunderland’s side for the next ten years, captaining the club through a difficult time and leading the team to promotion in 1988.

Gary Bennett was a stylish, pacy central defender and his exciting strides forward with the ball were great to watch. He has the distinction of playing at Wembley three times for Sunderland and played 442 games for the club, scoring 25 goals.

Getty Images

Eric Gates

When Lawrie McMenemy brought England International striker Eric Gates to Sunderland from Ipswich Town it was seen as a huge coup. Gates was an established top flight player in 1985 and although he was aged 30, he was still seen as a quality addition.

Gates’ first two seasons at the club did not lead to the expected promotion and indeed ended in a disastrous relegation. Gates was disappointing, although he was top scorer in 1985/86.

It was in the third division and in the following two seasons back in the second division where Gates starred, though. He rediscovered his form and enthusiasm for the game and formed an outstanding relationship with Marco Gabbiadini, a partnership known as The G Force. Gates was the creator, using his intelligence and skill to make chances and score a good number himself.

Eric spent five years at Sunderland - two of them wasted in the mess of 1985-1987, the following three ending in glory. Overall, he scored 55 goals in 220 appearances and will always be remembered fondly.

Eric Gates Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images

Marco Gabbiadini

The other half of the G Force, Marco Gabbiadini arrived in Sunderland from York City aged just 19 in the early part of the 1987/88 season.

To say he arrived with a bang is an understatement - no other player in this decade had the electric pace and power that Marco had, and he excited the Roker faithful in a way that no player had done for several years.

His first season ended in promotion from Division 3 - his telepathic understanding with Eric Gates was a joy, and they complimented each other so well. And, when Sunderland stepped up a level, Gabbiadini stepped up several levels, scoring over 20 goals in each of the 87/88, 88/89 and 89/90 seasons.

In total Marco scored 87 goals in 185 appearances - a great strike rate from a very exciting footballer, one who was a hero to many young Sunderland supporters at the time and to this day.

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