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PLAYERS OF THE DECADES: Sunderland’s greatest player of the 1990s - VOTE NOW!

We’ve looked at the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, but now it’s time for the 1990s - a decade of struggle but one that gave us some of Sunderland’s most fondly remembered characters. We had some good players then, but who was the greatest of them all?

Peter Reid Getty Images

The 1990s started with the young Sunderland team which Denis Smith had put together getting promoted to Division One, only to find themselves relegated on the final day by a Niall-Quinn inspired Manchester City.

That side gradually broke up but achieved an FA Cup final appearance in 1992. After that, we saw a hopeless succession of managers and teams. Bob Murray seemingly lost interest, crowds fell and the feeling was just of despair as we witnessed our Tyne and Tees neighbours storm ahead of us - the decline of 1993-95 felt terminal.

But then Peter Reid cheered us to promotion in 1996 and Bob Murray unveiled plans for a new stadium. The first team which Reid put together couldn’t survive our first-ever Premier League campaign, but 1997 saw us in a new stadium watching attacking football - the like of which a whole generation had never seen before.

Attendances doubled and a play off final defeat was followed by a record breaking promotion year. And then, 1999 and the millennium ended with us in the top three in the Premier League. What a turnaround.


Who was our player of the 1990s?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    Paul Bracewell
    (6 votes)
  • 12%
    Kevin Ball
    (97 votes)
  • 1%
    Michael Gray
    (12 votes)
  • 10%
    Niall Quinn
    (81 votes)
  • 75%
    Kevin Phillips
    (591 votes)
787 votes total Vote Now

Paul Bracewell

Paul Bracewell had three spells at Sunderland. The first - and probably his best - spell was short lived in the 1983/84 season before he left to join Everton. League Championships, England caps and some serious injuries followed but Bracewell re-joined Sunderland at the beginning of the 1989/90 season and lead the side to promotion in 1990. He captained the club for two years and leading the side out at Wembley in the 1992 cup final.

Bracewell was a fine footballer and was the leader of that team - yet carelessly we allowed his contract to expire and he signed for a resurgent Newcastle United immediately after that 1992 final.

That undoubtedly left a bitter taste in the mouth for many, our captain jumping ship like that, but Peter Reid brought Le Brace back to Roker in 1995 and he again held an average midfield together with simple and tidy midfield play. Bracewell and Ball were automatic picks in the midfield for two years.

Paul Bracewell wasn’t a flair player but he was quality. He played a lot of football for Sunderland, in fact 270 committed appearances. He was crucial to our revival, and hugely important to Sunderland in different parts of this particular decade.

Paul Bracewell Getty Images

Kevin Ball

Kevin Ball signed for Sunderland from Portsmouth in 1990 following our promotion back to Division One, coming in as a central defender to replace John MacPhail.

Bally was a true warrior, putting his body on the line for the club and the team and very quickly became a crowd favourite. He played in the 1992 FA Cup team and was a fixture in the disastrous sides of Butcher and Buxton, at times single-handedly keeping the team and the club afloat.

His conversion from central defender to midfield destroyer - and by the end of his time, much much more than that - was incredible. He played some games in midfield prior to Reid’s arrival but it was in 1995 when he really came to the fore when playing alongside Bracewell, forming an impenetrable barrier in front of a rock solid defence. We always seemed to win one nil and much of that was down to that pairing.

In the following Premier League season Ball stepped up in quality again, battling away to becoming the leader of our midfield. Who can forget the diving header in front on the Fulwell end when we beat Chelsea?

Following the move to The Stadium of Light we saw a new brand of attacking football, and many wondered ‘how would Kevin Ball fit in?’ - it mattered not a lot as he was surrounded by quality footballers who would not have been able to play the total football that they did without his presence in the side.

Kevin Ball epitomised Sunderland in the 1990s - a true legend in every sense of the word.

Michael Gray

Michael Gray played for a successful youth team that included the likes of Martin Smith, Craig Russell and Stephen Brodie, and made his first-team debut in late 1992. He quickly became a regular on the left wing but then, like many young players, he was in an out of the team for a time before firmly establishing himself in the 1995/96 promotion year.

From that time onwards Gray was an automatic pick, firstly on the left of midfield and then at left back. It was at left back on the huge Stadium of Light pitch where Gray excelled. His partnership with Allan Johnston was telepathic - often we’d see Johnston hold the ball, do a trick and then from nowhere Gray would be flying down the wing to receive the ball and put a great cross into the box.

Gray was of course the player who missed the penalty in the playoff final shoot-out against Charlton - he was clearly devastated and his career from then could have gone either way. However, he used that experience to play some outstanding football for the next three or four seasons, winning three England caps in the process.

At that time there were few attacking full backs in the country who were better than Michael Gray and his 410 appearances for Sunderland place him high up on the list of Sunderland greats.

Michael Gray of Sunderland Getty Images

Niall Quinn

When Peter Reid signed Niall Quinn from Manchester City just before the 1996/96 season kicked off there was little excitement. Quinn was seen as a player well past his best - a lumbering giant of a centre forward, the type of whom it was felt was a relic from the past.

His first season with us did little to dispel those fears. Serious career-threatening injuries meant that he was a bit part player in a disappointing season. The move to the new Stadium soon came around, though, and Quinn was fit again. At the beginning of that season it felt like a last chance for the big man.

Despite scoring the first goal at the Stadium of Light, the first few weeks of the 1997/98 season were a struggle, but as fitness and enthusiasm returned his game was transformed.

The giant centre forward discovered an unreal touch. He used his body to hold the ball, his intelligent flicks and touches created space and opportunities for others and then the goals came. All sorts of goals - headers, volleys and chipping the Port Vale keeper from 25 yards.

Quinn just continued to get better and better, and when we returned to the Premier League he was unplayable, destroying the likes of Marcel Desailly and Sol Campbell in some incredible and unforgettable displays.

Niall Quinn did many great things for Sunderland, but as a footballer in the 1990s he was absolutely superb.

Kevin Phillips

When Sunderland signed Kevin Phillips from Watford it felt like many other Sunderland signings of that decade. Kevin who? Well that feeling didn’t last long as Kevin Who became Super Kev. What a goal scorer, what a player Kevin Phillips was.

Goals came from everywhere and against everyone. It felt like every time he shot he scored. It was true that he played in an attacking team that created chances, but Kevin Phillips finished them and seemed to finish them all.

His first season in 1997/98 saw him bag 31 goals, the next 23 goals in just 26 games. His first season in the Premier League saw Phillips score 30 goals and become the first - and, to date, only - Englishman to win the European Golden Boot.

Phillips was good enough to score goals against anybody - home or away, taps ins or drives, headers and volleys, he scored them all. A handful of England caps came and his partnership with Quinn was probably the best in the country for a couple of seasons.

Super Kevin Phillips - what a player.

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