In the doomed summer spending spree of 2002, that included Tore Andre Flo and Marcus Stewart, Sunderland were also making signings with the future in mind.
Sean Thornton was brought to the club from Tranmere Rovers for a tribunal set £225,000 despite having only made eleven first team appearances for the Wirral based club.
A move that would eventually cost Sunderland £1,500 when, after being found guilty of breaching FA and Football League rules, we were later fined by the FA for an illegal approach.
The talented midfielder was one of the younger players who benefited from Sunderland’s poor form and inevitable relegation that provided more first team opportunities. Thornton made an impression during 2003 after Howard Wilkinson handed him his Sunderland debut in an FA Cup third round replay at Bolton Wanderers that Sunderland won 2-0 after extra time.
Despite an impressive opening to his Sunderland career, under new manager Mick McCarthy, Thornton never cemented a first team place on his time on Wearside. Despite proving his rapping capabilities, a struggle with injuries and loss of form and/or fitness hindered his time with Sunderland and he eventually left signing for League One Doncaster Rovers in for £175,000 in 2005.
Two years and fifty-nine appearances later, Thornton was released by Donny and picked up on a free transfer by Leyton Orient. A fairly settled three years at The O’s would follow where he would make almost one hundred appearances whilst becoming a bit of a cult hero. This led to a local folk-punk act releasing a song in tribute.
Failing to reach that initial potential that the Sunderland fans saw back in 2003, moves within the Welsh Premier League and the League of Ireland have followed since release from Orient in 2010 at the age of 26.
David Kelly started his career at Walsall in 1983 and had a very impressive start to his career over the next five years scoring 63 goals in 147 appearances. This was enough to gain moves to West Ham United and Leicester City before Ossie Ardiles took him to Newcastle United for £250,000 in 1991.
Kevin Keegan soon took over at Newcastle and led them to promotion the following year where despite the big money signings, Kelly received the player of the year award. He left that summer following the signing of Peter Beardsley, moving to Graham Taylor’s Wolverhampton Wanderers where he would eventually team up with Don Goodman.
In 1995, Peter Reid recognised that he needed a signing to give Sunderland that last push towards promotion to the Premier League for the first time, he decided that Kelly was his man and signed on the dotted line for just short of £1 million in September 1995. Almost immediately he was struck with an ankle injury meaning he would only make 10 league appearances.
After becoming a bit-part player the following season, he moved to Tranmere Rovers in August 1997 for a fee of £350,000. The Republic of Ireland international striker went on to to have a fairly successful three years on Merseyside where he’d score 21 goals in 88 appearances before having spells at Sheffield United, Motherwell and Mansfield, finally ending his career at Derry City in 2002.
Since retiring Kelly has had several coaching and assistant manager roles with Tranmere Rovers, Sheffield United, Preston North End, Derby County, Nottingham Forest, Walsall, Scunthorpe United and Port Vale.
Dariusz Kubicki made his professional debut with Stal Mielec in his native Poland in 1981 where he’d spend two years before a big move to Legia Warsaw in 1983. The full-back spent almost ten years there making almost two hundred appearances for club that included a UEFA Cup Winners Cup semi-final (first-leg) appearance against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1991.
His form in Poland attracted the attention of Aston Villa and manager Ron Atkinson who he’d join in the summer of 1992. His two years at Villa Park were largely spent as back-up and inevitably a move from the West Midlands would come in the form of an initial loan deal towards the end of the 1993-94 season to Mick Buxton’s Sunderland.
It would need only take fifteen games during that loan move to convince Buxton to crowbar £100,000 from Bob Murray to make the move permanent in the summer of 1994. It would, however, need the departure of Buxton as manager and the introduction of Peter Reid for Sunderland to move in the right direction where the full-back combination of Kubicki on the right and Martin Scott on the left played a vital part in the championship winning side of 1995-96.
The two full-backs played one hundred games in all competitions between them for Peter Reid that year and were vital in the new style of play that was introduced where quite often the full-backs were utilised to begin the attack down the flanks.
Popular with the fans for his consistent performances, the Polish international was bizarrely dropped for a Premier League game away to Derby County the following season when he was due to match George Mulhall’s post-war record for consecutive appearances - he was replaced by Gareth Hall...
After that, and an apparent falling out with Reid, the writing was on the wall and he was released in the summer of 1997 where he was picked up by Wolverhampton Wanderers. He’d only make a handful of appearances at Molineux in a pattern that would repeat at Tranmere Rovers (on loan), Carlisle United and Darlington before he retired in 1999.
Once retired, he returned to Legia Warsaw as initially assistant manager before taking over as manager in 2003. He has gone on to manage 12 other clubs in across Europe where a number have been outside of Poland after he was accused of involvement in bribery scandal that engulfed Polish football during the early 2000’s.
Kubicki’s son - Patryk Kubicki - is also a professional footballer, plying his trade in Russia for Znicz Pruszków where Dariusz was relieved from his position as manager last year.