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Interview: Roker Report meets... former Sunderland striker Don Goodman! (part two)

He’s big and bad - ex-Sunderland striker Don Goodman sat down with us to run through his time as a player at Roker Park. In part two, we talk about playing under Terry Butcher and his regrets with leaving the club when he did.

Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

RR: Terry Butcher came in as manager and added your strike partner Phil Gray to the side alongside some other really good players. What was your opinion on Terry and why it didn’t work out?

DG: Erm... it’s a really difficult question. I’d never want to speak negatively about someone I have so much respect for as a player but Terry’s managerial career will tell you he was a better player than he turned out to be a manager.

It’s hard to put your finger on why it didn’t work out. There were a few managers in a short space of time and it was a difficult club to steer in the right path at that time. The players have to take their fair share of the blame for why the club wasn’t challenging at the top end of Division One. We were mid-table at best.

But when you list they players we had, we were underachieving as a group, so I think the players have to take their fair share of it. It wasn’t that long after I left Reidy came in and everything went onto an upwards spiral.

When I saw Sunderland turn it around, I had an element of regret. I can’t lie, I saw players I was playing with - like Bally - and they were progressing and I did feel some envy. I can’t lie.

Photo by Peter Hatter/EMPICS via Getty Images

RR: Around that time, a certain game at The New Den made for some interesting TV. What are your memories of that battle with Kasey Keller? The way he acted it was like he’d been hit with a flying mallet!

DG: I remember it clearly!

We scored a late goal through Andy Melville but we were still losing and it gave us a chance to get back into the game, so I ran into the net to get the ball, Kasey got there just ahead of me, there was a bit of a wrestling match and he just managed to swing around and he caught me flush across the chin.

The red mist came down and I swung a glancing blow. I shouldn’t really say this, but if you’re going to get sent off, you want to make sure it’s a good one and it wasn’t! (laughs)

If Kasey is honest with all of us, he probably could have handled it without falling to the ground like he did, but it was what it was.

RR: Do you find it funny that Sunderland fans booed him every time we came up against him after that? We literally never forgive him!

DG: Good grief, every time he came to the North East Sunderland fans gave him absolute dog’s abuse. We had a laugh about it afterwards, it was just one of those things that happened in the moment, but like I said no hard feelings.

But I do know about the stick he got every time he came back to Sunderland - and that is just brilliant! (laughs)

RR: We never let him forget it...

DG: Yep! It was remarkable. I had a little giggle to myself when he came up the first time. I didn’t realise how long it lasted (the stick Keller received), but it brings a broad smile to my face knowing he got it for years after I left. Brilliant.

He went on to have a great career though.

RR: Terry Butcher didn’t last very long and we appointed Mick Buxton to steady the ship. You played under Mick for a year, how did you find Mick as a man and as a manager?

DG: He was a great, great man. I adored him, Yorkshireman like myself, said it as it was, no glossing over things, straight down the barrel and I responded to that - but if I’m honest I think the job for him, at that time in his life, was just a little bit beyond him.

Things were changing fast in football and it was hard for Mick in the long term. In the short term he managed to steady the ship, but the long term was hard for him.

Possibly on reflection he may not have been the right choice at that time, but as a man - I wouldn’t have a bad word said about him. I loved him.

RR: The form improved under Mick and we stayed up comfortably, but within a year we struggled again and bobbed around the bottom half of Division One. Then Wolves make a bid. What convinced you to leave Sunderland/what did Wolves offer?

DG: It was December 5th when I left and the reason I know the date is that it was exactly three years to the day I joined Sunderland.

I remember I was playing in the reserves at Anfield of all places and at half-time I was taken off and told me why. They had accepted a bid. They never got the figure right publicly. They said £1.1m but it was actually £1.2m with £100k after 20 games and another £100k after 40 games - it was actually £1.4m, but hardly any publications know that, so there’s an exclusive for you!

It was a lot of money and it meant Sunderland made a profit on me, which I was pleased about because I loved the club.

I left with a heavy heart.

My stock was high even though I was having a bit of a barren spell at the time. I always did well against Graham Taylor’s team and I think he remembered that. He liked the pacey, athletic players if you remember.

The sole reason for leaving Sunderland to go to Wolves was it was a better opportunity for me to be a Premier League footballer. Wolves were spending big money on players and they had they likes of Steve Frogatt on the left, Tony Daley on the right - they had a good team and they were bringing in players trying to get to the Premier League.

It was a genuine opportunity to get into the top tier. That was the only reason I left. Sunderland weren’t going anywhere fast, certainly they weren’t looking like getting closer to the Premier League, the former England manager comes in for you. It was a no brainer really.

I was told the club (Wolves) would not stop until they got to the Premier League and I bought into that, but I left with a heavy heart. I was leaving fans who treat me so well for those three years, made me feel good and had put me on a pedestal. It wasn’t easy to leave them.

RR: Do you ever wish you’d stayed a little bit longer and had a chance to be part of the 1995/96 promotion team and played under Reidy?

DG: Yeah. As I said. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time, both in life and in football. At the end of the day, I don’t think anybody, no matter how passionate or how much you loved Sunderland AFC would have foreseen the club getting promoted in that short space of time from me leaving. It just didn’t likely at all.

If I had a crystal ball, then of course I would have stayed but life isn’t liked that.

I was thrilled for Bally and the Lads I knew from the club, for the fans and Sunderland in general, but you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have a little bit of the “if only” about that.

RR: You came back to Roker Park a season later and you were taken off at half time. How different was Roker Park as an opposition player rather than a SAFC player?

DG: I actually don’t remember that too much, but I do remember Molineux - I think we won 3-0 and I scored. I don’t remember the Roker Park game.

RR: Is that because you lost 2-0?

DG: Yes, perhaps it’s selective memory!

At Molineux though, I remember I had a bit of abuse, some of the Sunderland fans who hadn’t quite forgiven me for leaving, so when I scored raw emotion came over a little bit. I did celebrate scoring. I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed it because of the stick I was getting.

It’s part and parcel of football, but what always staggers me about fans of every club is booing a player just motivates them!

RR: You were on the bench for Wolves in 1997 at the Stadium of Light. Were you disappointed you never got on the pitch and played at the SOL?

DG: (sighs) I can tell you I was fuming. Mark McGhee was the manager of Wolves at that time and we didn’t have a great relationship for whatever reason.

The fact is I have never ever played at the Stadium of Light, commentated there numerous time but never played. I felt like he (McGhee) robbed me of that. When I think back, were we losing, or drawing?

RR: It was 1-1!

DG: 1-1! So to not get on and be given a shot at winning the game for Wolves against my former club - I was devastated to be honest, even angry. These things happen though.

RR: Onto to your current situation. How are you finding work at Sky? Do you find it difficult commentating on your former clubs in your current role at Sky TV without being biased?

DG: No, it’s the opposite actually! Because I care about clubs like Sunderland, Wolves, Leeds, West Brom - I’m probably a bit harder on them then I should be ‘cause I care.

It’s difficult when they aren’t doing well because you just want them to do well and be successful and when you see blatant things - what a player is doing, how the club is being run etc - it’s hard.

I don’t just mean Sunderland, but all those clubs I mentioned before that I care about.

I would say I’m probably harder on them than I should be.