1. Richie Ryan - El Paso Locomotive - Age 34
The former Republic of Ireland youth international only appeared for the Lads for a mere fourteen minutes, replacing Michael Proctor in the dying moments of a 1-0 home defeat to Newcastle United and in turn making one of the most daunting of debuts.
You’d be forgiven if you thought Ryan had simply vanished from the game. A victim of cost-cutting perhaps? It’s logical thinking considering only weeks after his debut Sunderland were relegated and redundancies were handed out right, left and John Mensah.
Thankfully for the former Academy graduate his release didn’t coincide with early retirement and he is now into his fourteenth season as a professional after carving out a successful career in America, where he has racked up over 100 appearances.
2. Justin Hoyte - FC Cincinnati - Age 34
Part of the prestigious Arsenal youth academy, brothers Gavin and Justin Hoyte were tipped for the very top of the game by legendary boss Arsene Wenger.
His brother Gavin classed his one Premier League appearance for the Gunners as the “highlight” of his career, whereas Justin appeared over 100 times in the top tier, performing full back-back duties for ourselves, Arsenal and Middlesbrough.
After being relegated with ‘Boro, Hoyte spent the next seven seasons in the Championship before moving stateside, where he has been playing for FC Cincinnati in the United Soccer League.
3. Paulo Da Silva - Libertad - Age 39
“He’s our defender, from Paraaaaguuuuuuayyyyy...” - not only is he still playing, but the big lad is challenging for trophies at the ripe of age of 39 in the Paraguayan Primera División!
Okay, so he hasn’t won anything since 2017 but he’s still one of the first names on the team-sheet at the Estadio Dr. Nicolás Léoz, where he has formed a solid partnership with summer signing Diego Viera that has helped his team win four of their opening five games.
4. Jean Yves-Mvoto - Nybergsund - Age 30
“Jean is one for the future” said Roy Keane upon the Frenchman’s arrival. But, despite his exotic name and athletic stature, Jean never played for the Lads and never played any higher than the Championship, when he appeared twenty eight times for Barnsley during the 2013/14 season.
Norwegian fourth tier side Nyburgsund signed up big Jean in the summer after he spent the last few years bopping around the Scottish lower leagues.
5. Carlos Cuellar - Free agent - Age 37
I was genuinely shocked to discover that the former Rangers player of the year and Martin O’Neill favourite Cuellar is still only 37-years-old - and not because he looks old, quite the opposite, but I could have sworn he was about that age when we signed him.
Anyhow, the proud vegan and Adam Sandler lookalike has spent the last few seasons rocking his curly locks in the Israeli Premier League for Europa League hopefuls Bnei Yehuda.
Despite his release last month, he has vowed to continue playing.
6. Roy O’Donovan - Brisbane Roar - Age 34
For a young Irish goal-machine who was pushed out onto the right wing on Wearside to an experienced goalscorer in the Australian A-League, Roy, you’ve lived a life many of us would have given a kidney for.
Yes, believe it or not, after tearing it up on loan for Hartlepool in 2010, little old Roy saw a vision of his football future and took a path to warmer climates to become a real legend of the A-League.
After a prolific couple of years playing for Michael Bridges’ old club Newcastle Jets, O’Donovan moved to rivals Brisbane Roar recently, who also bizarrely signed a bunch of Bury players this summer for no reason other than they were free, presumably.
7. Darren Carter - Solihull Moors - Age 35
You remember the Brummie loan star, don’t you? Course you do! Back in the winter of 2005 he was the toast of Wearside. The 6’2” midfielder looked head and shoulders above the likes of Jeff Whitley, Sean Thornton and Carl Robinson.
We were linked to him following our promotion too, but alas, he escaped our grasp and stayed in Birmingham with West Brom.
If you don’t remember any of this because it happened forever ago, it’s perhaps even more surprising that he’s still only 37-years of age and performing in the National League for Solihull Moors.
8. Tal Ben Haim - Beitar Jerusalem - Age 37
We haven’t seen him on British shores since he departed Championship Charlton back in 2015, and you couldn’t be blamed for thinking Ben Haim had called time on his playing days and invested in fancy hairbands.
But you’d be wrong!
Whilst Tal had a rather impressive fall from grace - not many players have gone from being signed by Jose Mourinho to being loaned by Ricky Sbragia in under three years - he is still playing first team football after finding his feet again back in his home country of Israel, where he recently joined Beitar Jerusalem after winning three league titles with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
9. Oumare Tounkara - Astra Giurgiu - Age 29
Mikael Mandron, Craig Lynch, Ryan Noble - names of players who seemed to play for our reserve team perpetually before drifting off into relative, or complete, obscurity.
Former youth team striker Oumare Tounkara is another name that appeared to fall through the footballing trap door, but the 6’1” powerhouse striker has actually done alright.
He’s wracked up more clubs than league goals, but fair play to him for managing to forge a career in the game.
After spells at Bristol Rovers, Stevenage and Châteauroux he currently finds himself in the Romanian top tier, performing for Astra Giurgiu.
10. Cristian Riveros - Libertad - Age 36
Saving the best ‘til last, we have a man who passes with precision, precision, precision. Yes, our midfield magician is still performing duties in the engine room of Paraguayan side Libertad.
For those of you paying attention earlier, well done for noticing he’s lining up alongside his fellow Paraguayan pal and former Wearsider Paulo. Yes, like a South American version of The Notebook, the former World Cup star moved to Libertad a year after his former team mate.
He went on to mention Paulo in his opening press conference, stating “Paulo, you are my best friend as well as my lover, and I do not know which side of you I enjoy the most”.