Zenden’s angry departure
Bolo Zenden was a popular figure at the Stadium of Light during his two years with Sunderland and even captained the team.
He had figured enough times during the 2010-11 season to trigger an option for an extra year at the club but turned it down after being left upset in the lead up to the final game of the season, a trip to Upton Park to face West Ham United.
Speaking during an appearance on former Sunderland team-mate Nedum Onuoha’s podcast, Zenden explained that he was left angry with the way the staff approached that final game of the season, with a possible top ten place on offer.
Zenden revealed that he was really bothered by the way no-one seemed to care or made an effort to actually win that game and that attitude led him to turn down the chance to stay another year:
The last game of the season, we play West Ham away, we could finish 10th in the league if we win our game and if some other results went our way.
In that last week, we didn’t do anything at all to actually win that game.
So we played a simple 11v11, I remember being really mad - I have to watch my language here - I was mad, so I picked up a ball and kicked it away during that game but on the sideline, no-one really saw, they were just being on the phone, having a chit-chat.
It was like “come on, we can actually finish 10th!”, which means the best ever finish for Sunderland and it really bothered me.
I could sign another year because of the appearances I had and they really wanted me to sign another year but I thought no, I can’t do it another year because I was 34, turning 35, at the time.
So we played that game and I was really mad, I was a bit angry and I went “Listen, I’m not going to sign a new deal, I’m not going to join another year because if it’s going to be my last year, because I am fit, but I didn’t play all the games, so I thought “listen, I just want to go somewhere for one year and enjoy myself, enjoy the football”.
Because I lost a little bit of that joy because of the mentality where everything is fine as long as we are not in the relegation zone and as soon as we got to the relegation zone, all of a sudden everybody got nervous, all of a sudden we had to do stuff, we had to do stuff that normally you would have to do all year long and I was thinking that this is just not me.
If it’s good for the others then fine but I’m not going to do this another year and I said “OK, I won’t sign”.
Coming back to that game, we beat West Ham zero-three in London, I captained the team, I scored the opener and in the end we finished top ten. In the end everyone was so happy but in a sense I was a little bit sad because before the game I knew this was going to be my last game and they didn’t realise it, nobody realised it.
Then I left and I never played again.
Sunderland would go on and win that game but Onuoha agreed with Zenden’s assessment and called the lead up to the game strange:
I do remember that last week of training because I thought the same as you.
When I first came through the door, the aim was ‘we’re going to try and finish top ten this season’, that was the opening goal at the start of the season.
Here we were in the last week and I think we started in 12th but we could finish 10th, so I thought obviously this is a big week, we’re going to spend a lot of time working on this, working on that but that was probably the most lax week of the whole season that we had there.
I thought why is this going on now? Obviously we were fortunate because we played and we won and we achieved our objective but it was strange to be there that week...
You can listen to the entire Nedhum Onuoha podcast with Bolo Zenden by pressing play below:
Woods discusses not being ready for Premier League
Former Sunderland midfielder Martin Woods made his Premier League debut for the club as a substitute in a 1-0 defeat by Liverpool at Anfield at the beginning of the 2005/06 season.
Talking to the Halifax Courier about his career so far, current FC Halifax Town midfielder Woods explained that it was amazing to play against the likes of Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso but admitted that he was nowhere near ready to play at that level:
That was amazing. We lost 1-0 but Steven Gerrard was playing, Xabi Alonso.
It was just crazy, you’re watching players like that growing up. That first season, I just felt like I wasn’t ready, I was out of my comfort zone.
I was probably a bit better than playing reserves but not quite ready for anything like that, especially in a struggling team.
I just felt totally out of my league to be honest. It was because of my lack of game time, a few years later when you’re playing and training you’d love another crack at it.
But at that time, I enjoyed certain times but the manager’s turning round and you’ve got four boys hiding behind the dugout hoping he doesn’t put you on!
It came too soon for me, but still an amazing experience and I’ll never forget it.
My first start in the Premier League was against Tottenham at White Hart Lane, that was unbelievable.
I came off at 2-2 and we ended up losing 3-2. It’s just surreal in a way, it was everything you dream of as a kid.
Woods would end up leaving at the end of the season, joining Rotherham United, and the former Scottish under-21 international called that decision a bitter pill to swallow.
The now 35-year-old was injured when Mick McCarthy had been sacked, after the former Irish manager had promised the player a run of games at the end of the season and with the Drumaville takeover ongoing, Sunderland could not offer Woods a new contract:
At the end of the season Mick McCarthy was sacked when I was away with the Scotland under 21s.
He’d promised to play me in the last few games. We were basically down but he said I’d earned my chance.
Then I rolled my ankle on a dodgy pitch in Scotland and I missed a month or two, during which he was sacked.
We hadn’t done well in the league but that was down to the budget he had. The years after that, Sunderland were flying because they were chucking money about.
If he was given a budget to work with, I feel he’d have made it work and kept them in the league.
It was a really tough year for everybody. We just didn’t have a good enough squad.
The manager got sacked, which I felt was a bit harsh because he’d won the Championship the year previous.
Mick wanted to offer me a new contract but my agent had said ‘let’s wait until after he plays these games’.
So [leaving] was quite a bitter pill to swallow.
At the time, Sunderland didn’t have a manager or a chairman, so Niall Quinn stepped in as both.
Before that, over the summer when they were trying to sort out the takeover, the chief executive was saying to all the players he couldn’t give contracts out, so my agent was saying ‘well you promised it’.
I was only 19. The chief executive said ‘well if you want an answer then it’s no because I can’t give contracts out’, so that was it.
Because of my total lack of game time at that age, people want certain things but I couldn’t offer that and I end up at Rotherham.
O’Nien suprises school
As part of the Premier League Charitable Fund 10th anniversary celebrations, pupils from Barbara Priestman Academy in Sunderland were treated to a surprise video call from Black Cats star Luke O’Nien, to celebrate the news they had been awarded a Premier League Inspires Award.
The Meadowside school, which has been working with Sunderland AFC’s official charity, Foundation of Light for 11 years, supports 11 to 19-year-olds with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder or complex learning difficulties.
The Foundation delivers a variety programmes at Barbara Priestman Academy including PE, lunch and afterschool clubs, school sports days and festivals as well as out of the classroom learning days.
Since 2019 the school has taken part in the Premier League Inspires programme which supports 11 to 25-year-olds who are marginalised or at risk of not reaching their potential; helping them as they move through the education system and early adulthood.
Working with the young people, the Foundation’s team has helped to develop students’ personal skills and positive attitudes to succeed in life, with sessions focused on careers and enterprise, positive living, leadership and life-skills such as teamwork and communication.
One of the students who took part in the talk-in session with Luke said:
I think the Q&A with Luke O’Nien was amazing because it inspired me. It helped me improve my communication skills by asking Luke some questions about his career and interests.
Luke O’Nien, who is the Foundation of Light’s Disability Ambassador, said:
I thought I would drop in and surprise them, as I know they have been working hard on the Premier League Inspires programme.
After discussing his favourite film, how his Aunty who won a Paralympic medal inspired him and that he really enjoyed school, the 26-year-old had this advice about the last few days of school:
Just enjoy every day; they are great times. Sometimes it takes you to get older to realise how great school days are. Make sure you work hard…and enjoy every day. Smile every day.
On behalf of Sunderland football club, I wanted to congratulate you on your award. You’ve done a great job and you’ve inspired a lot of people. Keep up the great work!
Speaking about the special Premier League award, Assistant Head of Academy, Glen Richardson said:
We are really honoured to be recognised with the Premier League Inspires Award – it is very special for all of the staff and students at the Academy, it’s fantastic way for the students to learn the special news. Luke was fantastic and I have no doubt has made memories for the students today which they will be talking about for a long time.
Following the initial lockdown earlier this year, Barbara Priestman Academy was one of the first schools to recommence Foundation of Light delivery.
Mr Richardson explains:
The Premier League Inspires programme has become an integral part of our school learning. The work that the Foundation does in school gives our young people invaluable confidence and presents them with new and exciting opportunities and skills.
As we returned to the classroom in September after the initial lockdown, we knew that the Foundation team were going to play a big part in helping our young people transition back into the learning environment. The support they have given us has been fantastic.
The Premier League Charitable Fund was established 10 years ago to distribute funding provided by the Premier League to clubs across the entire football pyramid, to support those clubs in their delivery of community programmes.
110 professional football clubs from the Premier League to the National League have been working in their communities to engage those that need the greatest support, provide positive pathways and support mental and physical wellbeing.