Does Mick McCarthy era provoke mixed emotions? You’re not alone.
Despite Premier League woes there were also a lot of Championship highs.
We drove across the Pennines, from Manchester, to get to this game on Friday 24th September 2004. The night started eventfully as traffic slowed near the stadium and crawled around two stationary vehicles at a roundabout outside Elland Road. Two very big men were stood arguing in the middle of the traffic, toe to toe, very close to each other, and angry. What did this portend, I wondered.
Thankfully, I didn’t see much trouble at the game.
There was a man, wearing Burberry, sat in front of me in the upper tier, behind the goal. The man behind me (clearly drunk) kept chanting at him: ‘you’re wearing Burberry, you must be a football hooligan’.
This chant was so lacking in any kind of creative ability that it had to be admired.
The chanter was so drunk that sometimes he would tail off and forget to finish it. Burberry man never stirred.
The police did arrive at various points to take people out, but very few. My wife welcomed this diversion. Her last league away game was Reading in 1997. This was much more pleasant. She has always enjoyed the games for the theatre of almost everything else except the football.
And it was an eventful night. The first thing I remember, before the match started, was a minute’s silence for Brian Clough, who had died that week. I was interested to see how the Leeds fans would react – whether they would observe it respectfully.
Most of them did.
Brian Clough was then celebrated in some of the chants that evening from the away end. The fans were in good voice at Leeds. We tend to get out the best china for these sort of games.
Paul Butler starred for Leeds, in the heart of their defence. Brian Deane played upfront. Even the most proficient SAFC anorak could be forgiven for waking in the night and thinking: Brian Deane...did he play for us? But he did – later that very season. He figured in a few games towards the end.
Playing for Leeds that day, Deane scored a disallowed goal. The referee judged there to have been a foul on Mart Poom. There wasn’t. So that was lucky.
Sunderland’s team in this Liam Lawrence-Dean Whitehead era also included Gary Breen, Jeff Whitley and Stephen Elliott.
I really liked Dean Whitehead. He was a hardworking player, at the heart of our failures and successes at this time, and he was very accomplished against other Championship midfielders.
It was 0-0 at half-time in this game. Neither side had dominated. The second half was to prove more interesting.
On sixty-five minutes Carl Robinson took a quick free kick and a subsequent return pass which saw him glide through the Leeds defence and slot the ball home. Burberry Man, and the rest of us, went mad.
I think it was a little later that Leeds were awarded a penalty for a relatively soft pulldown on one of their players in the box. Alas, we had all been here before. Except that Mart Poom saved it. And the celebrations proved it was as good as a goal.
It was reachable and low but Poom dived and punched it away firmly. The unsung hero was the lad – I can’t remember who it was – who ran in fast and whipped it away from the Leeds player following up.
A celebratory atmosphere broke out among the away fans as the game moved towards its conclusion. Stephen Elliott and Chris Brown moved the ball around nicely upfront and we were hopeful of another goal. Normally at 1-0 we are angst ridden. Not so on that night.
Things became almost surreal on 81 minutes when Chris Brown was substituted, and on came Michael Bridges. This talisman of better times was warmly greeted. He didn’t score. But it was nice to see him. He’d also played for Leeds... when they were good.
The game ended. We had won. It was great.
We won a lot of games that 94 point season and not always by much. When we turned out against Stoke, at home, in that final game, with more than 47,000 cheering us on, and Stoke obligingly turned up and lost 1-0, that was also great.
But we had already been spoilt by the team who did likewise in 1999. The team who won the championship in 2005 wasn’t of the same calibre.
The Mick McCarthy era? Mixed emotions. But some good memories too.