You wouldn’t think it now, but Sunderland have been blessed to have some very talented individuals to play for the club.
The question is, who were the best, and what four heads would be on your hypothetical Mount Rushmore?
Preparation for writing this article ended up being a lot more difficult than anticipated. There have been many players over the years that have played an integral role in the history of our club. It was a complicated process in narrowing them down to just four names. How much do you focus on players that have brought silverware to the club? Or is longevity and commitment to the cause a more important factor? Also, me being 25, how much does recency bias control my thought process? These are all things that had to be considered.
I am certain that many will disagree with my choices, but it’s all about opinions, eh?
Granted, we are not blessed with a trophy room that would make anyone in England or further afield sit up and take notice, but when it comes to this, does that really matter? This club has had some fantastic servants and talented individuals that donned the Red ‘n White stripes. Many names came up in the conversation in my head and many deserve a mention in the process.
One position that has curiously always been a strong one at the club has been goalkeepers (other than 2017/18 of course). The obvious one is Jim Montgomery. A man who needs very little introduction to the Sunderland faithful for his integral role in the ‘73 cup final team. Who can forget that save in the final against Leeds? The save itself is almost remembered more so than Ian Porterfield’s goal. A career that spanned 17 years and almost 600 appearances, along with the fact that he is a local lad makes Monty a strong candidate to make the mountain.
Any keeper that saves a penalty at St James Park will always win the hearts of Sunderland fans. Thomas Sorensen and Simon Mignolet both managed to achieve this feat and for that reason will surely always be adored by Sunderland fans. The penalty saves aside, both goalkeepers had very good careers at the club and featured in some of Sunderland’s greatest wins in more recent times.
In more recent times, the words ‘Sunderland’ and ‘defending’ usually lead on to phrases such as ‘comical’ or ‘embarrassing’ or ‘how in the name of god did David Moyes spend 8 million on that useless imbecile?’. Believe me, there was a time that we actually kept a few clean sheets and not every footballer who had not scored in thirty games scored against us.
In 1979, an Irishman known as ‘The King’ was voted Sunderland’s player of the century. Charlie Hurley amassed over 400 games for the club. He was a strong physical presence. This, along with his aerial ability led to him being just as effective at the other end of the field where he scored 26 goals for the club. It is impossible to discuss this topic without mentioning favourably Dave Watson and Richie Pitt. The two men who were at the heart of the defence on our memorable day. Watson in particular, went from strength to strength after the cup win and won over 60 caps for England and playing in the first division with Manchester City.
Every club loves a local lad who comes through the academy to have a successful career at the club. Michael Gray was this man. He made over 300 appearances at the club and was also captain of the club under the stewardship of Peter Reid. This was one of the clubs most successful times in their history ensuring that Gray is worthy of a mention.
Players like Len Ashurst, John O’ Shea and Gary Bennett also showed fantastic commitment to the club and deserve a mention.
Bobby Kerr was the leader of the ‘73 band ensuring that he is in the reckoning. In addition to this, he made over 350 appearances for Sunderland in a 12-year spell showing terrific loyalty to the club. That famous band also included players such as Denis Tueart and, of course, the match winner Ian Porterfield.
The word loyalty can also be attached to the names of Kevin Ball and Stan Anderson who both spent many years at the club. Ball has done it all at the club on and off the pitch. He made over 300 appearances in a 9-year spell. Not only that, he has been involved ever since in many capacities and is an outstanding ambassador to the club. Anderson made over 400 appearances for the club before jumping ship to Newcastle. There is an abundance of midfielders over the years that have been loved by fans.
Players such as Julio Arca, Gavin McCann, Gary Owers and even Lee Cattermole deserve a mention. It would also be remiss of me to mention Dean Whitehead and Jordan Henderson. The latter has gone on to the great things since he has left Sunderland. If circumstances were different, he would be a shoo-in for a place on the mountain.
Goals win games and all fans love a player who can find the net on a regular basis. Look no further than Raich Carter or Kevin Phillips. Whilst from two different generations, these two men have outstanding stats when it comes to goals scored for the club. As does Niall Quinn. In addition to his telepathic like partnership with the aforementioned Phillips, Quinn will always be remembered as the man who saved a club that was in dire straits and brought them on a rollercoaster ride under the management of Roy Keane.
Jermain Defoe was only at the club for a couple of seasons but his goals and his relationship with Bradley Lowery endeared himself to the club and deserves his mention. It is a case of what could have been for someone like Darren Bent who was quickly becoming a Sunderland legend until he departed for Aston Villa in controversial circumstances in 2011. Speaking about players who scored goals for the club, Gary Rowell spent a goal laden ten years at the club with a ratio of almost 1 in 3 which secures his place in the running.
Narrowing down this list to only four individuals was almost an impossible task and one, I am sure will cause debate. However this was the task I set myself and the four men who I think should be on a newly constructed monument in Sunderland City Centre are below.
4. Raich Carter
Born in Hendon, Carter was a local lad. He was someone who was destined for a successful career and excelled in many sports during his school years. According to several accounts, Carter was awarded for outstanding ability in football and cricket upon his departure from Hendon Board School.
In 1931, Carter signed amateur forms with Sunderland. There were reservations from people at the club who perceived him to be too small to make it to the top. He would go on to have a fantastic career at the club which included him captaining Sunderland to the 1936 Division One title. At that time, he was the youngest captain ever of a Division One title winning team. This was followed up by a FA Cup winners medal with the club in 1937. Sunderland won 3-1 against Preston North End and Carter was amongst the scorers.
Described as ‘Clever and lethal in front of goal’ by teammates, Raich Carter’s goalscoring record at Sunderland speaks for itself. 118 goals in 245 appearances is a legacy that stands the test of time and had it not been for outbreak of WWII, Carter’s record could have been significantly greater.
He went on to have spells with Derby, Hull City and Birmingham, where his goal record was always immensely high. He also scored 7 goals in 13 games for England.
3. Charlie Hurley
Born in County Cork in Ireland, Charlie Hurley moved to England at a young age. He signed for Milwall in 1953 and went on to make 105 appearances at The Den.
His good performances were noticed by Alan Brown and Charlie arrived at Roker Park in 1957 and went on to make over 400 appearances for the club over 12 years. His Sunderland career did not start the way he would have anticipated when Sunderland lost 7-0 to Blackpool with Charlie scoring an own goal.
A commanding centre half, Charlie had massive physical presence but also great ability with the ball at his feet. Well known for his heading ability, Charlie scored 26 goals for Sunderland. He was an extremely popular figure at the club and was subsequently named the Player of the Century in 1975.
He was also a Republic of Ireland international and made 40 appearances for his country scoring twice.
2. Jim Montgomery
‘And a goal, no! My goodness I thought Lorimer got that one!’
What can be said about this man that has not already been said? All time record appearance holder, local lad, FA Cup winner, made one of the best double saves ever and all round good guy.
Monty spent the majority of his career at the club and has genuine love for it. He still plays an active role in Sunderland as an ambassador.
1. Kevin Phillips
This was the position where I encountered the most difficulties. This could have gone to one of many candidates, but leaving Kevin Phillips out seemed too difficult to do.
Kevin Phillips’ career didn’t seem to be going anywhere fast when Peter Reid brought him to the club in 1997 from Watford. What happened over the next six years was something that very few people probably saw happening.
In 235 appearances, Phillips went on to score 130 goals. His partnership with Niall Quinn was feared by all defences in England’s top two divisions.
The club’s rise to the top end of the Premier League and Phillips’ goalscoring went hand in hand. In the 1999-2000 season, Phillips silenced all doubters (including Rodney Marsh), scoring 30 goals and winning the European Golden boot. A feat that has not been repeated by an Englishman to this day.
A man that is loved by all at Sunderland. Don’t rule out a return as manager some day.