If I was to reel off the list of dross we’ve had in recent times, I would make War and Peace look like a short novel. So instead of delving into the depths of depressingly bad players that have ‘represented’ us, my focus is on those that a special amount of vitriol is saved for. Those players whose departure, whether through lack of loyalty, terrible attitude or their footballing roots coming to the fore, tainted our memories of them forever.
When Michael Chopra joined from Cardiff for £5m in July 2007, Sunderland fans could be forgiven for having certain reservations, given the dark cloud that the last Geordie had left the club under.
He had already lived his childhood dream by not only playing for Newcastle, but scoring within fifteen seconds of coming on as a substitute in the Wear-Tyne derby in 2006 (replacing none other than the infamous Geordie before him: Lee Clark).
Fast forward to 1st February 2009: there are 4 minutes to go at St. James’ Park, the score is balanced at 1-1 and those reservations were unceremoniously vindicated. A chance falls to substitute Chopra in the box with the goal at his mercy - you would have put your life savings on him curling it past Harper and writing himself in Sunderland folklore - but he hesitates shooting, tries to square it Jones, and manages to make a mess of that too.
Understandably, fans were quick to accuse him of bottling the opportunity to score. Years on from the incident, he claims it was unintentional, and was down to lack of confidence in front of goal. Yet having seen it happen, and having re-watched that moment recently, I’d wager that just wasn’t the case.
Finally, in 2013, just to further validate his place on this list, he admitted that he only joined for the signing-on fee to pay off his gambling debts. Lovely.
Another from the list of Geordies crossing the divide was Jack Colback, who signed for Sunderland at the tender age of ten. He broke into the first team in 2011, with his best season coming in 2013/14, contributing crucial goals against Cardiff, WBA and (rather more memorably) his boyhood club, where he infamously shushed the Gallowgate End, mocking the red-faced Newcastle fans afterwards with a photo gesturing ‘3-0’.
However, come the end of that season, he rejected a new contract from Sunderland and made the controversial switch to Newcastle. Cue the uproar from the Mackem faithful - a controversial banner of him was soon displayed on his return to the Stadium of Light. If you haven’t seen it, Google ‘Colback banner’. It was an abhorrent sight.
His second appearance at his former home was rather more memorable (for us, not him). The glorious image of Cattermole standing over a limp Colback just after he took him out tells you all you need to know. Just to add salt to the wound, Colback’s walk off came via the South and South West Stand, I’ll leave to your imagination the pleasantries which were directed to him.
Colback’s dream move hasn’t particularly worked out for him, and most of their fans want to see the back of the one they once-so-poorly dubbed the ‘Ginger Pirlo’.
In our recent history, natural goalscorers have been rarer than Newcastle wins in the derbies, and prior to Darren Bent’s £16.5m move, we hadn’t seen such a clinical finisher since the heady days of Kevin Phillips leading the line.
2009/10 proved to be his most potent season for goals; he scored twenty-four goals in thirty-eight league appearances - contributing exactly 50% of all goals Sunderland scored that season. Indeed, it was only the world-beating Didier Drogba (twenty-nine) and Wayne Rooney (twenty-six) who scored more than Bent that year, but this was still not enough to compel then-England manager Fabio Capello to take him to the 2010 World Cup - inexplicably preferring Emile Heskey. Consquently, Capello’s England side only mustered three goals that summer and were knocked out in the Round of Sixteen.
Preceded, perhaps, by a desire to seek international accolades Sunderland somehow couldn’t help provide, the day after an abject performance in the Wear-Tyne Derby in January 2011 a written transfer request was handed in, following interest from Aston Villa.
It was 18th January 2011 when we saw the player depart - on a deal worth up to £24m. His reception from the fans since has been frosty to say the least, with boos and chants reverberating around the stadium at every touch of the ball. This, he says, led him to cup his ear to fans when he equalised for Burton - evoking thunderous ire from those despondent fans who still remained - in the notoriously tragic game that saw Sunderland relegated to League One.
As evident by the trajectory of his career that saw him turning out for Burton Albion, Bent never did replicate his Sunderland form, and whilst that might act as some solace to Sunderland fans, we can’t help but wonder what could have been had he stayed.