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Roker Park’s One Hit Wonders: Jan Eriksson

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An experienced international centre back was just the type of player that Peter Reid’s Sunderland needed in order to help us to stay in the Premier League back in 1997... wasn’t it?

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Almost 25 years on, one of the most memorable parts of Premier Passions is Bobby Saxton’s half-time team talk at Aston Villa. The highlight probably being, “That’s fucking minging, that.” Sat in the dressing room that day in 1997, probably wondering what on earth was going on, was Jan Eriksson, a 29-year-old Swedish international defender who’d been signed from Helsingborgs IF in January.

He was a familiar name to most football fans of that era – with 35 caps for his country he’d been a standout player in Euro 92, a tournament in which he’d scored a couple of goals, including a headed equaliser (from a Stefan Schwarz corner) against Graham Taylor’s England when the Three Lions were beaten 2-1 in the final group game, bringing to an end their involvement in the tournament.

That game, of course, is better remembered for Martin Tyler’s ‘Brolin, Dahlin, Brolin’ commentary, and Taylor’s inexplicable decision to replace Gary Lineker with Alan Smith just after the hour with the scores level. The subsequent defeat meaning it was Lineker’s last game for England, and Swedes 2 Turnips 1 graced the headlines the next day.

For Eriksson, his Swedish team were defeated in the semis by Germany, but his performances at the tournament had not gone unnoticed, and he was signed by Kaiserslautern. He was selected for USA 94 but had to withdraw through injury, and spells at AIK and Servette preceded his move to Helsingborgs.

EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS Soccer Photo by Ross Kinnaird/EMPICS via Getty Images

Reid adds much-needed experience

Eriksson arrived at Sunderland in the January the 96-97 Premier League season. It was a season of immense effort and a lot of struggle – a team, in truth, promoted before they were ready. Injuries to experienced signings Coton and Quinn, of course, didn’t help and, in a bid to bolster the squad during the second half of the season, signings were chased.

Israeli forward Ronan Harazi turned out to be less striker, more bionic man. Jon Dahl Tomasson was shown around the club but failed to materialise on the pitch, while the asking price for John Hartson was baulked at, and he ended up at West Ham, to the disappointment of Eyal Berkovic.

Andy Melville and Richard Ord were our most regular central defensive pairing, but two red cards earlier in the season for Ord saw our defensive reserves stretched, and reinforcements sought.

On the face of it, the signing of Eriksson, who’d had a trial at Newcastle earlier in his career, and had more recently been heavily linked with Everton - even playing a friendly game for them – made complete sense, and it was expected he’d become a fixture in the starting eleven. Peter Reid described the £250,000 January signing as ‘an absolute bargain’, and handed him a two-and-a-half-year deal, along with the number 33 shirt.

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Ready for action

Despite speculation that he would get straight into the team, Reid made Eriksson wait on the bench for three games before he made his bow at Villa Park.

After 45 minutes we were one-nil down at half time, a Milosevic strike taking a slight deflection off the debutant. In the dressing rooms, Sacko let loose, and his tirade is specifically about Eriksson, and his defensive partner Richard Ord, giving Savo Milosevic and partner Dwight Yorke too much time and space. In the second half there was little further action - bar a yellow card for the Swede.

Ord and Melville were reunited for the next game, a 1-0 home defeat to George Graham’s Leeds, with Eriksson dropped from the squad altogether.

And, although Eriksson did reemerge as an unused sub on a handful of occasions, Lee Howey, a part-time defender, was preferred if defensive reinforcement was required.

Of course, the season ended in typical Sunderland fashion, with a sucker punch of last-day heartbreak.

Eriksson did get to play at Roker Park, however, completing the full 90 minutes in the last ever game at Roker Park against Liverpool – playing in front of former England keeper Chris Woods - who, of course, he’d scored against in the European Championship game in Solna, just five years earlier.

Surprisingly, Eriksson stayed at Sunderland the following season but, despite featuring in pre-season – managing a goal in a 2-2 draw against Portadown – he didn’t even make the bench for a competitive game. Puzzling in hindsight, given our start to the season and the subsequent defensive selection of new young signing Craddock alongside Darren Williams, who was at that stage a central midfielder.

Eriksson departed the club at the end of 97-98 for a season at Tampa Bay, before retiring from professional football – and was consigned to the list of seemingly good players Peter Reid, for whatever reason, just didn’t fancy.