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On This Day: 21 August 1999 – Peter Reid calls up German international for full Sunderland debut

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ON THIS DAY (1999): An experienced Germany international centre back lined up for the lads against a young striker keen to make a mark.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Leeds United v Sunderland Photo by Magi Haroun/EMPICS via Getty Images

On this day in 1999, the lads in red and white took on Leeds United at Elland Road in our fourth league fixture of the season.

After an opening day defeat to Chelsea, Peter Reid’s newly-promoted side notched four points from two home games – a win against Watford and a draw against Arsenal – before heading to West Yorkshire to face former striker Michael Bridges.

Bridges, who Reid had transfer-listed – along with Lee Clark and Allan Johnston – that summer, had left the club in search of first-team football, and was keen to make an impression against his former club.

Keen to make an impression on Bridges, however, was Paul Butler – the centre back crashing through the young striker (apparently on Reid’s instruction) to earn a first minute yellow.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Sunderland v Leeds United
Although he didn’t score against us in this game, Bridges did net in Leeds 2-1 win at the Stadium of Light the following January
Photo by Steve Morton/EMPICS via Getty Images

Partnering Butler that day was German international defender Thomas Helmer.

Signed from Bayern Munich in the summer after turning down a contract offer from Liverpool, it was expected Helmer, along with fellow big-name arrival Stefan Schwarz, would prove to be key players for the team during the course of the season. Schwarz, of course, did.

It was Helmer’s full debut, after coming on as sub to replace another new arrival, Steve Bould, the previous week after the balding centre back picked up an injury against his former club.

SOCCER Arsenal Kanu
Helmer had made his debut from the bench the week before, helping secure a goalless draw against Arsenal.
Photo by John Giles - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

The 34-year-old German, who’d won 68 caps for his country, had a steady debut in a rather eventful game, Sunderland going 1-0 up and one man down within six first half minutes. Phillips netted a penalty after 37 minutes, before Alex Rae picked up a yellow and then a red on 40 and 43.

Two second half goals - Bowyer and Mills – sealed the game for David O’Leary’s team.

Helmer, who’d been a fixture on the bench so far, retook his place there for our next fixture, as Bould returned for the 2-1 derby win in the rain.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Sunderland v Leicester City
Bould was outstanding for Sunderland, forming a great partnership with Paul Butler.
Photo by Steve Mitchell/EMPICS via Getty Images

He made the bench a handful of times more before disappearing to New Ferens Park – after an alleged training ground disagreement with Sacko. He soon headed off to Hertha Berlin on loan, where he finished the season, playing Champions League football as we headed for a 7th position finish.

At the end of the season – half way through his two-year deal – his contract was terminated, and Helmer retired.

Sadly, it appeared his legs just didn’t have it in them to play top class football again.

And at the time, that’s what we were playing.