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.
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.
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.
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.