On this day 29 years ago all Sunderland fans woke to hear the news they were dreading, as the hour drew late the previous evening, Marco Gabbiadini completed a £1.8 million transfer to First Division Crystal Palace.
It was almost four years to the day since the Nottingham-born striker joined Sunderland as a 19-year-old from York City in a deal worth £80,000, on leaving Roker Park his Sunderland record would forever read an impressive 87 goals in 185 appearances.
Gabbiadini’s goals would provide an invaluable contribution in dragging Sunderland from a first visit to the Third Division in their history, back to the top flight of English football in just three years. Top scorer in all of his four seasons with the club, the England B international recognised that after Sunderland’s relegation back to Division Two, he needed to be playing at the top level in order to get further international recognition:
I needed a new challenge... Being in the First Division helped swing it. I’ve always done quite well in London and if I can establish myself in the side then hopefully international recognition will come again.
Steve Coppell’s side had finished third in Division One behind Arsenal and Liverpool the previous season as Sunderland were relegated along with Derby County, and their need for a striker became a top priority after Ian Wright had signed for Arsenal for £2.5 million just days earlier.
Even though agreements with York City meant that they received £450,000 of the transfer fee, Denis Smith defended the deal saying that it was financially a good deal for Sunderland. He also revealed that most of the correspondence he had with fans had been critical of the now 23-year-old striker in the early days of the new season:
Marco has been a favourite of fans. Marco has been a favourite of mine. But financially it is a very good deal. It’s a lot of money and we’ve now got to use it ourselves.
The Sunderland manager didn’t waste anytime in the transfer market, as the ink was still drying on the deal with Crystal Palace for Gabbiadini, Smith brought in Everton winger Peter Beagrie on loan with a view to a permanent deal. The swiftness of the deal meant he was in contention to face his hometown club Middlesbrough in Sunderland’s next fixture.
Another player who should have signed at the same time as Beagrie but didn’t get it over the line was 25-year-old Celtic defender Anton Rogan. The Northern Ireland international suffered a puncture whilst on route to signing for Sunderland which meant the deal was still not quite over the line.
As it was also announced that John Featherstone and John Wood were new members of the board at Roker Park, Denis Smith would also reveal that he had one more offer on the table for an un-named player as he enjoyed finally having the funds to spend in the transfer market.
For some Sunderland fans - they will always know exactly where they were when they heard the news that Marco Gabbiadini had left Roker Park for the last time.