Ah, Boxing Day in Sunderland in the late 1990s. A dip in the North Sea, hair of the dog, turkey sandwiches, and a packed-out match at the Stadium of Light.
The game that started that tradition for us Sunderland fans took place 24 years ago today as the newly-opened Stadium of Light played host to Bradford City, a side who we would meet on this date on another three occasions in the almost quarter-century that has since passed.
Legend has it that the players had been out on the lash the night before this one, but they still managed to entertain a Nationwide League record crowd of 40,051 - our biggest to date in a competitive game at our new home.
As ever when I write about Reidy’s Kings, the names on the teamsheet that day make me all misty-eyed - Quinn, Phillips, Rae, Johnston, Summerbee, Clark, Gray, Craddock, Holloway, Williams, and of course Lionel Perez.
The opposition were managed by none other than Chris Kamara, the ‘Boro-born Sky Sports reporter and sometime Christmas crooner, sported a few notable names as well; alongside mercurial former Sunderland loanee and fan-favourite Peter Beagrie was Brazillian striker Edinho and a player who had a short-lived spell at Roker Park, Jamie Lawrence.
Sunderland got off to a flyer, Phillips opening the scoring on 11 minutes with a close-range header that went in off the underside of the bar after some good work down the right wing. Allan Johnston sealed the victory with a fantastic solo effort, running in from the left from just inside the Bradford half to fire a shot low into the goal beyond the flailing Gary Walsh.
Scotland boss Craig Brown was in attendance, and after the game Peter Reid took the opportunity to push the case for international call-ups for both Johnston and Alex Rae:
That was probably Alex Rae’s best game for us and I don’t think either player did his chances any harm. But the credit goes to all the players and I was particularly pleased the way they went about the job.
Kammy was also full of praise for the Sunderland side, and felt his team were fortunate to keep the score down to just two goals:
Sunderland gave us a good hiding and we were fortunate not to be beaten by a much bigger scoreline.
Sunderland’s fine performance saw them rise up to fifth place in the League with this their fifth victory in a row without conceding a goal.