I thought twice about writing this one.
After all, everyone knows the story of Kieron Brady, don’t they. Unbelievably talented, skilful beyond belief, had the game of his life against West Ham, could never really nail down a place in the Sunderland team on a regular basis, and was forced into early retirement due to a vascular condition in his early 20s.
There, done. We’ve even covered the match action in depth before on this very site.
So why go into it again?
Quite simply, because I was fortunate enough to be one of the 13,896 people in Roker Park that day. I was one of those people who used to turn up early at Roker if Kieron was going to be in the squad just to watch him warm up.
And I remember walking out of Roker Park that day stunned. Wow. Not only had we won an entertaining game 4-3, but we’d seen the birth of a real star.
Make no mistake about it, if things had panned out how they could have, we could (should, would) have been talking about a global superstar here.
A footballer up there with the likes of others born in 1971 – Keane, Guardiola, Larsson (Henrik, not Seb), Litmanen, Sukar – rivalling the likes of Gazza as one of Europe’s most talked about of his era.
Denis Smith was Kieron’s manager for the vast majority of his career, and in his excellent autobiography Just One of Seven, he says:
Far too many people have never hard of Kieron Brady. He had the talent of a Gascoigne or a Best, and the wayward nature to match. He was that good – and bad.
We knew he had the skill, but we soon realised he had the ability to execute equally sublime manoeuvres in match situations. I attended a youth team game at York and, as we kicked off, Brady was the player receiving the ball from the players on the centre spot.
I couldn’t quite believe what happened next, but happen it did.
The ball came back to Brady and Kieron just flicked it up, inside our half, and volleyed it at pace over the head of the opposing keeper, who was way off his line, but hardly culpable for conceding a goal to this piece of pure genius.
In Tales from the Red and White Volume 3, Malcolm Crosby, Brady’s youth team coach and then manager, remembered:
He was such a wonderful talent. He could have been one of the best players in the country. He really could, he had that much ability.
However, Crosby also pointed to Brady’s approach to professional football as something which held him back.
If he looks back he would probably say he wished he had been more professional, because he wasn’t a good professional, unfortunately.
In Smith’s book, he recalls an incident shortly after Brady’s terrific spell in the first team which underlines Crosby’s sentiments.
The fans were already talking Brady up to be the next Jim Baxter, the last true maverick talent Sunderland supporters had had the pleasure of watching.
But then the wheels came off... After a game against Hull on the Saturday, Kieron had a mate down from Scotland. At the time he was living in seafront digs with Malcolm Crosby and his wife Carol. Kieron asked if he and his pal could go out for a meal, Crosser gave his permission, saying, “so long as you are back in by 11 o’clock. Don’t go and do anything stupid.”
Kieron rolled in at 4am. He’d had a few to drink and so was not in training on the Sunday, and wasn’t able to travel to Oxford with us ready to play on Easter Monday. Now I had a problem.
We all know how the story turns out, so today, on Kieron Brady Day, let’s remember the talent, the ability and the type of performance – from the type of player – that football fans long to see.
Yes, he may have been difficult to manage, but many other players have been too – and in an interview for an upcoming podcast series, Kieron told us his side of things, including how he felt he’d been somewhat mismanaged by Smith. Surely, as a manager, it’s your job to get 17, 18, 19-year-old talents on the straight and narrow?
Anyway, on this day 31 (ouch) years ago, Brady was simply magnificent.
The Journal reported:
The game was tailor-made for someone of Brady’s precocious talent. He scored a dramatic equaliser, made the next two Roker goals, and never missed an opportunity to run at the defence, weaving his way past players almost at will.
It was exciting stuff... Brady’s 24th minute equaliser was stunning in its execution. Gabbiadini headed on Kay’s cross, and the youngster produced a magnificent overhead kick from 15 yards into the far corner.
Sunderland found themselves 2-1 down early in the second half thanks to Jimmy Quinn’s second of the game, but Kieron was again on hand.
Brady’s reply was quick and dramatic. Picking up the ball with his back to goal in midfield, he turned one defender, accelerated past two others on a mazy dribbles and, just as he saw the whites of Miklosko’s eyes, the fourth, Slater, flattened him in the box.
Hardyman slammed home the penalty, and levelled the scores.
Brady then burst down the left to put a peach of a cross over for Owers to volley home at the far post, and played a part in Gabbiadini’s first, Sunderland’s fourth.
A West Ham goal made for a nervy finish, but we held on to a 4-3 victory.
It was one of those games you are forever glad you were at.
And I guess the fact that you never know when one of those games is going to come along is what makes football such a beautiful game.