The 1992-93 season had begun under the stewardship of Malcolm Crosby on the back of an FA Cup final appearance and celebrations we were now the City of Sunderland after being awarded City status in the summer, but hopes weren’t particularly high.
On the opening day of the season saw the debuts of our three summer signings in the form of Terry Butcher who was without a club, Shaun Cunnington (£650,000 from Grimsby Town) and John Colquhoun (£250,000 from Hearts), but still ended in defeat via a Glenn Hoddle goal.
This set the tone for the season and by the time we faced Glenn Hoddle’s promotion chasing Swindon Town for the second time that season at Roker on the 6th February, our highest position in Barclays League Division One had been 14th, and our current position was 18th - four places and four points above the relegation zone.
Our previous game ended in a 2-1 defeat at Roker Park to Watford and was the last game in charge of the club for Malcolm Crosby and ahead of the visit of Swindon, Terry Butcher made the move from player to player-manager.
Things didn’t improve. In fact, we lost that first game of Butcher’s tenure via a Paul Bodin goal at Roker Park against Swindon - having missed two penalties. Gordon Armstrong missed the first opportunity from the spot to take the lead after 11 minutes, and captain Kevin Ball missed from the spot in the 93rd minute to rescue a point.
After winning the next two in a row against Brian Horton’s Oxford and Charlton at the Valley, it quickly became that we’d peaked, and in the remaining 18 games of the campaign, we won only 3 times.
We stayed up by only a point and if we hadn’t have experienced the strangest 4-1 victory you will ever see at Roker Park against high flying Portsmouth, we’d have been relegated.
After only surviving on the final day of the season because Brentford and Cambridge United lost after we went down 3-1 at Notts County - having been three down after 40 minutes - Terry Butcher knew we needed to freshen up a tired squad.
It was all made worse by the fact Newcastle had won the title and been promoted to the Premier League in Kevin Keegan’s first full season having amassed 96 points, and Bob Murray was willing to back the new manager to improve his squad with the aim of following them.
But first, the manager needed to trim the current numbers before he could add to it, we just simply had too many players on the books. It was also weighing up which of our players could attract interest along with potential funds to add to our transfer kitty for incoming players.
Since becoming prominent under the management of Denis Smith in our Third Division, the midfield duo of Gary Owers and Gordon Armstrong had always attracted interest from bigger fish. In the case of Owers, it was widely reported that Crystal Palace had tabled £1.2 million and Southampton had offered £750,000 during the 1992-93 season.
Gordon Armstrong had been on the radar of a long list of Premier League clubs including, Ipswich Town, Norwich City, Sheffield United, Oldham Athletic and Southampton who had offered £750,000 for the midfielder earlier in the season.
But favourites to sign the pair was Chelsea, and although they were without a manager, it was reported that Ken Bates was a big fan of the pair, but would wait until making an appointment before making an offer.
The following season, Gordon Armstrong made 30 appearances in the starting line-up, Gary Owers made 40 - and Butcher was out of a job by December.