Sunderland, of course, haven’t always been in the third tier. There was a time when we were an established Premier League club and had internationals on our books. It wasn’t even uncommon to see our players turning out for their countries at major tournaments.
With the Euros taking place – let's have a look at some of our players that have featured at European Championships, and what part they played in their country’s success.
The man that made me fall in love with football - ‘SuperKev’ signed for us in 1997, and went onto become a club legend with 130 goals across six seasons.
He was one of a rare breed of players to be named for England while playing in the second tier in 1999. The then-England manager Kevin Keegan named him in his first squad against Hungary and after an unbelievable first season in the Premier League where he won the European Golden Boot, he was called up to the England squad for Euro 2000.
Phillips was named alongside fellow strikers captain Alan Shearer, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Emile Heskey as England travelled to Belgium and the Netherlands in hope of glory.
Despite a rare tournament victory over Germany, England failed to get out of the group stage. Losing to both Portugal and Romania meant an early exit. Our Kev didn’t do much better, he didn’t even get on the pitch in any of the three matches.
Many Sunderland fans moan about his lack of caps, but he perhaps suffered from huge competition between many top-level English strikers at the time. In total, Phillips won eight caps for his country without scoring.
Phillips wasn’t the only Black Cat in the squad at Euro 2000.
Danish stopper and full-time Shearer nemesis Thomas ‘Tommy’ Sorensen was named in Denmark’s squad for the tournament.
He was named alongside Peter Kjaer as back-up goalkeepers to the legendary number one Peter Schmeichel and had just come off the back of a very successful season with Sunderland – finishing seventh on his first season in the English top-flight.
The Danes had been shock winners in the European Championships of 1992 but failed to make any sort of impact at this tournament. Losing all three group games to eventual winners France, co-hosts Holland and the Czech Republic.
As for Sorensen – he would have to play deputy to Schmeichel as the blonde keeper started all three group games ahead of Tommy who was on the bench.
Sorensen would go onto represent Denmark at the 2002 World Cup while on Sunderland’s books. Most Sunderland fans would agree he would go down as one of the best keepers we’ve had in recent times.
Fast forward 12 years to Euro 2012 and sticking with Denmark takes us to Nickas Bendtner.
Technically the centre-forward was merely on loan at Sunderland from Arsenal but still deserves to be mentioned. He lined up alongside the likes of Christian Eriksen and Daniel Agger at the tournament which was hosted in Poland and Ukraine.
Bendtner had come back off a decent season with Sunderland - scoring 12 goals in all competitions under firstly Steve Bruce and then Martin O’Neill. He achieved cult status on Wearside with the penalty in a 1-1 draw against Newcastle in the Tyne-Wear derby in March 2012.
At the Euros, he featured much more prominently than Messrs Phillips and Sorensen. He started all three group games in a group of death against Portugal, Germany and Holland– scoring twice against the Portuguese in a 3-2 loss.
Three points from three games were not enough to see the Danes through although Denmark did manage to beat the Dutch 1-0 and at least avoided finishing bottom of the group.
Bendtner was not signed permanently by O’Neill, and stayed at the Stadium of Light for just one season.
Playing over 200 games for Sunderland, John O’Shea was a pivotal player in the Premier League years. He was signed alongside Wes Brown – both from Man United and went on captain the club for several years.
He is also one of the only Sunderland players to play in more than one international tournament while at the club.
After his first season he was named in the Republic of Ireland’s Euro 2012 squad, with the expectations that they would be competitive in a horrendously difficult looking group that featured European and World champions Spain, Italy and Croatia.
It didn’t go well for the Irish or O’Shea individually. He started all three games but with the results they got, he won’t look back upon the tournament fondly. They finished bottom of the group with three losses. Shipping four to Spain without reply, two to Italy without reply, and a 3-1 loss to Croatia.
O’Shea was still going four years later when Ireland qualified again this time for Euro 2016. By now the elder statement of the squad – O’Shea proudly lead his country and wore the captain’s armband in every match he played.
He played the first two matches against Sweden in a 1-1 draw and then against Belgium in a 3-0 loss. The Irish looked dead and buried ahead of a game with giants Italy but then shocked the football community. A 1-0 win and a heroic goal by Robbie Brady combined with the expansion in tournament from 16 to 24 – meant they qualified for the knockout stages.
In the last 16 match against future World Champions France, Ireland made a dream start with an early goal. Two Griezmann goals for the hosts meant that Ireland exited the tournament but O’Shea at least featured as a second half substitute following a red card to Shane Duffy
O’Shea played for another two for the club before leaving for Reading in 2018 and retiring from football a year later.
Joining O’Shea at the tournament and the second of our Irish trio was James McClean.
There was a time when the Derry-born winger wasn’t controversial, and was actually quite popular with Sunderland fans. He burst onto the scene under Martin O’Neill in late 2011 and played a huge part in the early days of success under O’Neill. His cameo role included goals against Peterborough United in the FA Cup and Arsenal in the league.
McClean had only three caps to his name when called up and was on the bench for the first game which was a difficult 3-1 defeat to Croatia in Poznan.
The next game was a daunting match against defending Champions Spain, and Ireland fared even worse. They were four goals down when McClean was brought on as a substitute playing 14 minutes and at least sharing the pitch with the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta.
McClean was an unused substitute in the final match a defeat against Italy. His time at Sunderland soured afterward however before he left for Wigan Athletic in 2013.
Also featuring at the Euro 2012 tournament and the third and final member of the Irish trio, was keeper Keiren Westwood.
He was named as reserve stopper alongside David Force to provide competition to established number one and Ireland stalwart Shay Given.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for Westwood – he didn’t feature in any of the three games as they ended the campaign dismally.
We will end it on a high with Seb Larsson – the only player on this list that’s still currently playing at a European Championships with his native Sweden.
Larsson signed for Sunderland in 2011 and after a solid first season at the club was named at the Black Cat-laden Euro 2012.
Named in Englands’ group alongside France and Ukraine he started the first two games – both defeats against England in a cracker of a game 3-2 and also a somewhat surprising defeat to co-hosts Ukraine 2-1.
The defeats meant Larsson and the Swedes would exit the tournament but there was a least the consolation of a 2-0 win over France.
Four years later and with four years of successful relegation battles under his belt Larsson again joined the likes of Zlatan, Martin Olsson and Kim Kallstrom for Euro 2016 – this time hosted In France.
Our Seb started the first group game against O’Shea and Ireland in a 1-1 draw and then again in a 1-0 defeat to Italy. The Swedes had to win their final game against Belgium to stand any chance but another 1-0 loss meant they exited the tournament. Larsson played in all three games and was replaced in the substitute in the final match.
Still going strong Larsson took to the field at the Euros of 2020/21 - Sunderland fans will surely respect the longevity of a career that’s lasted so long.