2009 was an exciting time to support Sunderland.
After the Drumaville consortium took control just three years earlier, the club had been on a steady incline, and when you compare the squad we ended 2008/09 with to the one that went down with 15 points in 2006, they were night and day.
Sadly, Roy Keane’s second season in charge wasn’t a pleasant one, and his falling out with new owner Ellis Short led to him resigning from his position. Caretaker boss Ricky Sbragia was tasked with stabilising the club and keeping us up, and that he did, but the disappointing nature of the 2008-2009 season left fans wanting more.
Despite rumours of an offer being made to Roberto Mancini, the favourite with the bookies was Wigan manager Steve Bruce, who had done a fantastic job with the Latics considering the size of the club and the budget available to him.
This made him an attractive proposition and placed him right at the forefront of the thoughts of Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn.
Bruce and Quinn were old foes from back in the day on the pitch - Bruce as Manchester United captain, playing centre half, and Sir Niall playing centre forward for Manchester City.
There was a mutual respect between the two, and the opportunity to work together on the Sunderland project worked in the favour of both men.
Talks between Sunderland and Wigan were thrashed out, and eventually, a compensation package believed to have totalled at around £3m was agreed - just shy of the fee Wigan paid Birmingham to get him just two years earlier.
Once the fee was agreed on the Monday, Bruce flew from a family holiday in Portugal to meet Quinn in Ireland - personal terms, the shaping up of his coaching staff and his budget for recruiting players were all discussed and agreed.
Rumours at the time suggested that Bruce would be given a £60m transfer budget to bring players in, with the papers linking him with the signing of Darren Bent from Spurs - who we did of course end up getting.
Bruce agreed a three-year deal, signing a contract that the Guardian reported was for around £60,000 a week - massive money for a manager at a club like Sunderland, but a sign that the investment from billionaire owner Ellis Short was serious.
Eric Black, Keith Bertschin and Nigel Spink followed the 48-year-old from Wigan to form part of his newly-assembled backroom team, leaving Wigan with the task of replacing the club’s key staff members ahead of the new Premier League season.
Speaking of Bruce’s arrival, Quinn gleefully said:
Steve will bring a professionalism and strength of character to this club that will really help to bring us forward to where we all want to be.
He knows more than anyone what football means to people of this region and I’m confident that he will be able to instil into our players exactly what it means to play for this football club.
Bruce’s geordie roots had been noted, but on the day he was appointed, he didn’t see this as a problem - and instead believed that his understanding of what the north east people value would ensure he was a perfect fit for the job.
I think they like one of their own from the north east.
It’s results on the pitch that matter. I hope I can win over the few doubters I have.
Unless you’re born up here, you don’t really realise what it means.
It was born in me and bred in me that I only got there with hard work. I got there with a bit of hard graft and a bit of determination and I want my team to mirror that.
Bruce claimed he was keen to take a proper look at the squad he had inherited - though as time would tell, he wanted to put his own stamp on things and would eventually bring in a whole host of players from across England and Europe to add a bit of quality and experience to a Sunderland squad that probably lacked it:
I’m going to give everyone a chance.
I’ve got the chance to work with the players for a good few weeks before the transfer deadline. We have some good players here and I want to have a good look.
It might seem strange to say this now, but at the time, Bruce was viewed as one of the up-and-coming top managers in the country - with some even believing that he would be the eventual successor to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, and even a potential England manager.
Bruce had proven with Wigan that he was very capable, and that he had an eye for a player - achieving success with the likes of Lee Cattermole, Antonio Valencia and Paul Scharner.
Interesting times were ahead, and fans were rightly excited...