Peter Reid was in search of a new keeper having managed to keep Sunderland up by the skin of our teeth only a few weeks earlier.
Veteran fan favourite Tony Norman had played the majority of the previous season, including all of Reid’s games in charge, however was out of contract and had been given a free transfer. Reid wanted someone to challenge – or take the place of – the only other senior keeper at the club, Alec Chamberlain.
The 37-year-old Norman joined his former Hull City boss Brian Horton at Huddersfield, leaving Roker on a free after six seasons and 227 games, and while Chamberlain remained at the club his position was under increasing threat.
One keeper Reid was keen on was Middlesbrough stalwart Stephen Pears. The boyhood Sunderland fan started his career at Manchester United – playing a handful of games – before joining Middlesbrough, originally on loan. He played over 400 games for the Boro, before being given a free transfer by Bryan Robson, and had been rewarded with a testimonial game. The match, incidentally, was the last game to be played at Ayresome Park, and contrived penalty enabled Pears to be the last goalscorer at their former home.
Pears, who had been called up by England in the early 90s, but didn’t win a cap, was wanted by Reid to be his number one for the new season. A terrific, athletic keeper whose game had suffered because of the introduction of the backpass rule, Pears was also wanted by Aston Villa and Liverpool.
Reid and Pears had met for talks, however, The Journal reported 26 years ago today, Reid’s meagre wage budget was proving a stumbling block.
An insurmountable one as it turns out.
Pears ended up joining Liverpool as backup for David James, and Reid’s search for a keeper continued. Later on in the summer it looked as if we might be close to resolving the issue – only for a move for Brad Friedel fell through due to work permit problems.
It meant Chamberlain started the season in goal for Reid’s reinvigorated side, with back-up only provided by a young David Preece. This was in the days of three subs (two of whom could play) and remarkably Reid opted to have three outfield players on the bench rather than a reserve keeper.
Reid was never fully convinced by Chamberlain – who himself had won a League Cup Winners medal with Liverpool the season before when on loan from Sunderland – and in the January of our ultimately successful Championship campaign he brought in a relatively untested Shay Given – and threw him straight into the team.
Pears, meanwhile, didn’t manage a game at Liverpool, while Norman did get a Roker Park swansong – he was in goal for Huddersfield for the famous game in which Michael Bridges netted twice from the bench to secure a dramatic 3-2 win.