It’s always a good quiz question: who was the first player to sign for Sunderland that broke the £1 million transfer fee barrier? Quite often people scratch their heads.
On this day a quarter of a century ago, Sunderland finally crossed that milestone.
It was good times after a pretty miserable start to the 90s – Sunderland had unexpectedly won promotion to the Premier League for the first time since its inception, the mags had just blown the title in spectacular fashion and we were on the cusp of Euro 96 when football was coming home.
With the way Peter Reid seemingly had to beg to splash out on his only major signing in the form of David Kelly (£900,000 by the way - just short) on our way to winning the title, we knew that we wouldn’t be extravagant in the transfer market on our return to the top flight, but Reid made an early move in the summer of 1996.
27-year-old midfielder Alex Rae signed on the dotted line from Millwall, breaking Sunderland’s transfer record by a nose, and more importantly was our first signing for £1 million.
For a club once dubbed “the bank of England club” we hadn’t been big spenders for a very long time. Jim Baxter broke the £50,000 barrier in 1965 and five years later Dave Watson was the first player to be signed for £100,000 from Rotherham United, then Don Goodman would be the first to be over half a million, signing in 1992 for around £850,000 from West Bromwich Albion.
But in a summer that saw our nearest and dearest break the world transfer record by signing Alan Shearer for £15 million, it was also a sign of just how far off the pace we were.
Another sign of the obvious was our battle to make the signature everyone at Roker wanted – Shay Given. The manager wanted it to happen, the board wanted it to happen, we were desperate for it to happen and apparently the player wanted it to happen.
I know Peter (Reid) is still keen to buy me and I’m very flattered. I really enjoyed my time at Sunderland last season and I’m waiting to see if they come in again for me.
It had only been around four weeks since we had picked up the championship trophy and ended the season, but already Blackburn had rejected a £2 million offer even though they had one of the best around between the sticks in the form of Tim Flowers.
The 20-year-old kept 17 clean sheets in 23 games after making his debut away at Leicester City in January, and was clearly one of the major factors in us winning that title.
But it wasn’t to happen. I was gutted. Good summer though.
25 years ago... where does the time go?