On this day 41 years ago, Ken Knighton splashed out £150,000 to bring 26-year-old Sam Allardyce to Roker Park.
Having finished as runners-up to Leicester City in Division Two in 1979-80, the Sunderland manager was preparing for our return to the top flight after a three year absence, and saw the Bolton Wanderers defender as the man to replace Jeff Clarke who was ruled out long term due to a knee ligament injury.
Knighton had fought off competition from Derby County, who had been relegated to Division Two, and Norwich City, who had finished 12th in Division One, to land the central defender who had almost 200 appearances under his belt at Bolton Wanderers over a nine year period.
A contract offer by the Norwich City manager John Bond was improved upon by Colin Addison at Derby County, which resulted in Allardyce giving a verbal agreement to sign at the Baseball Ground, but an offer of £300 a week, apparently quadrupling his wage at Bolton, combined with a £20,000 signing on fee was enough to convince Allardyce to come to Roker.
The signing of Allardyce was in response to the disappointment that Ken Knighton could not capture the signature of Aberdeen’s Willie Miller who turned down the opportunity to move south of the border.
Knighton also made the 11th hour move for Allardyce due to the ongoing dispute between player and club, where the defender refused to sign a contract with Bolton as he felt underpaid, as well as falling out with ex-Sunderland player and current Bolton manager Stan Anderson.
Allardyce made his debut on the opening day of the season at Roker Park in a 3-1 win against Everton in front of a crowd of around 32,000, which was followed up with a 4-0 win against Malcolm Allison’s Manchester City at Maine Road, that included a John Hawley hattrick, which saw us top of the First Division in the early weeks of the season.
Things didn’t quite go to plan after that and Ken Knighton was sacked with four games remaining after a 2-0 defeat away to Alan Durban’s Stoke City, who would eventually accept the top position at Roker that summer.
The arrival of Durban also meant the end for Allardyce as a player with Sunderland when he was left out of the team the following season and ended up moving to Third Division Millwall for a fee of £95,000.
We would next see him on Wearside under Peter Reid in 1996 when he was appointed to the coaching staff, working alongside Bobby Saxton once again who had been his assistant manager at Blackpool a couple of years prior, and was tasked with restructuring the youth setup on a budget as director of the the academy.
After leaving for the Notts County managers job at the beginning of 1997, Allardyce didn’t look back and although he was linked once or twice with a return to Sunderland as manager over the years, it finally happened in October 2015 when he replaced Dick Advocaat to steer us to safety in the Premier League.
Then, Harry Kane took some corners, Iceland did their thing and it’s been a downward spiral for the club ever since.
If some physicists are correct in their theory, however, there will be a parallel universe somewhere out there where he never left and led us to Champions League qualification - I’ll keep clutching at that straw.