Sunderland: Sørensen, Holloway, Scott (Mullin ‘59), Williams, Butler (Ord ‘71), Craddock, Summerbee (Wainwright ‘46), Gray, Quinn (Dichio ‘55), Bridges, Johnston Sub not used: L Weaver
Manchester City: N Weaver, Edghill, Tshadadze, Wiekens, Vaughan, Tiatto (Brown ‘87), Horlock (Whitley ‘46), Pollock, Dickov, Goater, Bradbury Subs not used: Wright, Greenacre, Mason
As World Cup-fever faded away in mid-summer 1998, Sunderland looked to put the disappointment of missing out on promotion in the Playoff Final behind them and kick-on in the season ahead.
A key part of Peter Reid’s plan to go one step further and regain our place in the Premier League was to improve our last line of defence. As much as we as a fanbase had warmed to the eccentric Lionel Perez, it was clear from his erratic performance at Wembley that Sunderland needed to find a goalkeeper who could take us to the next level. That man was 22-year-old Danish international, his country’s natural successor to the legendary Peter Schmeichel, Thomas Sørensen.
When Roker Report spoke to Tommy a couple of years back, he told us about the way the £500,000 transfer from his boyhood club, Odense Boldklub (OB), came about, and the debt he owed to Schmeichel for paving the way for his future career in England:
I had heard of the club for sure, they had been in the Premiership only a few seasons before, but I didn’t know the club in detail.
I had been in discussion with a few clubs and Sunderland invited me over to talk to them. To be honest, at the time, I really wasn’t sure on the move but I thought ”what have I got to lose?” by accepting the invite to go up there. I am so, so glad I went. I knew straight away that’s what I wanted - to be at Sunderland.
I met with Peter Reid and we chatted. He was very honest with me, said I’d be given a chance - no promises - but I’d be given a shot and that’s all I wanted. I knew straight away it was the place for me, after that conversation.
I had been at Manchester United to train a few times actually, which maybe caught the attention of Sunderland. But what Peter’s success did is highlight the quality of young Danish goalkeepers. So yeah, I’d say his success helped.
Sørensen’s first outing in a Sunderland shirt came in a friendly against Manchester City, who were were preparing for life in Division 2 (now League 1) following an ignominious drop from the Premier League that wouldn’t be rivalled until we made the same journey almost two decades later.
City manager Joe Royle had not been able to keep the Maine Road club up after Frank Clarke was sacked in February 1998, and neither could he keep hold of long-time servant Ian Brightwell, who was released on a free after 18 years and over 380 appearances for the club. The former England Under 21 international would go on to join Premier League side Coventry City, but was granted a testimonial on his departure from Manchester and his old player-manager, Reid, was the man to call upon when looking for an opponent.
Sunderland included Brightwell’s former Man City teammates Nicky Summerbee and Niall Quinn in their strong starting eleven, which reads like a roll-call of club legends from the late 1990s. Man City went with a strike-force comprising of cult-favourites Paul Dickov and Shaun Goater, a goalscoring combination that would just about get them promoted through the Playoffs at the first time of asking in the following May.
The game itself was absolutely nothing to write home about, as the 7,000 people who attended endured a 0-0 draw between two sides that had finished at opposite ends of the table the previous season.
But it did mark the beginning of an era at Sunderland where the indomitable Sørensen would take his opportunity between the sticks and rise to become one of the Premier League’s top goalies, notching up over 170 appearances for the Black Cats over 5 years at the Stadium of Light before moving on to Aston Villa and then Stoke City.