Those were the days, my friends.
Sunderland under Peter Reid in the late 90s were a force to be reckoned with, and I genuinely feel sorry for anyone who isn’t old enough to have witnessed that team in person, because I can say categorically that it was the best team we’ve had in my lifetime.
It probably seems odd to throw superlatives at a team that never actually won anything significant or even qualified for Europe... but they were damn close.
Losing to Leicester in the semi-finals of the Worthington’s Cup in the previous season hurt, but we almost did it - a Division One side nearly defied the odds to reach the final. We were as good as any of those teams, despite being in the league below, but it just wasn’t meant to be.
Still, we went on to walk the league and finished with a record points haul, losing only three times all season and playing some fantastic football along the way.
Two of our players - Kevin Phillips and Michael Gray - earned England call-ups that summer as second-tier players... because we were that good.
So really, it was to the surprise of none of us that we started our first season back in the top flight rather well - we all knew that this team had something special about it.
I say ‘rather well’ - well.... we did get pumped four-nowt off Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the opener, which brought us back down to earth with a bang, but the lads cleared their heads quickly and knew they had a job to do when they welcomed a raucous, packed Stadium of Light crowd for the first home game of the season.
Elton John’s Watford FC were the visitors, and after coming up from the First Division with us as Play-Off winners, we knew exactly what they were about.
Sunderland: Sorensen, Makin, Gray, Schwarz, Bould, Butler, Summerbee, Rae, Quinn, Phillips, Oster. Subs: Dichio, Marriott, Ball, Helmer, McCann.
Watford: Day, Lyttle, Kennedy, Page, Palmer, Ngonge, Mooney, Johnson, Easton, Bonnot, Williams. Subs: Gibbs, Gudmundsson, Brooker, Foley, Walker.
Referee: J Winter (Stockton-on-Tees)
Reidy named a strong side, and handed debuts to young Welsh winger John Oster - a summer signing from Everton - and cultured Swedish midfielder Stefan Schwarz, who joined from Valencia for a club record fee of £3.75m.
Watford themselves were confident, though, and this led to an evenly-fought first half in which neither side broke the deadlock - though it wasn’t for the want of trying.
Oster came closest in the early stages with a long-range effort that forced Watford stopper Day into making a save, but it was Thomas Sorensen in the Sunderland goal who had to make the most crucial stops, producing a double save to deny Clint Easton, and then Richard Johnson on the follow-up.
The second half started in a similar fashion, with both keepers being made to work, but it was Sunderland’s star striker that eventually broke the deadlock with a penalty - Super Kevin Phillips nailing one in from the spot after Jeff Winter blew for a foul in the area on his partner in crime, Niall Quinn.
This didn’t deter Watford, though, and Sunderland sat deep to soak up the pressure - that was, until a moment of magic from England forward Phillips killed the game stone dead with just minutes remaining on the clock.
After a long ball up from the back was headed expertly into Kev’s path by substitute Danny Dichio, the pocket rocket exploded - curling his shot into the top corner from 25 yards to leave Watford keeper Chris Day rooted helplessly to his line.
That was it - three points, the crowd sent home happy, and the best centre forward in England at the time doing what he does best.
The good times will come again, I’m sure of it, but when they do I certainly won’t take them for granted - this generation of fans deserve to hero-worship a team like I did that one back in 1999; a squad littered with likeable blokes that knew how to put on a show.