On this day 15 years ago, the chapter that combined Manchester United and Republic of Ireland legend Roy Keane and Sunderland AFC got underway on the pitch.
It was such an odd time to be a Sunderland fan. Things were low, but we had hope.
Mick McCarthy had done a fantastic job, with arguably one hand tied behind his back, by steadying the ship and taking us back to the Premier League by winning the title in May 2005.
The financial state of the club at that time resulted in us being chronically underprepared for the challenge of the Premier League, where after 38 games, we accumulated only 15 points - a record low at the time.
Towards the end of that season, protests were directed towards the boardroom where Bob Murray was completing his 19th season as chairman of Sunderland AFC, and reports were circulating that if there was a willing buyer, it had the potential to be the last.
As the season came to a close, the rumour mill swung into action and even this was tempered by the fact that the club were reported to be carrying a debt of between £30-40m.
This immediately narrowed the field on potential buyers, but as Kevin Ball fought on in the role of caretaker manager in the final months of the season, stories began to circulate that our former striker Niall Quinn had put together a consortium, and negotiations were moving fast.
The group included seven Irish investors - that included Charlie Chawke and Louis Fitzgerald, plus one local businessman in the form of John Hays - and were named Drumaville, after a village in Donegal.
On the 1st May, we were well beaten 3-0 at the Stadium of Light by Thierry Henry’s Arsenal side in what was a pretty routine defeat that year, but behind the scenes that evening, the progress of the deal took a significant step. Bob Murray had signed a document meaning the Drumaville group now went into a period of exclusivity with the club.
Our bidding vehicle is currently in discussions with Sunderland. Unfortunately stock exchange rules mean I cannot give you any details. Hopefully it will lead to an offer, and an offer which is satisfactory.
I can’t let you know specific details but I am chairman of the bidding vehicle. The only thing I’ll say is you don’t play a game of poker by letting everybody know your hand, but my guys might have a good hand.
There was still a huge amount of work to do, but on 27th July 2006, a formal statement was submitted to the stock exchange confirming an unconditional takeover by Niall Quinn’s Drumaville consortium of Sunderland Football Club.
This was only nine days before the start of the new season, and following the previous season, many players had voiced their concern due to the uncertainty at the club and not only did the new owners had a squad to sort out, but a managers position that was still vacant.
The good thing about taking full control of the club is that, now, I have the cheque book in my hands. As soon as the announcement was made, the first thing I did was fax off three offers for players. Fingers crossed they are successful.
The 39-year-old former Republic of Ireland international was now installed as chairman - and due to the gaps on the coaching side, took control of the playing side and brought in Peter Reid’s former number-two Bobby Saxton to help him out.
Despite the early talk of transfers coming in, Quinn found it difficult to plan long term as he was simultaneously attempting to appoint a manager. The press linked us with Sam Allardyce, David O’Leary, Martin O’Neill and Peter Reid, although the new chairman hinted that the new owners were aiming high and had already come close to convincing their targets.
There were a couple of times when I thought we were there. We were as close as you can be, we’d already agreed certain things and we thought we had the package that would get one of them to make the jump but it just didn’t come off.
We looked overseas as well. We looked at the very best and talked to people at the World Cup. We were told there would have been a chance if we’d been in the Premiership and they are still in our sights if things go well.
One of those that could be included in the bracket of coming close was a name that had not appeared in the media up to that point - Roy Keane. Probably a name that even if it was provided in an exclusive tip they might not have believed them.
The events of the 2002 World Cup were still talked about even if it was four years prior and the former Manchester United midfielder had just finished his playing career months earlier at Celtic. But talks had taken place and even though they had seemingly stalled Quinn still held out hope.
We thought we were there, but as the deal was going through Roy had second thoughts. He had just came out of his football career and he wanted to go away on holiday and think about it. We decided to press on with the deal anyway. It was always his for a period of time.
The season got underway and despite the good feeling around the club following the takeover, the poor form from the previous season continued as we lost the first four in the Coca-Cola Championship followed by defeat at Bury in the League Cup - who at the time sat bottom of the Football League.
Over the next few days the negotiations began again but the appointment wasn’t made official until the 28th August which was the same day as our victory over West Bromwich Albion, and was unveiled the day after.
But we knew Roy was favourable to coming at the point though, so we remained calm. He didn’t come til a week later and we had a game against the league leaders West Brom; word had started to seep out that Roy was coming and the players all played 35% better in that game! We beat the league leaders easy and the players were all up for it, so that was a little twist before he created before he even came into the door.
Due to an international window our next fixture was 12 days away, but more importantly, the transfer window only had 3 days remaining - and work needed to be done, quickly.
Before the deadline, we managed to get six new signings confirmed - Stanislav Varga, Ross Wallace, Liam Miller (all from Celtic), Graham Kavanagh, David Connolly (both from Wigan Athletic) and Dwight Yorke (from Sydney). Only David Connolly and Dwight Yorke weren’t able to participate in the manager’s opening game.
Old problems surfaced in the first half at Pride Park, however, when Billy Davies’ side took the lead just before half-time as Matt Oakley finished after Steve Howard’s cut-back. That 15 minutes in the dressing room that day was Roy Keane’s first test as a manager.
I had very little to say at half-time except to keep their heads and trust one another. It was a great test of character and they reacted exactly the way I thought they would. I told them when I took over that it is all about character and if you have got it you will go a long way.
On the hour mark, good work from Graham Kavanagh down the left on his debut provided the opportunity for Chris Brown to equalise and we were off and running.
Only two minutes later, two debutants combined to give Sunderland the lead. A high ball out from the back was flicked on by David Connolly perfectly into the path of fellow new-boy Ross Wallace who took one touch to set himself up for a strike at goal before driving it into the far corner beyond Stephen Bywater in the Derby goal.
The ride with Roy Keane would come to an end in the Premier League at the beginning of December 2008 - but what a ride it was.
Derby County: Bywater, Edworthy (Bolder), Leacock, Michael Johnson, Camara, Barnes, Oakley, Smith, Peschisolido (Seth Johnson), Howard, Lupoli Substitutes Not Used: Grant, Malcolm, Nyatanga
Sunderland: Alnwick, Delap, Cunningham, Varga, Robbie Elliott, Miller, Kavanagh, Whitehead, Wallace, Connolly (Stephen Elliott), Brown Substitutes Not Used: Ward, Hysen, Leadbitter, Neill Collins.