As soon as it became clear Sunderland captain and stalwart Paul Bracewell was heading up the road to join the Keegan bandwagon, Malcolm Crosby set about searching for a worthy replacement.
Bob Murray had loosened the purse strings, too. Shaun Cunnington had been signed for £650,000 from Grimsby – a decent amount of money in those days – but had struggled to make an impact, although assistant manager Bobby Ferguson labelling him the ‘new David Platt’ (Juventus, not Corrie) hadn’t helped.
In truth, for Sunderland, Cunnington looked like he’d be more at home on in Weatherfield than Wembley, and with Sunderland languishing in 20th place in the table, Crosby was desperately seeing experienced reinforcements.
On this day 30 years ago, four players were linked with a move to Roker, and the first was Sheffield Wednesday’s Danny Wilson.
32-year-old Wilson was playing top-flight football with the Owls, after making his name with Brighton and Luton Town. He’d won the League Cup twice in recent seasons – one of those victories as a result of Wilson scoring a late equaliser for Luton against Arsenal.
A playmaker with an eye for goal, Wilson had been on Crosby’s radar for a few months – the Sunderland manager remarkably missed the team’s game at Bristol City earlier in the season to scout Wilson himself as Wednesday played Arsenal at Highbury.
Wilson ended up staying at Hillsborough until the end of the season, before joining Barnsley as assistant player-manager (his Wednesday team mate Viv Anderson was appointed player-manager). Wilson took over the reins the following season and was in regular management jobs right up to leaving Chesterfield – for whom he’d played more than 100 times earlier in his career – in 2017.
The second player linked was Wolves’ Paul Cook – with a fee of £750,000 reportedly having been agreed upon.
Cook – better known today as a journeyman manager whose voice changes 33 times every interview – was a beautiful, elegant midfielder.
He could run games in the second tier, dictating play and spreading the ball around with pinpoint accuracy. He was linked with Sunderland quite a lot during his career, and at 25 years old, Cook would have been a superb signing.
A clause in his Wolves deal that meant 50% of his transfer fee allegedly went to his former club, Norwich City, however, meant a deal didn’t happen, and Cook ended up staying at Molineaux for another season and a half, before joining Coventry in the Premier League.
The third name mentioned was Norwich City’s Ian Crook, another excellent ball player with a mean set piece. Aged 29, he still had plenty left in the tank and had been a mainstay of the Norwich side that had performed well in the top flight.
He was a player who probably would have won England caps had he been at a more fashionable club, but it’s difficult to understand why he’d have been interested in dropping down a league to join Sunderland – however, we had just been FA Cup Finalists in an era that held a lot of prestige.
Crook ended up staying at Carrow Road until 1997, playing a pivotal role in their European exploits over the next couple of seasons.
However, he did blot his copybook with Canaries fans by agreeing to join rivals Ipswich when out of contract in 1996 – even posing in the blue shirt and dishing out replica kits to his kids, too – before changing his mind and resigning at the place he’d called home for a decade.
Of course, none of the three signed – although any of the trio would have been welcomed additions – and Crosby had to battle on with the team he had.
Things didn’t get a great deal better, and with the club 17th in the table in February, Crosby lost his job – infamously after a pools panel defeat to Tranmere.