Matt Smith says...
Memories are unreliable, particularly those formed in the wide-eyed innocence and naivety of youth. Despite knowing this, I remain convinced that Kieron Brady was the greatest footballer of all time.
Having grown up with confused feelings of awe and disgust at the 1986 antics of Maradonna, feelings that could only be fully resolved through seeing such outrageous talent and impudence in a Sunderland shirt, the emergence of Brady in 1990 scratched that particular itch and then some.
As it happens, I never saw his performances in the top flight first hand and this probably helped to elevate his legendary status in my mind, unsullied by exposure to the reality of a game played over 90 mins.
Then again, at that age I doubt I’d have been adversely influenced by any positional flaws or lack of tracking back, even if I spotted them. Instead, seeing highlights of his performance against West Ham and his goal against Palace guaranteed him iconic status in my eyes. Like Bonnie Tyler I was holding out for a hero and I’d finally found one.
By the time I regularly attended games, my abiding memory is of turning up early to catch Brady’s warm-up routine, shinpads protecting uninsurable legs front and back, from the Clockstand paddocks (my probationary position before graduating to the Fulwell End).
Actual match appearances were relatively rare but all the more savoured for it. Perhaps my most abiding memory was getting tickets for the game at Middlesbrough for my birthday…but in the home Holgate End.
My younger brother, not famed for his poker face and ability to keep his emotions in check, was under strict instructions not to give the game away. When Bernie Slaven scored with only seconds on the clock, I figured I at least didn’t have that to worry about. Yet I’ve never felt as simultaneously elated and terrified as when Brady raced onto a flick on to deftly dink one over the keeper, right in front of us. I like to think it was my cool, self-control that got us out of there unharmed but, you know, memories are pretty unreliable.
Andrew Smithson says...
Like a lot of fans my age, Marco Gabbiadini was my first childhood hero, and I still love remembering his days in a Sunderland shirt even now.
When I first started getting into football I didn’t really understand tactics or formations but it was still pretty obvious why Marco was so popular.
He was fast and exciting and of course he scored a boat load of goals, so it was easy for me to pick him out. He was always the one that was featured in magazines or on the television as well, and because I was just starting to get into SAFC the two seemed to go hand in hand.
Now I find it hard to pick out a single favourite.
Different players from different positions and eras resonate for all sorts of reasons, so it would be unfair to name one above the rest.
I wrote about Tony Norman last week for example, but there are many others that stand out as special too. Marco was undoubtedly the first, however, and I’ll never forget where I was the day I found out he had been sold!
Mark Wood says...
When I started thinking about this question I came to realise that my first Sunderland memory was the 73 FA Cup Final.
I was in infant school at the time, and I distinctly remember our family sat in front of the TV watching Sunderland taking on Leeds.
None of my family followed football never mind Sunderland, but that day in May 1973 we were all sat cheering them on. I even still remember one of our neighbours running out in the street when Porterfield scored, but before that day I have no recollection of Sunderland A.F.C whatsoever.
Not the cup run, not Alan Brown, nothing. But it all started from there, watching the cup parade, following matches on the radio with my mates in the street, the cheering of the crowd on the radio and then a few seconds later hearing the roar in the air where we were, a couple of miles away. All from that day in 73.
The heroes that we talked about at school were of course were the ones that made their name in the final. Bobby Kerr the captain that lifted the cup, Jim Montgomery who made the double save and then Iain Porterfield who scored the goal.
And it was Porterfield who was my first Sunderland hero.
Why? Because he came to our school not long afterwards and stood at the front of the hall and talked to us. What he said I have no recollection of.
My memory seems to tell me that he stood there with the cup on a desk by him, but I could be completely wrong. I’d like to think it was there.
Ian Porterfield, scorer of the winning goal in the Cup Final.
We thought every season was going to be like that, but as a first memory, a first hero, it's the kind that will hook you for life.
Malc Dugdale says...
As a lad born in 1970 I was way too tender an age to fully appreciate the legends that rocked football by winning the FA cup from the second tier in 73, but there is one name that really stuck with me from my childhood apart from those 73 gems, and that was Barry Siddall.
As I progressed through primary school I developed into a goalkeeper of reasonable talent (partly as I have always been tall), so when I started taking an interest in my home town club between the ages of 6 and 8, the goalies at Roker Park gathered all of my attention.
I vividly remember the news that our Jimmy was to hang up his gloves in the mid-70s, but when Siddall came in from Bolton in 1976, I paid really close attention to his contribution to games through reading the football echo and trying to catch any snippets on TV I could. Everyone I knew was hoping he could live up to Jimmy's standards and shore us up at the back to help us get back out of Division Two, where we found ourselves at the end of the 76-77 season.
My very wise Nana always told me, if you learn from the best and work as hard as the best, you can become the best, so following our keepers as a junior school kid became a passion for sure.
When Ken Knighton took the helm in the late 70s and we made our way back to Division One in 1980, I was a Sunderland obsessed goalie playing in the school first team, and every save made by Barry was mimicked on the playing field or on the concrete of the playground. Scabs and grazes were ignored as I tipped a save round the left post/jumper.
My mates even joined in with a “Siiiidaaaalllll” chant when I made a good save for our school side. He was everywhere that Sunderland fans were, especially budding young goalies like me.
Seeing our lads go up at the third time of asking in 1980 (as they almost made it back up in 78 and 79 too) cemented my berth as a Sunderland fan for life, which to be honest was at times waivered by spells living in Notts with my coal miner led family. Seeing Forest dominate Europe as they did was easily countered by the Lads getting back where they belong.
Barry wasn’t a legend at the level of Jimmy, nor maybe even not as good a keeper as the likes of other greats like Tony Norman and Tommy Sorensen, but he was Sunderland, and he played in my position when I was obsessed with the club as a lad.
Looking at online references, Barry didn’t hang up his gloves till the early 90s, but his 167 appearances for the lads remained the biggest stint in nets for any team across his 640 game senior career.
Thanks for the memories Barry.
Now can you dodge down to the AOL and give Patto and Hoff a few tips, please?
Kelvin Beattie says...
I saw my first football hero play in 1966! The World Cup was coming to England and Roker Park. I went to my first game to see Sunderland v Blackpool.
I can still see the giant that was Charlie Hurley, a real-life Sunderland hero in my mind's eye from that day. Jimmy Monty no word of a lie winked at me, the first timer in the Roker End as he took his place in the goal.
John O’Hare scored two goals to win the game and especially just for me. He went on to become a Forrest legend and I followed his career because of our connection from that day. McNab, Harvey and Lenny the Lion were also playing and I came to admire them greatly. Two youngsters up from our junior team were in the squad that day and I followed Allan Gauden and Gary Moore’s careers because of my first game connection. But that day in February 1966 I only had eyes for the tall dark half-back, whose left foot seemed to exist in a footballing world of its own to this besotted 8-year-old!
Jim Baxter seemed to be playing with his own ball that day as he strutted his stuff on the Roker paddock. I could not get the images of him out of my head… dummying, twisting, turning. The drop of his shoulder to create that bit more space to fizz another slide rule pass. I loved the way he caressed the ball wherever and however it arrived to him. The ball seemed to always be ready to be stroked wherever he wished it.
I managed to get to four more games at Roker that season and he continued to mesmerise me. The World Cup came that summer and we all went a bit football crazy. The fact that Jim Baxter was nowhere to be seen bothered me not one jot. I was consumed by my icon. I posed and postured in front of our tiled bedroom mirror (we were dead posh!). I practised fanatically with my left foot (despite being right-footed) at the tarmac garages at the bottom of our street.
I lived on a large council estate in Morpeth. Right opposite my house was a cut between two houses that led to a patch of grass we played footy on. I used to trot down that cut, head high ball in hand like Baxter coming out of the tunnel at Roker. I would not like to admit how old I was the last time I did this… but I did have two of my three children with me!
My mates and I at the time would run commentaries on ourselves as we played. Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Pele and Geordie Best were the most common. Midst all these “Baxter Shoots Baxter Scores” would ring out!
Not too long ago I confided in my youngest brother, himself a Sunderland fan (but not even born when Baxter played for us) that I had imagined myself Baxter-like at my weekly walking football game, as I controlled a ball right-footed and slid a 30 metre left foot pass on the button to a teammate to score. He remarked that he was impressed I still dreamed in this way in my mid 60’s, but I needed to appreciate I was always more Cattermole-like than Baxter!
Jim Baxter’s spell at Sunderland promised so much, but sadly history tells us this was not to be. A story for another day perhaps. His stay on Wearside probably divides opinion, but few of us that saw him play would deny that on his day he was a captivating sight to behold.
Jim Baxter - my first football hero.