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On This Day (11 June 1996): Alex Rae arrives at Roker

We look back on the Sunderland career of Alex Rae, who joined the club 26 years ago today…

Alex Rae scores against Derby County, as seen in the Middlesbrough edition of the 1999-00 programme.

By this point in 1996, preparations for Sunderland’s first season in the Premiership were already well underway. Manager Peter Reid had signed a new three-year deal the week before, and on the same day that deal was announced newspaper reports emerged suggested that he had also agreed a fee with Millwall for their midfielder Alex Rae.

The move was finalised on this day, with the initial fee making the Scot Sunderland’s first outright million-pound purchase. Forward David Kelly, brought in the previous season, had also cost £1 million but because his transfer was made up of fees and add-ons Rae was classed as the club’s record signing – for a few weeks that is until the arrival of Niall Quinn later in the summer for £1.3 million.

An early run out in Richard Ord’s testimonial, as seen in the 1996-97 Coventry City edition of the Roker Review.

Despite the outlay, the 1996-97 campaign saw the new man feature in fits and starts only. After making his debut in the final ever Wear-Tyne derby at Roker Park he followed it up with scoring his first goal for the club in the final ever Wear-Tees derby to be played there, but Rae was often a substitute and didn’t establish himself fully until the following season.

Now back in the second tier, he earned his chance following an injury to Kevin Ball and after stepping into the enforcer's role admirably soon became a crowd favourite. Rae was about more than just grit however and could play a bit too – he was able to move the ball well, drive the side forward, and had an excellent shot on him.

If you don’t remember it, his winner against Charlton Athletic in November 2000 is well worth a watch.

By that time Sunderland were back in the top-flight. Rae had missed large chunks of the promotion campaign in 1998-99 due to a combination of injuries and personal problems that had seen him admitted to a rehabilitation clinic. Supporters greeted him with a warm reception following his return however, and until his departure two years later rated him as an important part of what was a highley talented squad.

Taking on Nottingham Forest, as seen in the 1997-98 Birmingham City edition of the programme.

The surprise departures of Rae and his fellow midfielder Don Hutchison early in the 2001-02 season proved costly. Results started to slip and the side fell down the table before being relegated in 2003 whilst Rae, who had joined the growing contingent of ex-Sunderland men at Wolverhampton Wanderers, was busy earning promotion back up into the division.

Once again, he excelled at that level before joining his boyhood club Rangers and winning the Scottish league title.

Rae is a hugely entertaining speaker on the after-dinner circuit and has been a popular guest at several Wearside venues. It has been a successful side-line, as once back in Scotland he had started embarking upon a coaching career that has recently seen him appointed as assistant manager to Paul Ince at Reading.

It means he will come face to face with the Lads this coming season, and will no doubt be in for another warm welcome when the Royals visit the Stadium of Light.

Reading v Blackburn Rovers - Sky Bet Championship Photo by David Horton - CameraSport via Getty Images

Alex Rae

Born: Glasgow, Scotland 30 September 1969

SAFC debut: Sunderland 1 (Scott 19) - Newcastle United 2 (Beardsley 52, Ferdinand 62)

FA Carling Premiership, Roker Park 4 September 1996

Final SAFC appearance: Sunderland 1 (Quinn 81) - Blackburn Rovers 0

FA Barclaycard Premiership, Stadium of Light 8 September 2001

Total appearances/goals for SAFC: 109 (+ 27 as sub)/15

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