After securing an immediate return to the Premier League- and claiming the Championship title for good measure- the summer of 2007 saw optimism among the red and white faithful reach levels that we had seldom seen since the glory days of the Peter Reid era.
During a thrilling and unforgettable 2006/2007 campaign, Roy Keane had elevated us from ‘worst to first’- lifting the entire club and the fanbase with his sheer force of personality, and at thirty five and with less than a year’s worth of managerial experience to his name, he was now preparing to lead Sunderland back into the top flight.
Unlike the buildup to 2005/2006, when it was obvious that money was incredibly tight following years of erratic financial management, we now had the muscle to at least compete with, if not comprehensively outspend, our rivals, following the Drumaville Consortium’s takeover of the club during the previous summer.
In addition to being on a stable financial footing, it felt like the opportunity to play under one of the game’s great figures would be a huge selling point as we attempted to lure players of genuine quality to Wearside. Mercifully, among those players was not Robbie Savage, famously shunned by Keane after an infamous telephone call and mickey-taking voice message.
What was particularly noteworthy about this particular window was that Keane did not dismantle his league-winning squad before embarking on a complete and utter overhaul.
Indeed, among the departures, Stephen Elliott and Tobias Hysen were the only high-profile players to exit the Stadium of Light, and the core of the previous season’s squad was retained, meaning that the likes of Dean Whitehead, Grant Leadbitter and Nyron Nosworthy would have a shot at Premier League redemption, having all participated in the infamous fifteen-point 2005/2006 season.
The first signing came in the shape of Greg Halford, who arrived from Reading for £4.6 million. He was followed by Aberdeen captain Russell Anderson, who headed south from Pittodrie in a deal worth £1.35 million. Anderson in particular had a good reputation north of the border, having made over 280 appearances for the Dons and ended his time in Scotland as club captain.
Sadly, neither player would make a particularly big impact at Sunderland, with the abiding image of Halford’s spell at the club being a torrid display against Middlesbrough, when he suffered a comprehensive roasting at the hands of Stuart Downing, and Anderson barely featuring either.
July saw a clutch of players arrive that would play much bigger roles during the season, as Michael Chopra, Dickson Etuhu, Paul McShane, and Kieran Richardson arrived from Cardiff, Norwich, West Bromich Albion, and Manchester United respectively.
This quartet, of which former Newcastle striker Chopra was the most expensive at £5 million, were all first-team regulars during 07/08, and Richardson, in particular, would ultimately enjoy a productive four-year spell on Wearside, becoming a genuine fan favourite in the process and scoring some memorable goals along the way.
Chopra’s most notable contribution in red and white came on the opening day, before his time on Wearside began to turn sour, and the form of McShane and Etuhu was often patchy, although Etuhu would score a crucial goal against Wigan after returning from the AFCON later that season.
As the weeks went by and the opening game against Tottenham drew ever nearer, we made our biggest statement in the transfer market, as Craig Gordon was signed from Hearts for a then-record fee for a British goalkeeper- £9 million.
The arrival of a Scottish international goalkeeper felt like a genuine watershed signing for Sunderland, and at just twenty four, it felt as though we were aiming to secure the goalkeeper’s position for the foreseeable future, as Gordon would be backed up by the reliable Darren Ward and Marton Fulop.
After kicking off the season with that victory over Spurs and enduring some patchy form thereafter, we continued to recruit, but the final transfers of the summer ranged from the successful to the frankly bizarre.
Cork City’s Roy O’Donovan became a stock answer to the question of ‘name the most obscure Sunderland player in your lifetime’, and quite what Keane saw in Andy Cole and Ian Harte, who joined from Portsmouth and Levante respectively, remains a mystery fifteen years on.
Despite those misses, the window would end on a very upbeat note.
Stern John, a key player during the previous season’s promotion run-in, would depart for Southampton in a swap deal for one Kenwyne Jones, a player who settled down quickly and became a focal point of our attack.
Suffice it to say, our transfer business had been somewhat hit and miss, but when January 2008 arrived, and we augmented the squad with the likes of Andy Reid and the returning Jonny Evans (as well as the blink-and-you’ll-miss-him acquisition of Rade Prica) we ultimately had enough strength to eventually secure survival with a thrilling victory over Middlesbrough.
In hindsight, perhaps our recruitment during the summer of 2007 was slightly too scattergun, but if the end justified the means, it would be fair to say that it was reasonably successful.