The summer of 2000 was one where all those who followed Sunderland needed to take a breath.
It had only been five years since Peter Reid was going into his first summer as Sunderland manager, having not only just rescued the club from relegation to the third tier, but also having signed a long-term deal to confirm his stay was not just a temporary salvage job.
The club that Peter Reid was introduced to back in April 1995 was one of mismanagement, where virtually all the transfer kitty was risked on bringing in Brett Angell at before the transfer deadline and a bungled loan deal for Dominic Matteo would risk the club being docked points.
Fast forward to precisely five years later, Peter Reid was presiding over a very different club. One that had already been to the Premier League for Roker Park’s final season, but the fact it ended in tragedy made us all the stronger for what followed.
It took us two seasons in our new home, following the move to Roker, to make it back to the top flight, and what two seasons they were. In two whole seasons, we lost only eleven league games and out of 46 league games at the Stadium of Light in our first two seasons there, we lost only three.
We broke record after record as a club and on the pitch we had the likes of Kevin Phillips who was breaking all sorts of records with the fact he just couldn’t stop scoring, and then came the challenge of the Premier League once again.
We knew it would be tough, and an opening day thumping at Stamford Bridge confirmed our fears, but after that something odd happened - we only lost two more games until Boxing Day, where even after a 5-0 defeat at Goodison Park we were still siting 3rd in the Premier League table.
We’d eventually finish 7th after our form dipped after Christmas, but it was a testament to how good our side was in the second tier that, in terms of new signings who contributed, only Steve Bould, Stefan Schwarz, Eric Roy and Kevin Kilbane were new additions that contributed more that 15 appearances, with only Schwarz making over twenty starts in the league.
It showed that even though Peter Reid broke the clubs transfer record to capture Stefan Schwarz, the turnover of players and the outlay on new signings weren’t significant in our success. So, in anticipation of how we would follow up our highest league finish since 1955, all eyes were on manager Peter Reid during the summer of 2000 to see how Sunderland would strengthen.
And on this day twenty-two years ago, the club announced three new signings - Don Hutchison arrived from Everton for £2.5 million, Belgian midfielder Tom Peeters joined from KV Mechelen for around £250,000 and Austrian goalkeeper Jurgen Macho also signed on the dotted line from First Vienna.
The big deal of the day was clearly the signature of Scottish international Don Hutchison, which had been the summer transfer saga from Sunderland’s point of view. Alan Curbishley and Charlton Athletic had also made the former Liverpool midfielder an offer where they had the advantage that Hutchison’s London-born wife had a preference to move closer to her roots.
A deal for Hutchison to come to Sunderland had been on the table since the previous March when Peter Reid had first tabled an offer of £2.5 million but had refused to match Walter Smith’s valuation of £3.5 million. In the days leading up to the announcement it had been expected that Hutchison would make the move to The Valley, but in the end opted for the Stadium of Light.
Tom Peeters was one of those Peter Reid signings (Carsten Fredgaard, Milton Nunez, Nicolas Medina etc etc...) that signed with apparent potential to be a bargain, that ended up being labelled a flop a few years later when contracts were invariably cancelled.
Jurgen Macho was approaching his 23rd birthday when he signed for Sunderland, but had only played 19 times for First Vienna and he ended up only making 24 starts in three years for the Lads. Eventually he would retire in 2013 having made 173 appearances in a career that spanned around 17 years.
As we prepared for the season ahead, I will leave the last words for Bobby Saxton who commented on how himself and Peter Reid were approaching the challenge that faced them:
We have a few irons in the fire. We won’t shell out every penny in the club and leave it destitute. We are looking to bring in players who are better than the ones that finished seventh in the league. It’s not easy because they are not ten-a-penny. We will only sign players who we feel are right for the club.
I’m as keen as ever. I’m looking forward to the season with optimism - as I’ve always done.
We can’t dwell on what happened last season, just as we couldn’t dwell on the season we were relegated from the Premiership. Of course we had a great season, but that’s history now. It’s a nice part of Sunderland’s history, but we have to move on and think about the future.
It doesn’t guarantee us anything this season, although it does create huge expectations. When you achieve a certain status, you put yourself up there to be shot at. Manchester United are expected to win the Premiership. It won’t be easy because of the challenge from Arsenal and Chelsea, but they’re still expected to do it
We are also expected to do the business at our level. We’ve done well, but now we need to do even better and keep improving. We need to be more consistent and not just play up to Christmas. The fans will demand it and I’m not saying that’s wrong. It’s positive thinking. We will go out and do our best. It’s a challenge and we’re looking forward to it.
Halcyon days indeed.