Since the idea of professional football was first conceived, contained within the small print of every Sunderland player’s contract has been a clause labelled ‘just getting it’. It is a theory that has been disregarded almost continuously since 1973, bar a few exceptions.
From Kevin Ball and Niall Quinn, to Kevin Phillips, Michael Gray, and Jordan Pickford, there has always been a propensity for players that have ‘just got it’ to hear their names being sung on the terraces. Whether they left last week or a quarter of a century ago, they are permanently etched into Sunderland folklore.
Lynden Gooch is not yet a player that can be uttered in the same breath as the aforementioned figures- not in terms of quality, or club status. However, it is almost an irrefutable truth that the lad from Santa Cruz, with the hybrid American/Irish/Mackem accent, can certainly be placed into the bracket of those who ‘get it’.
For many, his name is a reminder of our demise as a football club.
His debut, in a 2-1 defeat against Manchester City in 2016, was followed by consecutive relegations and four torrid seasons languishing in England’s third tier. After his form dipped at the back end of Lee Johnson’s tenure, the pressure cooker that can be our fanbase threatened to boil over.
Carrying the weight of an expectant Sunderland crowd, a burden that many have tried and failed to shoulder, finally seemed to have taken its toll on Gooch, with a run of poor performances and collective groans whenever his name was read out over the tannoy before games.
The arrival of Alex Neil, however, symbolised a new dawn for both club and player alike.
Gooch was an almost ever-present in the side that got to the play-off final and ultimately helped us to win promotion back to the Championship, as well as being a key part of, up until Wednesday, a side that had enjoyed a long unbeaten run in the league.
So far, with Niall Huggins sidelined until next year and Trai Hume yet to be entrusted with the responsibility of starting at this level, Gooch has not just deputised competently, but has made the position his own thus far.
It is true that his defensive positioning can certainly be improved, but his ability to bomb down that right flank and deliver Trent Alexander-Arnold-esque crosses has seen him become an early-season (albeit premature) contender for player of the year.
From the ball he played in against Coventry that led to Jack Clarke’s opening goal, to the exquisite chip against Sheffield United that restored hope after Dan Neil’s red card, Gooch’s contributions have been invaluable to a side simply looking to consolidate.
For a fanbase that has often prided itself on just wanting ‘players that care’, Gooch has demonstrated time and time again that he fully understands the size and stature of our great club, as well as what it means to the fans. This has been reflected in his start to this season, as well as the way he ended the 2021/2022 campaign.
Perhaps most poignantly, it was illustrated by his individual celebrations at Wembley, which were clearly fuelled by pride, awe, and unadulterated relief, for he has always been a player that ‘gets it’.
With Sunderland set for a hectic end to the transfer window, a natural right-back will undoubtedly remain high on the list of priorities for many.
In Gooch, however, we can call upon a player who has returned from pre-season with a point to prove, with the bit very much between his teeth, and who has shown already that he can certainly mix it at this level.