I can assure you, it had nothing to do with the city, club or manager. In 2009, I had flown up from Portsmouth to see Steve Bruce, I got a tour of the training ground — which is absolutely fantastic — and had agreed terms. I’d have loved to play for Steve.
But on my way home I got a call from Harry Redknapp, who wanted me at Tottenham. I was living in London at the time and I’d worked with Harry at Portsmouth and Southampton. I just felt Tottenham would be the better option and I went with my gut instinct. I hope, someday soon, your team will be back in the Premier League.
Those are the words of Peter Crouch, who it feels like had the opportunity to come to Sunderland on several occasions over the years but for whatever reason didn’t. I suppose it is colder in the north and being that tall, it must be even colder from a greater height.
Still, back in 2009 we were a much different club to the one we are now, but we were a really ambitious outfit at the time who many looked upon as a sleeping giant. And to the credit of Steve Bruce (and those behind the scenes pulling the strings), we put together a really competitive side that season which went on to finish in the top half of the Premier League.
We went heavy on recruiting forwards and I can’t help but wonder what Crouch could have gone on to achieve for us playing up alongside Darren Bent, Kenwyne Jones and co. We were a very direct team under Bruce and I have no doubt that Crouchy would have scored goals and been a firm fan favourite, so signing him in his pomp when he was one of the top strikers in the Premier League would have been great.
Crouch played virtually every game for Spurs that season and they ended up finishing 4th, so I guess for him he made the right move, but I reckon we really missed out by never seeing Crouch in a Sunderland shirt. To me he’s the player who played most like Niall Quinn over recent years and we all know how much he was loved by our fans - we’ll never know how that would have worked out, but it feels like an opportunity missed and a relationship that could have seriously flourished over many seasons.
Kelvin Beattie says...
Shortly after he was appointed Sunderland manager in March 1984, Len Ashurst took a phone call in his office. John Alderidge’s dad reached out to let Lenny know that Robert Maxwell - the Oxford chairman and Newspaper Barron - had agreed a £75,000 cash up front deal with Newport for the free scoring forward. John did not want to go and had expressed a wish to join Ashurst at Sunderland.
Ashurst had signed Aldridge for Newport in 1979 and mentored him through some of Newports most successful years - Aldridge repaid his mentor by scoring 70 goals in 170 appearances.
Aldridge’s father told Lenny that Maxwell was pushing hard for the deal to be completed and that he probably had an hour to get an offer in.
Ashurst phoned chairman Tom Cowie immediately, and contrary to popular belief, Cowie sanctioned the move - however, Ashurst would have to sell a player or two to offset the cost and the £75,000 would only be paid in installments.
Newport said ‘no’ and the rest, as they say, is history.
Aldridge signed for Oxford and spearheaded their rise from the third to the first division and league cup winners as he scored 72 goals in 172 appearances.
Liverpool then bought him and he scored 50 goals in 83 appearances.
In his excellent autobiography ‘Left Back in Time’, Ashurst expresses his regret at not nailing this transfer:
I should have pressed Tom Cowie to the limit. I should not have accepted no as his final answer.
Lenny knew Aldridge was going to be a star. What might have been!
Malc Dugdale says...
I have to hark back to a memory from a good few years ago to put my contribution in.
As reported in several semi reliable newspapers around 8-9 years ago, we very, very nearly signed Virgil Van Dijk.
Virgil was a big favourite of Gus Poyet and was wanted by the ex-SAFC gaffer when Gus looked after Brighton.
Brighton were not in a financial position to offer what was wanted for Virgil which meant he went to Celtic from his parent club in Holland, but when Gus moved on to SAFC, he reignited his interest and stories vary from that point.
Some suggest we signed paperwork and purely down to not fully completing it and paying the fees, the deal fell through and he went to Southampton instead. Other reports say we had offers milling around but due to the sacking of Poyet before the completion of any formalities, the transfer died with Poyet‘s tenure at Sunderland.
One can only shudder to imagine the team we could have built around Virgil, who later went on to be one of the worlds best footballers, the most expensive defender of his time, and someone who won a vast array of honours.
That said, we’ve got Dan Ballard and he‘s easily as good… we hope!