The good feeling of reaching an FA Cup final didn’t last all that long during the summer of 1992.
Despite Sunderland being assigned City status - where the only noticeable difference was that the signs around the place were a mix of ‘Town’ and ‘City’ until they were all updated - there wasn’t all that much to feel optimistic about.
After Denis Smith dragged the club out of the mess left by Lawrie McMenemy, the former Stoke City defender was unable to ride out, what was in some ways, his first major bad patch in charge at Roker.
In stepped his assistant Malcolm Crosby as caretaker manager, to seemingly steady the ship, but the FA Cup run masked many failings that were highlighted by the fact we finished a place lower in the table than when the axe fell on Smith’s tenure at the club.
It seemed that Crosby was begrudgingly handed the role permanently in the lead up to our big day at Wembley as a reward for knocking out top-flight opposition such as West Ham United, Chelsea and Norwich City on the road to the final. As such, Crosby inherited much of the same issues as his predecessor, especially when it came to being backed in the transfer market.
Smith was forced to sell fan favourite Marco Gabbiadini to provide funds for strengthening the squad and Crosby was struggling to add numbers in the weeks after the defeat to Liverpool. To add to the concerns at Roker, club captain Paul Bracewell had left the club and signed for Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United in June after turning down a one-year contract at Roker.
Recruitment actually began twenty-four hours before the events on this day 31 years ago, when the signature of John Colquhoun was sealed from Millwall in a deal worth £220,000 and the 29-year-old immediately set his sights on resurrecting his international career after an unsuccessful year in the capital:
This is a great chance for me to get back on the rails. Pat Nevin showed what can be done. He went to Tranmere and played a big part in the European Championships for Scotland. If I can play well enough, I will work my way back in. Once you’ve tasted international football, you are hungry for more.
One day later, on this day in 1992, Crosby then announced a signing the media didn’t expect. After a period of very secretive talks, former Ipswich Town and Glasgow Rangers defender Terry Butcher signed on a free transfer for what was initially a two-month trial period.
Even though it had only been two years since Butcher had captained England in a World Cup semi-final against West Germany, he was now 33-years-old and had been out of football since being sacked as player-manager of Coventry City during the previous season - but it was clear in the words of Crosby in announcing the defender’s trial that it would only be as a player:
I’ve been talking to Terry for a couple of weeks and the deal was clinched when we met in Sheffield on Tuesday. Despite his age, I think this signing could be very significant for the club. He has kept himself fit and still has a lot to offer.
Terry is coming here as a player and I’m sure his experience will rub off on others. He had a knee operation last year but that is ok now. There’s no fee involved because Terry became a free agent after leaving Coventry. I like to think we’re doing him a favour by giving him another chance but I’m certain he’ll repay that many times over.
The move was facilitated by Crosby’s assistant manager, Bobby Ferguson, who was Bobby Robson’s assistant at Ipswich when Butcher was a player at Portman Road. That wasn’t the only link between the pair, as Butcher also gave Ferguson a scouting role at Coventry during his time at Highfield Road.
In other news on this day in 1992 - Paul Hardyman travelled to discuss terms with Bristol Rovers in view of making a move to the Memorial Ground, but terms had not yet been agreed between the two sides. Hardyman had publicly talked about his shock at missing out on a place in the line-up for the FA Cup final, despite playing in every round previously.