It had been some 12 months in the life of a Sunderland fan. A year earlier, the Lads had crashed out of the Premier League while collecting a mere 15 points - as we recorded one home win during the whole season.
Kevin Ball had limped Sunderland home to the end of the season in the role of caretaker manager after Mick McCarthy was sacked with ten games remaining. The former Republic of Ireland manager was expected to perform miracles to keep the club in the top flight after achieving a minor miracle by getting us there in the first place.
The outcome of the season was in many ways inevitable from the very beginning, as McCarthy struggled to recruit new signatures to prepare the squad for top-flight football with the financial constraints at the club.
If things looked bad as we began the Premier League campaign, it appeared disastrous at the end. Many players were so despondent they were looking for moves away, and in the boardroom, Bob Murray had decided he had been chairman of the football for long enough and was looking for potential buyers in the summer of 2006.
In stepped Niall Quinn with his Drumaville consortium, and after a bumpy start, Roy Keane was appointed and we returned to the land of milk and honey once again - only this time things were much different.
Keane wasn’t the type to just make up the numbers, and with Drumaville and Quinn firmly behind him to seal his targets, it was exciting as the summer got underway. Around four weeks after the emphatic win at Luton Town that finished off our title-winning season, Greg Halford was first to sign on the dotted line from Reading for a fee in the region of £3m.
Around two weeks later, Russell Anderson travelled south of the border to join the ranks from Aberdeen and two weeks after that Michael Chopra signed from Cardiff City for around £5m.
Then a few days later, on the 16th of July, Kieran Richardson raised eyebrows by coming to Wearside for around £5.5m from Keane’s former club Manchester United and twenty-four hours later, on this day in 2007, Dickson Etuhu also boosted the midfield after joining from Norwich City for around £1.5m.
Between £15-20million had been spent on strengthening the squad and there was still around three weeks remaining until the visit of Martin Jol’s Tottenham Hotspur to kick-off the new season.
The football world was beginning to take notice of Sunderland, especially after securing the signature of 23-year-old Richardson, who had made his debut for England back in May 2005, with Keane stating:
I’m well aware of what a good player and a good lad he is. He’s ready for a fresh challenge and we can provide that.
The big-spending also caught the eye of a former United teammate of Keane, as Gary Pallister commented that he felt Sunderland were “paying over the odds” to attract players to Wearside. The comment wasn’t only referring to the players that had arrived but the players that the manager had been pursuing.
A bid had been withdrawn for Portsmouth striker David Nugent after it was reported Keane lost patience as the price went up to £7m, Jussi Jaaskelainen appeared to have led Sunderland on to force Bolton Wanderers’ hand in contract negotiations and Chris Baird decided to join Fulham in a £3m deal after Keane had agreed a fee with the Saints. All of which led Pallister to comment on Keane’s summer transfer business:
He’s been trying hard to get players in. He got Chopra in the other day and now he’s managed to get an old teammate in Richardson. He’s had a bit of success, but at the moment I think he’s paying slightly over the odds for players.
I think Roy has suggested himself that it is very difficult to get people up to the north-east. Th big players are looking for bigger clubs, so that’s what he’s fighting against at the moment. But Kieran is an England international.
I know he hasn’t been a regular in the team at United but he has played a lot of games and had a great spell on loan at West Bromwich Albion, so I guess he’s hoping to reproduce that kind of form for Sunderland.