David Jones: It wasn’t always this bad as a Sunderland fan

Kevin Phillips celebrates scoring in Sunderland's memorable promotion-winning trip to Bury in 1999. Picture by Peter Berry
Kevin Phillips celebrates scoring in Sunderland's memorable promotion-winning trip to Bury in 1999. Picture by Peter Berry
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IT wasn’t always like this. We’re in an era when Sunderland victories are collectors’ items; we cherish them, coming along as they do weeks apart and you’re never quite sure when and where the next one will surface.

But I remember a time when this club was winning 31 games in a season … yes you read that right, 31!

The crowning moment was April 13, 1999, a Tuesday night at Bury and the night of my 25th birthday

David Jones

Indulge me as I take you back to my favourite era supporting this great club of ours.

It was the Peter Reid era, the end of Roker and the start of the Stadium of Light. The team had regrouped after dropping out of the Premier League and hit the ground running in its new surroundings.

The promotion race was nothing short of spectacular, with four clubs hitting 88 points or more, and famously saw Sunderland squaring off with Charlton in the most famous of all gut-wrenching play-off finals at Wembley.

That season saw Sunderland score 86 goals, winning 26 games on their way to 90 points.

Not bad, but Reidy knew they could do better.

Going forward there wasn’t much wrong, but he’d identified weakness at the back, taking barrel-chested centre-half Paul Butler from Bury and a new goalkeeper to replace cult hero Lionel Perez, a 22-year-old Dane, Thomas Sorensen.

Up front, the Quinn-Phillips axis had support from Danny Dichio and Michael Bridges, and any combination of those four were being supplied by Nicky Summerbee and Allan Johnston from the flanks.

Kevin Ball, Alex Rae and Lee Clark provided steel and guile in the middle of the park, while the full-back combination of Chris Makin and Michael Gray were the best I’ve seen before or since.

By the time Oxford United had been thrashed 7-0 in September, promotion was already starting to look a sure thing.

I remember standing in the rain at Portsmouth a week later thinking I was about to see Sunderland’s first defeat of the season, until Johnston magic-ed something up to steal a point.

This team didn’t know how to lose.

The next away game saw them come from behind at Norwich to draw 2-2 and then it was off to the Hawthorns.

When Lee Hughes bagged a first-half brace to send West Brom in two up at the break it looked finally as if the bubble was about to burst: but this was to be the defining 45 minutes of Sunderland’s season.

On the pitch Bally, breathing fire, dragged Sunderland back into the game, crashing into tackles and driving his team forward.

Fittingly, it was the skipper himself who slammed home Sunderland’s unlikely winner four minutes from time – what a man, what a comeback!

The first defeat finally came in November but the lads won the next four.

Another setback at Tranmere on Boxing Day but the third defeat of the season at the end of January was to be the last.

Of the final 17 games, Sunderland won an incredible 14.

Ninety-one goals, a record 105 points, 31 victories along the way … sensational stuff.

The crowning moment was April 13, 1999, a Tuesday night at Bury and the night of my 25th birthday.

The game was live on Sky – who by this time I was working for – and I was at home in London incapacitated by gastric flu!

So there I was on my birthday, bed bound, sweating profusely, losing weight at a rapid rate but slightly consoled by the fact Sunderland were on the telly … only, adverse weather conditions meant my satellite was on the blink.

It was as if my hero Super Kev knew the sorry state I was in and decided to send me a subliminal birthday message. He scored four goals in a 5-2 win and Sunderland were promoted … just a shame I didn’t get to see it.

Of course the fun didn’t end there with two barnstorming seasons back in the Premier League and two seventh-placed finishes before the victories began to become a little less frequent.

And here we are now more than a decade on harking back to those days through rose-tinted spectacles, desperately clinging on to our Premier League status.

What’s the point of all this?

Just a little reminder that life doesn’t start and end in the Premier League, it just feels that way sometimes.

As a fan, nothing is better than seeing your team win, whatever the level.

BET IN BRIEF

Worth reminding readers that bookies Sky Bet think there is very little chance Sunderland will be relegated. They were as short as 2/9 for Sunderland to stay up before kick-off last night.

Click here for Sky Bet http://www.skybet.com/football/manager-specials