Sunderland legend Phillips will always be remembered

Kevin Phillips.
Kevin Phillips.
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KEVIN Phillips’ announcement yesterday that he was retiring at the end of the season would have come as a surprise to no-one – the man is 40 for goodness’ sake!

But the news will still have been greeted wistfully by many Sunderland supporters for whom the mere mention of the name ‘Kevin Phillips’ is enough to transport them back to a golden, goal-laden era at the Stadium of Light.

The striker will hang up his boots after Championship winners Leicester City play their final game, against Doncaster Rovers this Saturday, having netted 250 goals in a 20 year professional career, which took in Watford, West Brom, Aston Villa, Southampton, Birmingham, Blackpool and Crystal Palace.

But it is the six seasons he spent at Sunderland between 1997-2003 with which he will always be most associated – not only on Wearside but too the wider world.

He arrived as an unheralded lower league recruit, brought in by Peter Reid for just £325,000 initially.

He left, 134 goals later, as a superstar and still the only Englishman ever to win the European Golden Shoe for most prolific goalscorer in the continent’s leading leagues.

That Sunderland link is something Phillips acknowledged in his retirement statement.

“The club I’m sure most football fans associate me with is Sunderland,” he said.

“That was where I made my name and I’ve still got huge affection for that football club.

“Whenever I go back there I’m always made to feel very welcome and I have to give them a huge thank you for their support.

“The Sunderland fans have been amazing to me when I’ve gone back to play against them or been at the Stadium of Light working for Sky and I sincerely hope they stay in the Premier League this season.

“The six years I had up there were awesome.

“Obviously it ended in disappointment with relegation but it was an amazing time, a lovely place to live and I met some great people.

“The North East people in general are very humbling.”

Phillips and his family settled well in the North East.

The striker had a weekly column in the Echo for six years and enjoyed interacting with the Press, so it’s no surprise that like many of that squad - Michael Gray, Kevin Kilbane, Michael Bridges, Chris Makin, Nicky Summerbee, and Niall Quinn - have gone on to get involved to varying extents in media work.

And on the pitch he enjoyed a dream strike partnership with Niall Quinn, where the Irishman’s unselfish style was perfectly suited to Phillips’ predatory instincts.

Both made goals for each other and they functioned at their finest in the team which had Allan Johnston and Nicky Summerbee on opposing flanks providing an endless stream of attacking opportunities supplemented by the likes of Michael Gray, Alex Rae and Lee Clark.

Phillips and a whole string of new signings who arrived in quick succession - Makin, Jody Craddock, Thomas Sorensen, Danny Dichio - helped breathe new life into a freshly relegated Sunderland side.

His first season was the 90-point season - the first in the newly-opened Stadium of Light - which ended in play-off final heart-ache in the epic encounter with Charlton Athletic

His second was the record 105-promotion season and his third and fourth were the two thrilling Premier League campaigns in which Sunderland were second in the league at the half-way stage and finished seventh both times, just missing out on Europe as a small squad ran out of steam.

Those campaigns though, in which Sunderland played so much wonderful attacking football, still have a special place in the hearts of so many Black Cats’ fans.

At the centre of those seasons was the familiar sight of Phillips wheeling away time after time, arm raised aloft after notching yet another goal as Sunderland fans went mental.

As of next week, those celebrations will be consigned to the history books.

But Sunderland fans will have one last chance to see Phillips resume his legendary strike partnership with Niall Quinn, on Bank Holiday Monday (May 5).

The pair are set to line up for a Sunderland XI against a Wolves XI in the testimonial for former Black Cats defender Craddock at Molineux (kick-off 2pm).

It will be a last chance to watch one of the greatest goalscorers of his generation in action.

And no doubt many Sunderland fans will make the trip to the ground to say: “Thanks for the memories, Superkev.”