‘Almost the worst hat-trick in history’, Lee Howey’s most famous day in a Sunderland shirt

Lee Howey celebrates scoring at Roker Park with Gary Owers ready to give him a helping hand.
Lee Howey celebrates scoring at Roker Park with Gary Owers ready to give him a helping hand.
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A famous two-goal salvo from an even more famous name, almost the “worst hat-trick in history” and Gary Owers’ final game for the club.

There was plenty to remember when Sunderland beat this weekend’s visitors to the Stadium of Light, Bristol City – 23 years ago at Roker Park.

Enough to fill part of a chapter of a book, in fact.

Lee Howey scored both goals for the Black Cats in that 2-0 victory at Roker Park in 1994.

The one-time defender-cum-striker, brother of former Newcastle United and England defender Steve, and a cult hero on Wearside is releasing his memoirs titled “Massively Violent and Decidedly Average” in February.

And he has given an exclusive sneak preview of the part of the book which recalls arguably Lee’s most famous performance in a red and white shirt.

“I was an unused substitute for the opening game of 1994-95, which was a goalless draw at Bristol City,” writes Howey.

“For Sunderland and for me personally, this was almost a microcosm of how the season would develop.

“We would finish it with 18 draws, the most in English football.

“Six of them were goalless. I wouldn’t step on the pitch until October 15 as a late substitute against Burnley, again a 0-0 and another thriller.

“This blizzard of non-events may be inducing you nod off now, so I shall tell you about a rare good day that I had in 1994-95.

“It came at home to Bristol City – who would be relegated – a week before Christmas.

“It was my first start of the season.

“Don Goodman had left for Wolves and Phil Gray was injured. Luckily Mick Buxton remembered that I was still there.

“It had been a turgid encounter with the score at its customary 0-0.

“The early stages of the second period were no more swashbuckling, despite the usual spellbinding half-time team-talk from Mick.

“The fans were discussing their favourite novels and how it was quite mild for the time of year, when we attacked the goal at the Fulwell End in the 54th minute.

“It may have been the first attack by either side.

“There was a scramble in City’s six-yard box, which culminated in a six-inch pile-driver off my studs.

“The crowd had no chance of knowing for sure who had scored, as if they cared, but the PA announcer bellowed out my name, much to the chagrin of Craig Russell who thought the goal was his.

“Well, it wasn’t.

“The record shows that I scored it and always will.

“So he can get lost! It was his own fault anyway for having shorter legs than me!

“20 minutes later, the day improved further.

“Gordon Armstrong had a long-range effort and it was dreadful.

“Left to make its own way in life, that shot would have gone for a throw-in.

“It was wildly inaccurate but had the virtue of being firmly struck. The ball hurtled towards me on the edge of the penalty area.

“I put my shin to it and then watched it ping past the keeper, Keith Welch.

“Quality goals ... As long as they go in.

“That said, it wasn’t a complete fluke; I wasn’t trying to miss.

“The final score was 2-0.

“As we had won only one of our previous eight matches and were sliding down the league, the three points were more than useful.

“It was a good victory and wonderful for me personally to score twice.

“But it was a terrible game.

“Perhaps more significant than the result was that it was Gary Owers’ 330th and final game for Sunderland.”

It was Owers who described Howey’s deadly double that day as “almost the worst hat-trick in history.”

Owers left days later for Bristol City after making more than 300 first-team appearances for Sunderland AFC.

Howey, a Sunderland born-and-bred former St Aidan’s pupil, represented ‘the club he would have died for’ between 1993 and 1997.

He played an important role in the club’s first promotion to the Premier League under Peter Reid in 1996. At the time, his brother Steve was a mainstay of the Newcastle team under Kevin Keegan.

After leaving Sunderland, Howey played for Burnley, Northampton, Forest Green Rovers and Nuneaton Town before hanging up his boots in 2002. To pre-order Howey’s book visit www.bitebackpublishing.com/books/massively-violent-decidedly-average