Revealed: Sunderland legends Kevin Phillips and Gary Rowell’s magic memories of breaking 100-goal barrier

Kevin Phillips, Graeme Anderson and Gary Rowell
Kevin Phillips, Graeme Anderson and Gary Rowell
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Sunderland legends Gary Rowell and Kevin Phillips relive some of the magic moments that saw them become the only living players to score more than 100 goals for the club.

Only Len Shackleton since the end of the Second World War can match their feat of notching treble figures for the club.

Phillips celebrates scoring against Bury in 1999

Phillips celebrates scoring against Bury in 1999

In this exclusive, three-part series for the Echo they talked to GRAEME ANDERSON about their careers, their memories of the club and their hopes for its future.

In this first part, Rowell and Phillips cast their minds back to their own individual memories of their time at the club.

YOUR FAVOURITE GOAL?

GR: I suppose the goals against Newcastle always spring to mind first but they weren’t my best goals technically.

Gary Rowell scores against Newcastle in 1979

Gary Rowell scores against Newcastle in 1979

I tend to remember the ones I scored from outside the area because most of mine came inside the 18-yard box.

It’s interesting because nowadays every goal is endlessly repeated on TV and you can always go to YouTube if you want,

But most of our games were never televised and there are few recordings.

I remember scoring good volleys against West Ham, Stoke and Nottingham Forest.

But the one that sticks in my mind was my first goal for Sunderland, at Hull City, a ball that was half-cleared that I hit instinctively from 25 yards which flew low into the bottom corner just inside the post.

It was memorable because it was my first, it was part of a 4-1 win with promotion all but clinched and there was a pitch invasion, in a nice way, at the end of it!

KP: It would probably be the Chelsea goal for me in the famous 4-1 win at the Stadium of Light in December 1999.

It was a dipping first-time shot from 25 yards.

Well, it was 25 yards when I hit it but now, with the passage of time I think it’s up to about 45 yards at least!

It was special because it was true and as confident a shot as I ever hit.

As soon as it left my foot I knew it was in and it was great to see the keeper desperately scrambling to get across but having no chance of reaching it.

The goal just capped off what was an incredible performance, certainly in the first half.

We went into the break 4-0 up, and to do it to them after getting spanked 4-0 down at their place on the opening day of the season was an incredible point for us to have reached in terms of transitioning to the Premier League.

FAVOURITE PLAYER PLAYED WITH?

GR: Frank Worthington was great because he was such a class act and played with such swagger even though he was near the end of his career.

If you played in the same team as him, you enjoyed yourself.

But I really enjoyed playing with Tony Towers, who played in my original position. I looked up to him and I learned a lot from him.

Bobby Kerr was a big influence of course because he was such a busy footballer and a livewire in the dressing room. I should mention Paul Bracewell too, who was a really good player.

KP: If I had to choose just one, then of course I’m going to choose Niall Quinn.

It has to be him because that partnership was something special,there’s no getting away from it and when I meet up with Sunderland fans, they always want to talk about it.

The strange thing is that we never worked on it and people can’t believe that when I tell them.

Not once did we have a training session which was specifically for me and Niall and building up our understanding of each other on the pitch.

It was pretty much I would look at him and he would look at me, we would know where he was going to put it and I would get on the end of it and score.

Certainly if I was thinking of my favourite player to have in a Sunderland team then I couldn’t really start anywhere other than with Quinny.

But I would have to say though that the two wingers we had in that era, I loved playing with – Nicky Summerbee and Allan Johnston.

And to that mix, I’d have to add Mickey Gray bombing on from left-back.

Although Mickey was supposed to be the left-back in that team he had such a good engine that he was always catching up Allan or more often than not going past him.

If anything, Mickey operated as a wing-back even when he was supposed to to be a left-back.

And I used to love to turn towards goal and see him overlapping on the wing and usually ready to hit a first-time cross.

FAVOURITE PLAYER PLAYED AGAINST?

GR: I would probably say Colin Todd. I was aware of him as a great player growing up at Sunderland.

Quick, strong, brave he was everything a defender should be.

I played against him at Roker Park in an FA Cup game when we were in the Second Division and he was with Everton who were riding high in the top flight.

We won 2-1 and Colin Todd brought me down in the box to concede a penalty which I put away.

It was a good feeling for me because he was a great player.

KP: I would have to say Paul Scholes.

He was just such a class player that it was a privilege being on the same pitch as him. He was such an effective player, so focused and so good at what he did. He oozed class.

And later in my career when I got a call-up for England and was training with him, that only drove home the point more.

He could play in any attacking role and he was a fantastic finisher too.

THE TOUGHEST OPPONENT YOU CAME UP AGAINST?

GR: I would probably say Kenny Sansom, the former Arsenal and England full-back.

I came up against him in the Second Division in the late 70s, when we were both still young players

He was at Crystal Palace under Terry Venables and I remember Venables saying in the Echo the night before the match that he thought of me as the best player in the division and that stopping would be the main part of his game plan.

Sansom turned out to be the solution.

He followed me all over the pitch for the whole 90 minutes. He literally never left my side and I barely got a kick, let alone an attack on goal. It was as good a man-marking job as he could have done.

On a general note, I would have to say the toughest central defensive double act I ever came up against was the Liverpool duo Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson. As a pairing, they didn’t have a weakness.

KP: Martin Keown. And a lot of other strikers who came up against him would say that too.

He was just horrible. He knew every trick in the book and he used the lot of them!

But he was a good defender because he was absolutely committed to stopping you scoring by any means possible.

And I tell you another player who I had some right battles with and that was Colin Cooper at Middlesbrough.

We would have a right battle on the pitch and then he would come off the pitch being really pleasant, saying: “I enjoyed that today,” and complimenting me on how tough I had been.

Cooper might not be an obvious choice but he was a Jekyll and Hyde character – off the pitch as nice as ninepence; on it he could be a beast with all the tricks.

Keown though remains the one you least wanted to be up against.

WHICH MANAGER GOT THE MOST OUT OF YOU?

GR: I would say Jimmy Adamson who came to us at a time in the 1970s when we were struggling and turned things around.

He was the best coach I ever trained under.

He was brilliant on the training ground and had a reputation of bringing young players through and getting the best out of them. He also brought Shaun Elliott and Kevin Arnott on as players from the youth set-up.

I also had total respect for Alan Durban. He was a very defensive-minded manager who loved nothing better than a 1-0 win. The fans weren’t keen on him because sometimes his tactics seemed negative but he got good results for us and all in the top flight.

KP: I had three managers at Sunderland – Peter Reid, Howard Wilkinson and Mick McCarthy and I would put Reidy out in front by a distance.

I think the key to it can be summed up in one word: respect.

I respected him and he respected his players.

You didn’t cross him. It was black and white with him. If he had something to tell you, he’d tell you.

But he would also praise you, put an arm around you – like he did to Mickey Gray after that play-off final. The gaffer took him under his wing and was brilliant with him that summer.

That man-management was undoubtedly his greatest strength.

Away from Sunderland, I would probably pick a youngish manager, Tony Mowbray. When he came to West Brom, this big ex-defender, I thought it was all going to be basic route-one stuff but he genuinely wanted to play good attacking football and I had a couple of great years under him.

WHEN YOU THINK OF ROKER PARK WHAT COMES TO MIND?

GR: Atmosphere – as a fan, as a player. It was just special.

I had stood on every terrace as a supporter, Fulwell End, Roker End, Clock Stand, Paddocks, and so to be playing on that same pitch, that I had watched from the sidelines for so long, was extra special.

I’m not the first Sunderland fan to have played for the club and I won’t be the last.

But if you’d asked Monty before me and Martin Smith afterwards, there’s something special about pulling on the red and white strip and running out in a place you love.

WHEN YOU THINK OF THE STADIUM OF LIGHT WHAT COMES TO MIND?

KP: The first word that springs to my mind is: ‘impressive’.

I remember when I first came up to the North East to sign from Watford, I drove along Wessington Way and saw this brand new stadium gleaming down below me and I thought: “That’s where I’ll be playing next season, it’s going to be some place.”

It wasn’t quite finished at the time but I was so excited by my first sight of it I could feel a tingle go down my spine and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck at the thought of playing in a ground like that.

I just couldn’t wait to play in front of a full house.

And then comes the others words that spring into my mind: ‘passion’ and ‘noise’.

Once you were in that ground on matchday, especially in the big games or when you really needed them behind you, the sound and the passion was incredible.