THE TESTIMONIAL for former Sunderland defender Jody Craddock takes place next Monday, with a cast of old Black Cats favourites taking part.
The Echo’s Chris Young spoke to Craddock about the game at Wolves and why those members of the Sunderland promotion team of 1999 remain so popular among supporters.
MISTY-EYED reminiscing has proved to be contagious on Wearside this week.
Anyone over the age of 25 has been transported back to a time when Sunderland boasted a goalscoring icon whose prowess surpassed any striker since the outbreak of hostilities with Hitler.
Kevin Phillips’ decision to retire after a glorious 20-year professional career sparked that familiar bar-room conversation over the legendary striker’s crowning moment.
Was it the derby goals?
Was it the exocet missile against Chelsea?
Or was it the four goals at Bury to seal promotion?
If only Super Kev could pull on a Sunderland shirt one last time...
Well, sometimes dreams can come true.
On Monday, Phillips will take to the pitch in red and white again. Even better, he’s doing it in tandem with Niall Quinn, as the lethal double-act reunite for former Sunderland defender Jody Craddock’s testimonial.
“Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips were massive in my time at Sunderland and I always knew that if I could get those two on the same pitch together, then the Sunderland fans would be happy,” says the unassuming Craddock, happy to share the limelight with his ex-team-mates.
But while Craddock was part of the supporting cast to Quinn and Phillips during six predominantly successful years at the Stadium of Light, the centre-half will be thrust towards centre-stage at Molineux on Monday, where a Wolves XI take on the Black Cats old boys.
Wolves and Sunderland ARE Craddock’s clubs.
While he made more than 150 appearances for Cambridge at the start of his career and enjoyed brief loan spells at Stoke and Sheffield United, his heart is split between the North East and the West Midlands.
Craddock was a key figure in the Peter Reid side which won promotion in 1998-99 before securing two successive seventh placed finishes.
And after joining Wolves in a £1.75million deal after Sunderland were sorrily relegated in 2003, Craddock spent a decade at Molineux; eventually leading the club to promotion in 2009.
The impact he made at both clubs is testified by the cast list participating on Monday.
The list of former Sunderland players involved reads like a who’s who from the Stadium of Light era:
Phillips, Quinn, Thomas Sorensen, Thomas Myhre, Michael Gray, Darren Williams, Alex Rae, Gavin McCann, Kevin Kilbane, Martin Smith, Julio Arca, Marcus Stewart, Neil Wainwright, David Duke, Sam Aiston, Michael Proctor and Matt Piper.
There is even mitigation for those who will not be appearing.
Darren Holloway is injured, Nicky Summerbee and Chris Makin are working in the Middle East, while current Kilmarnock boss Allan Johnston is in the middle of an SPL relegation battle.
Reid, himself, is hoping to be available, although the former Sunderland boss will be involved in a playing capacity with long-time lieutenant Bobby Saxton taking charge of the Black Cats side.
There’s even a Sunderland connection among the opposition ranks.
Mick McCarthy will take charge of the Wolves line-up, while former Sunderland players Don Goodman, Neil Collins, Paul Butler and Gary Breen are earmarked to feature.
Craddock, who will play a half for each side, said: “It’s always a bit tricky to organise these games because whenever you hold it, there will be players who are injured or still involved with the league season.
“Holding it in the international break was an option, but players have media commitments or there are managers who are away.
“So to get the players that we have got is a big effort and the committee have put a lot of hard work in.”
While there is a clearly a strong bond between Craddock and his former team-mates, there is similar affection on the terraces.
Several supporters buses are heading down to the Black Country from the North East, in a mark of how popular that Reid side remains on Wearside.
For those too young to have witnessed the glories of 1973, the Sunderland side of the late 90s remains the model by which all subsequent teams have been judged.
“I spent six years with Sunderland and had a great time there,” said Craddock, now 38.
“The fans took to me and I was sad to leave, but in the circumstances, I had to.
“But it was fantastic getting promoted to the Premier League and it produced a real bond between that team and the fans.
“I know we got relegated eventually, but I think supporters remember the good times.
“I still have Sunderland fans coming up to me now to talk about that side.
“The Premier League is extremely tough and to finish twice for two successive seasons was not easily done.
“That is why that team and that manager gets praise. It was deserved because it is so hard to do in that division.”
The feel-good factor in Monday’s game will doubtless be helped by the fortunes of both clubs over the last few weeks.
Wolves have secured promotion to the Championship and the League One title after a thorough rebuilding job from manager Kenny Jackett.
And Sunderland’s remarkable resurgence to emerge from the relegation cliff-face, has given the Black Cats a huge opportunity to pull off a great escape.
Craddock, who was in the stands alongside Proctor and Holloway for February’s derby win against Newcastle, has been delighted to see the turnaround in fortunes for Gus Poyet’s side.
“I came up to see the Newcastle game at St James’s and thought there was no way that team was going to get relegated. They looked so strong,” he said.
“Then they had a dip, but they’ve got some fantastic results over the last few weeks and got out of the bottom three with three games to go.
“They’ve given themselves a chance by beating some quality teams.
“And Wolves have had a fantastic season, as expected really.
“It would have been disappointing if they hadn’t been there or thereabouts.
“Kenny Jackett has changed 80 per cent of the side, but has done a fantastic job.”
But Monday’s testimonial is not just about a walk down Memory Lane.
Proceeds from the game will go towards Birmingham Children’s Hospital, where Craddock’s son Toby, four, continues to be treated for leukaemia.
It’s understandably a cause close to his heart.
“I just thought it would be a nice touch to raise money for the hospital considering my boy is getting treatment there. It goes without saying, that if you can do something, you want to,” he added.
“They are absolutely fantastic and are trying to raise £4million for a new cancer ward which will make it more comfortable for both kids and their parents.
“I am not going to raise that much, I’m not Messi!
“But if I can raise something, then it can only benefit the children.”
Prices for the game (kick-off 2pm) are £10 for adults, £5 for concessions or £20 for a family of two adults and two children.
Tickets for the encounter, which is not segregated, are available now from www.wolves.co.uk.