Breaking the Curse

Last updated : 13 February 2007 By Adam King

I believe Stokes arrival is, Niall Quinn in ‘96 apart, the only signing in recent times that EVERYONE wanted. Every Sunderland fan was screaming out for him, which is exactly why I didn't expect it to happen. History dictates that we very rarely, if ever, get our man. That's why the Stokes signing excited me more than any other this season – we now have pulling power (and not the sort Liam Lawrence and Ben Alnwick showcased in their recent production).

Look at the facts, look at the players. For months back 1995 we were linked with a young American keeper named Brad Friedel, he was denied a work permit and went on to become one of the most consistent shot-stoppers in Premiership history when he finally did arrive on these shores in 98 to play for Liverpool (no such permit problems there, how strange!) We solved our goalkeeping problems a year later by signing Irish upstart Shay Given on loan from Blackburn, and after 16 clean sheets and a First Division title; we had to sign the lad right? Of course not, he moved elsewhere – to the f*cking mags! Again becoming one of the most reliable keepers in the country. Oh well, Lightening cant strike thrice surely?

Yet it does, time and time again for Sunderland, every player we are linked with and inevitably don't sign, goes on to become a world beater shortly afterwards. Stewart Downing got his first chance to impress at the Stadium of Light and subsequently went on to become an England regular (although granted, that's mainly because the manager is his ex-boss / pervy uncle McClaren) Patrick Mboma had a relatively productive time here, and when we didn't follow up our interest he decided to go and be top scorer at the African Nations Cup. There was a time when we were linked repeatedly with Jan Koller, John Carew and, for a short time, a certain Peter Crouch. These players all went on to have two things in common – they made a big impact on the European and International stage, and their feet all hang out the bottom of the bed. Incidentally this was at a time when we were desperately trying to replace big Niall, by declaring an interest in anyone reasonably tall. Unconfirmed reports claim John Cleese failed a medical and Jamie Theakston was reluctant to move north. My uncle swears Ruud Van Nistelrooy trained at Sunderland as a teenager before Reid went with his regular “he's no better than what we already have here” catchphrase. The sad thing is - it's actually believable.

An early example of the curse is a Mr. A. McCoist, he left Sunderland pretty much a failure in 1983, and went on to do OK for himself up in Glasgow, so well in fact he's now a captain on Question of Sport, now that's the big time baby! More recently Michael Bridges was left to freely go and set the Premiership and Champions League alight for Leeds before his injury nightmares (imagine having Stickman with Phillips and Quinn back in 1999, it could have all been so different…) And whilst at Man City, Uwe Rosler was, according to the Sunderland Echo, having a medical and ‘wrapping up personal terms' approximately 200 times over a period of 2 seasons. Would've been a good signing, obviously it never materialised. During strong rumours of a fierce bidding war a few years back I'm sure I saw Ronaldinho with Bobby Saxton coming out of Joans Café, apparently it was decided Kevin Kilbane was a better trainer though. Barcelona were forced to switch there attentions to the goofy Brazilian hairball after Kilbane decided to reject a move to Spain for family reasons and head to Sunderland to carry out every post match interview ever, and very little else, apart from keeping me entertained with his voice which sounds exactly like Hayley from Coronation Street (she's probably a better free kick taker though.)

So to young Stokes, 18 years old, built like a brick sh*thouse, an Arsenal youth starlet. Sounds good, get him up on trial. And then, of course, decide he's not good enough. Let him go on loan to the SPL and score a goal every 10 seconds. Oops, there's that curse again! So when it became clear that the Arse were willing to sell in January, at a price 5 times that which we could've gotten him for at the time of his original trial, there were several clubs sniffing around the countries hottest new talent. I awaited his arrival at Celtic with interest; surely he'd go to his idols and become a legend like McCoist had on the other side the city. Maybe he'd go and save Charlton with a hatful of wonder goals? One thing is for certain, he wouldn't come back here, for Championship football, after we rejected him, with his boyhood heroes now interested. He was set to be yet another name mumbled by mackems in pubs across the land, another one who got away. But wait, he signed. For us! Keano pulled off a major coup, and the lad started to repay him after 66 minutes on Saturday.

All of which leads me to believe that finally; hopefully, Sunderland have the pulling power and the drive, and the bloody common sense to get this type of player in. Young, talented, coveted – why shouldn't we be in there bidding. What's the worst that can happen? Well, OK, Carsten Fredgaard, but you get my point. Keane's a draw for ambitious players, and it turns out he's a pretty handy manager too. I for one am pretty excited, not only by Stokes as a player, but by what his signing may represent.

Maybe Ronaldinho will be tucking into one of Joans bacon butties soon after all…