This week proved difficult to conjure up with a topic for the history piece, but little did I know that it had been slapping me in the face for days, may be even weeks leading up to this fixture – Gavin McCann.
Who was he? Well the now 35-year-old was a fantastic servant for our club, scoring goals at vital times, playing with his heart on his sleeve and of course, getting the odd booking. When I first starting going to games as a supporter, Gavin McCann was the one of the players that I could look up to, he was just one of those guys that you got a good vibe from whenever he played.
Over a five year stint at the club, he made over 135 appearances and scored eight goals, one of them that will live long in my memory, but I’ll get to that later.
The man from Blackpool, put in performance after performance, it was clear to see why Peter Reid signed him when he did from Everton as he played for the club during our most successful Premier League spell in our history – remember those days? His form was that impressive for Sunderland that he even got picked to play international football for England, where he collected his only cap against Spain in 2001.
Although he was very unlucky with injuries, it didn’t stop him featuring in key games such as the 3-2 battle against Watford, where he scored the winning goal, which was truly memorable. This was one of the reasons why I looked up to him, his persistence of coming back and being at the right place at the right time to help the club, albeit only scoring eight goals in his Sunderland career.
Alas, in 2003, Villa came knocking and prised away one of our biggest assets after the horror 2002-03 campaign for an estimated fee of £2.25 million. This really knocked the wind out of my and the club’s sails.
His time at Villa Park was a success, making over 100 appearances again, over four years, scoring three goals – but injury hampered his career once more. After he was told that he couldn’t be guaranteed first team football he left for Bolton where he was sadly forced to retire because of that word again, injuries.
But it is not all doom and gloom, he now has an up-and-coming academy as well as the current assistant manager at Hyde.
There are so many outstanding memoires from his time on Wearside that I’d probably bore you. I was only eight when I first started going to the Stadium of Light with my Dad, but I remember every time I’d ask him if McCann was starting.
One flashback, from what I mentioned earlier, was back in the 2003 FA Cup against Blackburn. Our season was a mess – Howard Wilkinson did not help either, however that performance just put our league problems on the backburner.
I remember a throw-in falling so kindly to McCann’s feet and watched as he thundered a ferocious volley past Brad Friedel, I went nuts and tried every time I could to replicate that goal for my Sunday league team whenever I got the chance, although it didn’t work so well.