Sunderland signed John Oster from Everton in 1999 for just over £1 million. The Wales international would go on to play over 60 games and score five goals for the Red and White army.
WAW: What was it like to play for Sunderland for the first time?
JO: “I’d never been to the ground before, although I’d played at Roker Park for Grimsby Town on a cold Tuesday night. The stadium was a great place to play football. Firstly I was really impressed, not only that there was a full house near enough every week; the atmosphere was rocking, it really was amazing!”
WAW: What was your favourite goal for Sunderland?
JO: “It’s a tricky one! I mean I didn’t score many but one against my former club Reading was probably my favourite; it was a bit of a collector’s item as it was a header!”
WAW: What were Reidy and Saxton like as coaches?
JO: “Bobby was class, he was an old school coach but you can have a laugh and a joke with him and he’d have a bit craic with the lads. Peter Reid was a great guy too – he certainly wasn’t a shouter, like Premier Passions portrayed as, maybe because we were doing well! Sometimes film crews edit to make it look different. It wasn’t just them two either, it was Adrian Heath who had a massive influence too.”
WAW: After Reidy left, Howard Wilkinson replaced him, how did you find Howard as a manager?
JO: “It was a funny situation really. I’d just come back from a cruciate knee operation and I was loaned out to Grimsby where I scored 5 in 10. That loan spell meant Howard recalled me for to play in the league at Old Trafford but we then played Bolton in the FA Cup and I never played after that; the thing is I hadn’t played badly in the cup game either so I was a bit confused!”
WAW: As a player, how did you take the FA Cup semi final loss?
JO: “As professional footballers you just have to get on with it, there’s nothing you can change, of course we were all disappointed. Personally, I thought we were the better team and I thought that we’d given a good account of ourselves in the final against Man United; it would’ve also meant that we were in Europe as United had already qualified. We lost to Palace in a play-off semi final too that season, we just fell at the last hurdle.”
WAW: Who would be the best player you played against?
JO: “For Wales my full debut was away to Brazil, their team had people like Rivaldo and I came up against Cafu who, in my opinion, is the best right back ever.”
WAW: Who was the best player you played alongside, over your whole career?
JO: “Ryan Giggs – it has to be. I played with Giggsy for Wales and he was fantastic! For Sunderland though, it’d have to be Claudio Reyna, he was such a nice bloke too.”
WAW: What are your opinions on Chris Coleman, who you worked with at Wales?
JO: “Chris needs a good run of games, he also needs to bring in a few players in January, and it’s certainly going to be difficult. He’s trying to play out from the back and trying to be more patient going forward; hopefully it’ll all works out for him in the long run. It’s still early to say a certain prediction though but a bit of good fortune can do us the world of good.”
WAW: Have you got any aspirations to go into coaching?
JO: “At the moment, no. I have been asked many times though, people want results now though and no manager is in a safe job. It’s all spiraling out of control, it’s really strange. It’s a natural progression for lots but you’re in it for the long haul and not only that, there isn’t 100s of job vacancies.”
WAW: What’s your opinion on the British youth development system?
JO: “It’s difficult to find your way at big clubs if you’re a young lad, unless you’re very special. There’s too many people out on loan at the moment from clubs like City; they have to win every game at the moment to win the league and do well in Europe and Pep cannot risk it to lose by trialing youth players. It all filters down, players who should be playing in Leagues One and Two are in the Conference as academy players are on loan in those leagues.”
WAW: What would be your advice to a young lad at SAFC?
JO: “Sunderland need to help kids get a chance, we haven’t got an abundance of quality so now’s the perfect time to give a few of the academy players a chance. If I, personally, had the choice to go to somewhere like Man United etc. I wouldn’t go; I’d go to a club lower down and work my way up. When you’re 18 or 19 you’re still young, not when you’re 22, 23 – lots of players have played 100 games by then so we all need to work together and give these younger lads a chance.”
WAW: Finally, over your time at Sunderland, who would be in a starting 11 of SAFC players?
JO: “Sorensen in goal, Chris Makin, my two centre backs would be Breen and Steve Bould, Micky Gray at left back, Gavin McCann and Claudio (Reyna) in the centre of midfield, with Julio Arca on the left and Nicky Summerbee on the right; it’s got to be Quinny and Kev up top.”
I’d like to thank John Oster for speaking to me and it was a pleasure to speak to him.