With the new season of the documentary coming out, we thought it a good time to remember a few Sunderland cult heroes which helps to put a smile on your face.
The Best Sunderland Cult Heroes
This is a series we’re happy to keep going at Hobby FC.
Now it’s Sunderland’s turn, who have had their fair share of ups and downs in the Premier League era, but are still rightly recognise as one of the bigger and prouder fan bases in the land.
I remember watching them in the Wycombe end of the League One Play-Off Final in 2022, and I looked on in awe at the fervour and unbridled emotion of the away fan base.
In truth, they were the only reason I scalped a ticket off a friend of mine on Twitter and I was secretly gutted I didn’t get to sit in their end as I came to admire them for a long while. But that being said, I’m in no position to go deeper than surface level on a piece about Sunderland cult heroes.
For that, I enlisted the help of journalist, content creator and all-round sound lad, Dougie Critchley, who’s picked his top four. Starting with a player of real technical quality.
Sebastian (‘Seb’) Larsson (2011-17)
I’m not surprised that Larsson makes this list.
Re-joining with former Blues manager in a new red and white uniform in Steve Bruce, Larsson’s arrival was clearly backed and full of expectation from the excitable ex-Man United stalwart.
Arriving at the Stadium of Light with the No. 7 shirt, he wore that thing with pride.
Possessing a serious amount of technical quality – both running with the ball and for set-pieces – there was always a sense of something in the offing with the ball at the Swede’s feet. His appearance, and generally calm and suave demeanour left him a real fan’s favourite at Sunderland; more than worthy of kicking off this piece on Sunderland cult heroes.
“Effortlessly cool, slicked back blonde hair, devilishly good set pieces, scored on his debut, left a hero”Dougie Critchley on Sebastian Larsson at Sunderland
Phil Bardsley (2008-14)
I’m assuming he’s here for knocking out Wazza, but let’s have a think!
From my own perspective, I always enjoyed the industriousness of Phil Bardsley.
Even as a youngster coming through the ranks at Manchester United, the full-back made a name for himself with his relentless running up and down the touchline and cultured positional play.
He was reportedly well-thought-of in the red of United, with a number of loan spells coming and going in an attempt to realise some of the potential that he was showing in his early years. Sunderland would become the club that took him permanently from Manchester, and he fared quite well.
“Part of a spate of Man United players that came to Sunderland in the late noughties/early 2010s including Richardson, O’Shea and Brown amongst others. Always gave it his all. Scored in the Carabao Cup semi final to send Sunderland to Wembley in 2014.”Dougie Critchley on Phil Bardsley at Sunderland
Boudewijn (‘Bolo’) Zenden (2009-11)
Zenden was what I light to call a ‘FM Dream‘.
Because he was versatile, dependable and pretty much always affordable.
Having played for a few different Premier League clubs, it’s easy to forget just how bright the early star was shining for Bolo on the European stage. Particularly during his developmental stint with PSV before Barcelona came calling after five-or-so seasons in Holland.
He soon perhaps fell victim to his own versatility without nailing down a singular position and played ‘bit-part’ roles at his teams following Middlesbrough, and it was fitting that he was able to put a full stop on an accomplished career with a fan base that would love him as much as the Black Cats’ would. Easily one of the most stylish Sunderland cult heroes that could ever enter this list.
“Chelsea, Liverpool, Marseille, 50 caps for the Netherlands, Zenden had seen it all by the time he arrived at Sunderland in 2009. He may have only stayed two seasons but he oozed quality and his versatility was crucial.”Dougie Critchley on Boudewijn Zenden
Ah yes, Bolo Zenden’s dance partner at Stamford Bridge.
And an emboldened footnote from the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Embroiled in one of the most polarising moments in international football history, it was poor Gyan’s spot kick which flew above the Uruguayan net to send would-be semi-finalists Ghana out of the competition. With a buoyant Luis Suarez wheeling away in dubious celebration in the players’ tunnel.
That being said, his generally impressive performances caught the eye of multiple clubs in Europe and it was seen as a real coup for an aspirational Sunderland side, who broke their own transfer record to bring the mercurial forward to the stadium of light
“He may have only been at the club for one season, but boy he burned bright in that time. He arrived post World Cup heartbreak with Ghana but excelled at the Stadium of Light. Memorable moment? Scoring in Sunderland’s 3-0 victory at Stamford Bridge against the Double Holders.”Dougie Critchley on Asamoah Gyan at Sunderland
A little insight here, Gyan was very close from making my own Premier League piece a while back but lost out largely due to lack of longevity. So, I’m personally quite happy Dougie’s made a spot for him here on Hobby FC – as the king of Sunderland cult heroes (I added that bit, not him).
These Sunderland cult heroes are only the tip of the iceberg.
They are a truly historic club with the fan base to match, and I’m certain that this won’t be the last time we speak of this proud institution here.
I’ll just make sure that I keep them as far away from the Newcastle ones as possible.
Just the way it should be!
Who’s your favourite player from this list?