Play off final thriller

June 12th, 1998

The first season at the Stadium of Light was a roller coast ride of emotions. The team just missed out on automatic promotion when they were pipped to the post by local rivals Middlesbrough. The team finished the season in third place and were faced with the lottery of the play offs.

“It had been a fantastic season with Quinn and Phillips netting 52 goals between them in front of full houses at the stadium. Super Kev beat Brian Clough’s post war club record by scoring 35 goals (in all competitions) and became the first Sunderland player to ever win the European Golden Boot. It had been an exciting and memorable first season.” said Bob.

“Just missing out on automatic promotion was another blow though. We were very nervy in the first leg of the semi-finals and lost 2-1 at Bramall Lane but I still felt confident because I knew we had to bring them back to Sunderland. On the team coach after the game I asked Captain Kevin Ball to get the suits for Wembley ordered immediately. The semi-final home leg remains one of my all-time best memories as a Sunderland fan. The noise and atmosphere created by the home fans that night was something to behold and absolutely electric. We won 2-0 and Wembley beckoned.

“We were all full of confidence and optimism heading south to London for the Final but nothing could have prepared us for the up and down emotions of the 4-4 thriller and the 13 penalties that followed! It must have been an amazing match to watch as a neutral but to lose 7-6 on penalties was a cruel end.

“That said, I can also remember something else quite exceptional that happened that day. I remember seeing the awesome power of sport in action and witnessing the birth of an invincible spirit that would see us win automatic promotion the following season.

“We travelled from London in convoy. There were 3 coaches of players, back room staff, club staff and guests and we all left Wembley together. On the way home we stopped at a pub together. At first the atmosphere was very quiet and subdued as you’d expect. I don’t know what changed the mood but by the time we left we felt different.  I can remember Bally (Kevin Ball) was in fighting talk and we felt very strong, resolute and determined that we could go and win automatic promotion the following season.

“That mood and spirit never wavered and we all started the new season absolutely determined to succeed. There was an unbelievable team spirit across the club from the playing staff to the cleaners and what followed was 105 point record breaking season. It was quite something to behold.”