A feature of Sunderland’s successful start to the season has been the way so much young, homegrown players have seized their opportunity under Jack Ross.
Josh Maja, Lynden Gooch, George Honeyman, Denver Hume and Bali Mumba are just some of the young players carving out reputations for themselves, much to the delight of former Sunderland boss Malcolm Crosby, who says he hopes all will deliver on their undoubted potential.
Crosby famously steered Sunderland to the 1992 FA Cup final, supported by a bundle of emerging young talent coming up from the youth team.
And he says it will be interesting to see how many young players are involved in the FA Cup this season, as Jack Ross takes his team into battle against Port Vale in this afternoon’s cup tie.
Lifelong Black Cats supporter Crosby, due up in Sunderland for a book launch this coming week, said: “It’s great to see so many young players being given a chance right now that they might not have got if the club was playing at a higher level.
“When I was at the club, we had a lot of young players pushing for places in the side and the fans loved it.”
Crosby was in charge at Roker Park from 1991-93, which was an exciting time to have worked with the Sunderland youth team.
Gary Owers and Richard Ord had just broken into the first team, while the likes of Brian Atkinson, Kieron Brady, David Rush, and later, Michael Gray, Craig Russell, and Martin Smith were coming through.
“Yes, I had some really good kids and some good players at Sunderland,” Malcolm says.
“Brian Atkinson was local. He was a good professional, but he didn’t like me to start with because he said that I made him train too hard!
“When I took over I told them that we would be training most afternoons and Atky replied: ‘We never did that with Chris McMenemy ,(the previous Sunderland youth team coach)’.
“I said: ‘Well, I’m not Chris McMenemy!’
“Four months down the line, he told me that I was right.
“David Rush came out of Notts County. He was unhappy there. He was just non-stop. I used to think: ‘How does he not stop running?’ He would wear centre-halves out. They just couldn’t handle him.
“Mickey Gray was the other one.
“He came to us from Manchester United after he had been released. (Gray was a young left winger during his spell at Old Trafford - but he was born in the same school year as Ryan Giggs).
“Mickey was a great player for Sunderland, as we know.
“Even the ones that didn’t make it to the top as professionals were top lads; players like Warren Hawke, who ended up in Scotland with Greenock Morton and Berwick Rangers; Paul Williams, who was such a good athlete; and Anthony Smith at left-back.
“The sad one was Kieron Brady. He had so much talent.
“I once saw Kieron playing for the youths at York. Sunderland kicked off, little Stephen Brodie rolled the ball to him, and he flicked it up and volleyed it over the goalkeeper from the halfway line.
“He was such a wonderful talent. He could have been one of the best players to have played in this country.
“He really could, he had that much ability.”
Now Crosby, who will be at the Wycombe Wanderers match next Saturday following a Friday book launch: (tickets here: https://bit.ly/2JyzDh8) says he hopes the current Sunderland squad can emulate the class of ‘92 in more ways than one.
“I’m really looking forward to meeting supporters on Friday night, along with Reidy, and then seeing the game Saturday.
“I’d love to see Sunderland go on another cup run because it really lifts the place and it would be great if some of the younger players who have done so well so far are involved.”