'It was something amazing happening': Former Sunderland man reflects on his famous Newcastle United strike

‘If you have to die today, you have to die today - but you will stay on the field.’
Patrice Carteron reflects on his time at Sunderland and his derby day heroics against Newcastle UnitedPatrice Carteron reflects on his time at Sunderland and his derby day heroics against Newcastle United
Patrice Carteron reflects on his time at Sunderland and his derby day heroics against Newcastle United

Patrice Carteron was not even half an hour into his Premier League debut, but he wondered if his English adventure was over before it had even begun.

At a rain-soaked Stamford Bridge, Sunderland were 1-0 down against Chelsea. They had narrowly escaped falling further behind after the hosts saw a goal chalked out for offside and, arguably more concerningly, their debutant full-back was struggling.

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“I was battling with one of their players when they scored a second goal, which was ruled offside, but it was raining and my leg hit the post - and if it wasn’t my first game then I don’t think I could have stayed on the field.

“My leg was so painful, it was a nightmare.

“But I said to myself, ‘you don’t have the choice. If you have to die today, you have to die today - but you will stay on the field.’”

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And stay on he did, helping Sunderland to a memorable 4-2 triumph – and thus began a love affair with the Black Cats which has spanned almost two decades.

When we speak, his first instinct is to ask how Sunderland are faring in the current crisis. Carteron still refers to the club as ‘my Black Cats’, and has spent recent weeks watching Sunderland ‘Til I Die to keep tabs on his former club.

Carteron is now a successful coach and is currently in charge of Egyptian giants ZamalekCarteron is now a successful coach and is currently in charge of Egyptian giants Zamalek
Carteron is now a successful coach and is currently in charge of Egyptian giants Zamalek

And while you won’t find Carteron in any lists of the club’s greatest players, he remains a cult hero on Wearside.

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That’s strange, some may say, for a player who played just eight games for the club during a brief loan spell in 2001.

But Carteron was no ordinary loanee. For him, the move to the Stadium of Light represented a dream come true, a chance to play on the world’s biggest stage.

He was already cultivating a stellar reputation in France, where he had been named Ligue 1’s top full-back for two successive years thanks to his exploits at Lyon and St Etienne, but was still a relative unknown in England.

It was therefore something of a surprise when Peter Reid turned to the Brittany boy to fill the void left by Chris Makin, who departed for Ipswich Town in 2001 – leaving a Sunderland side chasing European qualification short of defensive cover.

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Reid took some convincing before sanctioning the move, though. After bringing the player to the North East, he asked Carteron to play in a behind closed friendly (the Frenchman’s memory of the game is sketchy – he can recall that it was ‘at the stadium’ and that ‘it was snowing’) before agreeing to the loan deal.

Carteron took less convincing.

“It was like a dream coming true.

“I was so happy to be playing in England, because it’s the best league in the world.

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“After Lyon, playing European games, moving to England was amazing and something really special for me.”

Reid quickly took Carteron under his wing as he looked to bed him into the English game. So too did a number of players, with Niall Quinn (‘a gentleman’) and Micky Gray (‘a very good player’) among those to make a tangible impact on the full-back.

And the respect between Reid and Carteron is still evident today.

“Mr Peter Reid – he was a gentleman.

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“He was different to me, because it was the first time I was working with a manager. In France, the coaches work differently. Mostly his assistants were dealing with the training and he was a real manager.

“He was the type of coach that talked a lot to his players and he was very kind with me. He gave me the chance to play a lot of games and to be performing. I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity to play for such a club.”

After another behind closed doors friendly against Sunderland’s reserves – in which Carteron provided two assists – he was thrust into Premier League action.

He quickly established himself as a key part of the back four as Reid’s side chased qualification for the UEFA Cup, with his crowning moment coming in the full-back’s fifth outing.

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After a torrid run of form – which had seen Sunderland win just once in ten games – a positive result against bitter rivals Newcastle United was needed.

The Magpies arrived at the Stadium of Light intent on inflicting more misery on the Black Cats and, for large parts of the game, frustrated their hosts.

Shay Given was in inspired form as he kept Sunderland at bay – until the 67th minute.

A barnstorming run from Carteron saw him released into the box, before he fired past the previously unbeatable Given.

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What followed was an outpouring of emotion unlike anything the Frenchman had ever experienced.

“It was special, something amazing happening.

“I didn’t know where I was, it was amazing. The atmosphere in the stadium for those few minutes was something so special.”

Even a late Newcastle equaliser couldn’t quell Carteron’s delight, nor the response of the Wearside faithful to their new cult hero.

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“After the game, I remember that everyone - for weeks, and until the end of the season - would just say ‘you scored against the Mags!’.

“I didn’t have to pay most of the time in restaurants - people were so kind to me and it was just fantastic.”

Ultimately, Sunderland were not to qualify for Europe – but a seventh-placed finish represented significant progress for a club who only years before had been languishing at the wrong end of the second division.

So pleased was owner Bob Murray that he paid for the squad to enjoy a post-season trip to Marbella.

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As he left the beach resort, Carteron was warmly waved back to France by teammates and Sunderland staff – with the promise that they would see him at pre-season training back on Wearside.

Then, silence.

Reid was keen to retain the full-back, but a deal could not be reached – something which Carteron still views as a ‘disaster’ almost twenty years on.

“He told me that he wanted me to stay, because he was happy about my performances.

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“But St Etienne were expecting a big amount of money, and I understand that it was too much money for Sunderland.

“I was honestly so sad not to stay, because I loved the team.

“I’m a big fan of Sunderland. I played with my heart, and I think the fans did like my game and I was giving everything.

“To me, not to sign was a disaster.”

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And so Carteron headed back to France, but found his return to St Etienne unfulfilling.

“St Etienne wanted me to stay, but it was so hard for me to find any motivation after this.

“They wanted me to be captain, so I did the job - but deep inside, I was still suffering.”

He wanted to be back on Wearside. Back among the people who had accepted him as one of their own, back taking walks along Roker Beach and back in the ‘special’ atmosphere he had experienced at the Stadium of Light.

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Now though, all he has are the memories – and yearly reminders of the moments that were, and what could have been.

“Every year, fans send me the moment I scored the goal I scored against Newcastle.

“How can I forget my Black Cats? I love this club.”