Former Black Cats star a regular in the stands.
A familiar face was recently spotted in the crowd at the Stadium of Light as former Black Cat Julio Arca returned to Wearside to cheer on his former club.
The Argentinian revealed he likes to come back to Sunderland, his first club in England, whenever he gets the chance to and enjoys catching up with old friends and former colleagues.
Fans’ favourite Arca was last at the Stadium of Light with Middlesbrough in last year’s Capital One Cup competition, although he wasn’t playing due to injury, he was at the ground with his five-month old son, showing him the place where his Dad became a cult hero during his six year spell.
“I spent many years at Sunderland, many happy years. There were ups and downs – but I always love coming back,” a smiling Arca reflected.
Whenever the left-back returns to the stadium he’s inundated with handshakes, pats on the back and fans that are too young to have seen Julio play in a red and white shirt, stopping and asking for his autograph.
“I was at the club so long it’s great to see familiar faces and to be made to feel so welcome, it’s very nice.
“And there are of course great memories I’m reminded of every time I come back.”
A particular moment that ranks highly in Arca’s trip down memory lane is his first-ever north east derby.
He was only 19 year-old when he made the trip to St James’ Park, back in November 2000. Sunderland were victorious that day thanks to goals from Don Hutchinson and Niall Quinn and a famous Thomas Sorensen penalty save.
The youngster, a second half substitute in the clash, was bowled over by the passion surrounding the game: “The first north east derby was very memorable.
“We ran out 2-1 winners at St James’ Park and that whole experience will stay with me forever. The fans were high in the stands but still deafening.”
Arca’s first taste of the Wear-Tyne derby ended all square, but he still rates the game as a career highlight and feels privileged to have experienced being a part of one of football’s biggest derbies.
“The game at the stadium later that season ended 1-1,” he added. “We probably should have won it but it wasn’t to be.
“They were both great games, with a fantastic atmosphere and the build-up to the games is something else.”
Arca, alongside Emerson Thome and Stanislav Varga, moved to Sunderland in the summer before that historic 2-1 win and insists they needed no incentive ahead of the game and fully understood how much it meant to supporters.
“Any Sunderland player should know how important the game is, wherever they’re from. You cannot go into the game without understanding how much it means to fans.
“New signings will be made well aware of its importance by the time it comes around and now more so than ever as the team need to get points on the board.”
Arca is currently waiting to undergo a second operation on a niggling injury:
“I finished with Middlesbrough a couple of months ago. I have an injury that has been bothering me for quite a while. I had an operation last year and it didn’t really work out so I’m waiting to have another one to see if I can get playing again at a professional level.”
The 32 year-old joined the Teessiders in 2006, after making 157 appearances for Sunderland and scoring 17 goals. He left the Riverside after notching 159 appearances over a period just short of seven years.
“The injury has caught me by surprise,” Arca added. “I hope to play some more. I had hoped the operation I had would see me fit enough to play again this year but that’s not the case.
“If the next operation doesn’t work out then I’ll have no other option than to stop playing, but I’ll cross that bridge when it comes to it.”