safc.com have completed the signing of the Son of Pele himself, Martin Smith.
I’m delighted to be given a space on the website of the team I’ve supported all my life and you’ll be able to hear from me every week, usually on a Thursday, from now on.
As this is a new beginning I thought I’d go right back to the start of my relationship with this club, which started as a fan and grew into nearly seven great years as a pro.
I honestly can’t remember who we played in the first match I saw, but I know it was a home reserve game in the late Seventies.
I walked up to the ground with my dad, walked up the Main Stand paddock and as soon as I saw the grass under the floodlights, that was it. I fell in love.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Those kinds of things stick in the mind and it really seems like yesterday. I can still see that image in my head now.
To have the opportunity to play for my home-town club was never something I took for granted. Looking back, it was a massive privilege.
Even now, when you go down to the stadium as an ex-player you are treated very well and it means a lot.
Nowadays I work for a football agency doing scouting and recruitment. They are based in London and I work for them across the north east.
It’s probably never something I saw myself doing when I was a player, but when you stop playing you realise how much you want to stay in the game.
Then it’s about finding the right place and I have been lucky. I still get to Sunderland games as often as I can and I’m probably out watching matches most days.
I scout at the professional level but I watch games across a number of leagues – Conference games, youth games, the more the better.
And so it’s off to Everton this weekend for what will be a difficult game. I was actually in the last Sunderland team to beat them at Goodison Park in the league.
I was also involved in the cup game, too, [a win on penalties in 1998] when I played the full 120 minutes. I probably couldn’t walk for about six weeks afterwards!
The league game was a good one – Russ [Craig Russell] put us into the lead before big Duncan Ferguson equalised.
When Ferguson scored I remember being on the pitch thinking ‘here we go’, because down there the fans are on top of you and really get behind their team.
But we went on to win 3-1 with two good goals from Michael Bridges, who scored his first four minutes after coming on.
Everton have a good record and will work hard – they always have – but if we turn up and play well on Saturday then what’s gone before makes no difference.