Cult Heroes: Lionel Perez

Published:
by Kate Smith

French stopper Perez is the latest star in the spotlight.

Flamboyant Frenchman Lionel Perez divided the opinion of the red and white army during his two year spell with the club in the late 1990s.

The eccentric stopper – with his dishevelled hair and sleeves rolled up past his elbows – made an instant impression on young Black Cats fans, with school children across the city emulating the goalkeeper in playgrounds and copying his peroxide hairdo.

However, it was Perez’s unpredictability between the sticks that didn’t endear him to the older generation of Sunderland fans quite as much.

He could have supporters on their feet in raptures over a moment of magic and within minutes have them sitting with their head in their hands following a flash of foolishness!

Sunderland boss Peter Reid brought 29 year-old Perez to Roker Park in 1996 from French club Bordeaux.

Perez was never expected to figure in first team set-up, due to the arrival of former Manchester United stopper Tony Coton around about the same time.

However, a career-ending injury to Coton in a game against Southampton in October 1996 would see Perez thrust into the spotlight from the subs’ bench as the Black Cats fell to a 3-0 defeat.

Throughout his two seasons with Sunderland, Perez became notorious for his ‘Hollywood’ approach to goalkeeping.

He was a master at shot-stopping but then when it came to the simplest of blocks he would choose to stop the ball with his feet instead of his hands, which caught the keeper out on a number of occasions.

Perez’s Jekyll and Hyde performances during the 1998 Play-Off games epitomise his time with Sunderland.

In the semi-final with Sheffield United it was his stunning double-save that booked the Black Cats’ ticket to Wembley, subsequently in the final Perez seemed to struggle to deal with the pressure and the magnitude of the game as the Black Cats were defeated in the cruellest of fashions following a penalty shoot-out with Charlton Athletic.

It was after that Wembley disappointment that Reid allowed Perez to leave the club, bringing in young Danish stopper Thomas Sorensen as his replacement.

After just two seasons, where he made 75 appearances in red and white Perez crossed the river to join local rivals Newcastle. Despite being on United’s books for two years, he never played once on Tyneside and spent time on loan with Scunthorpe and Cambridge.

He secured a move to the latter in 2000 and amassed 78 games for the U’s, before ending his career at Stevenage due to injury.

It’s now almost 15 years since that fateful day at Wembley and a lot of water has passed under the Wearmouth Bridge in that time.

Despite his unpredictable displays, Perez was the type of character that Sunderland fans adore and his commitment to the cause could never be questioned meaning the flashy Frenchman will always be fondly remembered by Black Cats fans – both young and old alike!