Alex Rae

Rae reminisces

by Ashley Houghton

Scot looks back on his time on Wearside.

Alex Rae played over 100 games for the Black Cats between 1996 and 2001, experiencing both relegation and promotion in his time on Wearside.

Rae made his debut in a 2-1 defeat to Newcastle United at Roker Park and went through relegation from the Premiership in his first campaign before a play-off final defeat the following year and eventual record-breaking promotion in 1998-99.

And the former Scotland international, now first-team coach at Blackpool, told he looks back on his time on Wearside with fond memories.

“I loved it; absolutely loved it,” he said.

“It was a total rollercoaster; in the first season we were in the Premiership and got relegated and then we had a really good season, getting into the play-offs before losing on penalties, which was such a disappointment.

“Then obviously the following year we ran away with the league and had a good couple of seasons in the Premiership.”

Rae, who scored 15 goals in his time on Wearside, says the genuine work ethic in the Sunderland dressing room was the major contributing factor in Peter Reid’s side bouncing back from the penalty heartbreak of the play-offs.

“It was an amazing time to be part of the whole thing,” he added.

“We just had a brilliant team there with a lot of good seasoned pros, there were no superstars and we all got on great.

“If my memory serves me right, big Quinny [Niall Quinn] came into the dressing room after the game [against Charlton at Wembley], everybody was distraught, and he said 'don’t worry, we’ll be back next year, bigger and stronger'.

“That took the edge off, and we did come back and at that point it was a record-breaking team – absolutely amazing.

“It was my fondest memory when we won the league and did the open top bus tour through town in front of thousands and thousands of people.”

Rae spent his first campaign at Roker Park before the Black Cats moved to the Stadium of Light in 1997.

And, though, Rae was excited ahead of the move he explained he was taken aback by the scale of the club's attendances at their new home.

“I was saying to Len Ashurst, when I was at the club for the first season I couldn’t believe they were building a stadium just short of 50,000.

“I couldn’t conceive the club going into overdrive at that time and, as I say, the whole progression of it, it really just took off.

“There was a period where you just couldn’t get into the games during that first and second season - it was amazing.”

Rae added that playing in front of so many of the Sunderland faithful made him a nervous wreck as he drove into the SoL on a matchday.

“I always remember, because I was based through in Durham, as soon as I pulled onto the road into the stadium I would really sweat and my hands were freezing; it was nerves and I loved that because you feel alive."