Craig Gordon’s time at Sunderland may ultimately have been unfulfilling but it wasn’t without its rewards for the Celtic goalkeeper.
As he prepares to return to the Stadium of Light for the first time since his departure in 2012, for this afternoon’s Dafabet Cup pre-season fixture between Sunderland and Celtic, Gordon reflects with mixed emotions on the five years he spent on Wearside following his then British record £9 million move from Hearts.
It was a price tag Gordon was never able to vindicate as fully as he would have wished – serious arm and knee injuries eventually put paid to that ambition and, at one stage, threatened to end his playing career completely.
Nonetheless, he does have more positive recollections to draw upon, including making the save which was officially recognised as the greatest of the first 20 years of the English Premier League.
“I have a few good memories from Sunderland,” said Gordon. “In my first season we stayed up which was a massive achievement with the squad that we had. There was a real togetherness. We dug it out and got enough results to stay in the league and set the platform for the club to go on and stay there for another 10 years.
“We had some big wins and a lot of late goals that season. We kept going right to the end and scraped enough points to stay in the league. That felt like a big achievement. There were a few good results along the way at different times against some big clubs. Those one-off occasions are happy memories. Overall, though, it was blighted by my injury record at that time.”
Gordon’s celebrated save came against Bolton Wanderers at the Stadium of Light in December 2010, displaying astonishing reflexes to keep out a close-range effort from Zat Knight. It eclipsed nominated saves by Peter Schmeichel, Shay Given, Brad Friedel, Joe Hart and Carlo Cudicini to win the Premier League award.
“We actually won that game 1-0 so it was important in terms of points and staying in the league,” said the 34-year-old. “It gives added significance to a save when you go on and win the game. I would be hard pushed to make a better one in the remainder of my career. I don’t really quite know how I managed to do it. It was just a reaction. I managed to get my left hand to it. It was just the way I connected with the ball. I managed to spin it up and over the bar from right underneath the crossbar.
“I have a trophy for it from the Premier League. The list of guys who were nominated for it and some of the saves were just brilliant. To come out on top of that was amazing. It is a really good achievement and one that I will hang on to for a wee while. There have been some good saves in the Premier League since then so if they ever have another vote, there will be a bit more competition. It was really special at the time though.”
Gordon made just 95 appearances for Sunderland and, while he insists his headline-grabbing transfer fee did not overly concern him, he admits it affected how he was judged by the club’s supporters.
“It wasn’t something that I thought about too much,” he added. “It had positives and negatives to it. If you had a good game, you were worth it. On the flip side of that, if you didn’t, you weren’t. It was always brought up, either way, whether it was good or bad. There was always a way to play it, either in the media or with the fans. It was always a talking point. Not from me. I just tried to get on with playing the game. It was just disappointing that I never really got a really long run to show what I could do for an extended period of time. They saw flashes of it, but I never really had an extended stay in the team.”
Sunderland’s perennial battles against relegation finally caught up with them last season as they finished bottom of the Premier League and dropped into the Championship.
“It’s a shame they are not in the top flight now because they are a great club,” said Gordon. “They have a great stadium and loyal fans who have put up with a lot.
“I hope they can get back up as soon as possible. They deserve to be a Premier League club with the set-up they have got.”