SUNDERLAND take on Charlton Athletic in the League One play-off final on Sunday – with the game evoking memories of the two sides’ meeting in one of the most remarkable play-off encounters of all time in 1998.

Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson looks back on Sunderland’s Wembley heartbreak at the hands of the Addicks, with the help of some of those who were involved in the game.


Having beaten Sheffield United in the semi-finals, Sunderland started as marginal favourites at Wembley as they took on a Charlton side that had finished a place below them in the table.

The game was an open, topsy-turvy affair from the off, with boyhood Sunderland fan Clive Mendonca opening the scoring for Charlton midway through the first half.

Niall Quinn equalised five minutes after the interval, with his strike partner, Kevin Phillips firing Sunderland into the lead eight minutes later.

A spectacular second goal from Mendonca levelled things up, only for Quinn to score his second immediately after the restart. That looked like being that, but Richard Rufus grabbed an equaliser with five minutes left to take the game to extra-time.

Sunderland forged ahead again in the additional period, with Nicky Summerbee firing them into a 4-3 lead, but Mendonca completed his hat-trick to take the game to penalties.

Lee Clark:

“Clive Mendonca was a Sunderland fan playing for Charlton. It couldn’t have been scripted any better for him, as these things generally turn out to be. I’ve seen it so many times in my career where a former player or supporter returns to haunt his old club or boyhood team. The latter was the case at Wembley.

“Mendonca netted a hat-trick to inflict a devastating blow on his home-town club and also netted a penalty in the shoot-out. The match ebbed and flowed in favour of both sides and finished all square, 3-3, at the end of 90 minutes. We then went 4-3 up in injury-time of extra-time.

“Our goal machine Kevin Phillips was already off the field. Peter Reid took me off as well because I thought I had cramp. Turns out I’d pulled a calf muscle. We thought we’d done it by that stage. But then Charlton equalised again to take it to penalties.”

Clive Mendonca:

“When I was five, my mum bought me a Sunderland strip and a pair of boots and I remember on Christmas morning getting up in the freezing cold, getting my kit on and going outside to play football. I used to go down and watch Sunderland as a kid. Money was tight, but I had a few mates who knew relatives of players so it was a matter of getting some free tickets now and then.

“Whenever I had the chance or money, I’d go down to Roker Park and watch Sunderland. To tell the truth, the estate I lived on in the 1980s wasn’t the best and I could’ve signed for Sunderland if I wanted to. But a lot of my mates at the time were getting in trouble so I had to get away.

“On the day of the final it was all about winning, no matter who scored the goals, simple as that.”

The Northern Echo:


The shoot-out proved to be every bit as dramatic as the game itself, with the first ten spot-kicks all being successfully converted.

John Robinson scored Charlton’s first penalty in sudden-death, only for Quinn to immediately hit back for Sunderland.

Shaun Newton restored Charlton’s advantage, meaning that Wearsider Michael Gray had to find the net to keep Sunderland’s hopes alive.

His weak effort was saved by Sasa Ilic, with the Charlton goalkeeper immediately disappearing under a pile of celebrating bodies as Gray trudged back towards the centre-circle.

Michael Gray:

“I really didn’t want to take one, it was something I just didn’t want to do. I was a Sunderland boy, living the dream playing for my local team, and I just didn’t want to be the person responsible for us losing such an important match.

“It’s just the occasion, it gets to people. After Niall scored, I was looking around to see who was left to take one because I didn’t want to. I looked at Danny (Dichio). He was sat in the centre-circle with his boots off by his side, so it obviously wasn’t going to be him.

“I think I was the oldest person left who hadn’t stepped up yet, so I decided I’d better have a go. I saw Ilic diving the way I was going to kick the ball and I just thought, ‘Oh God no, he’s going to save it’.

“All the emotion hit me and I was thinking, ‘Oh God, please somebody just run over and give us a hug’. I didn’t hear them at the time, but I’ve heard since that all the Sunderland fans started singing my name and that was very nice of them, because they understood the kind of pressure I was under. But I just couldn’t wait to get off that pitch, get into the dressing room and go home.”

Alan Curbishley:

“I felt confident about the penalty shoot-out. Our goalkeeper, Sasa Ilic, had turned up at the training ground with his kit eight months before and asked if he could have a trial. After the first couple of training sessions, I told him, ‘We’re going to give you some travel expenses’. I paid it out of my own pocket because I didn’t want him to wait a month for them.

“I watched every penalty up until Micky Gray’s last one for Sunderland. My assistant, Keith Peacock, said, ‘Don’t watch this one. It’s a left-footer and he’s going to miss it’. I put my head in my hands. When I didn’t hear the roar from their fans, I knew we had won.”

The Northern Echo:


While Charlton’s players celebrated, Sunderland’s devastated squad regrouped close to the centre-circle. Peter Reid said a few words, and the players retreated to the dressing room once Charlton had received the play-off trophy.

The club had arranged a party for the night of the game, and despite the result, it was decided that the players and coaching staff should still attend. Unsurprisingly, it was not an especially joyous affair.

The disappointment at missing out on a place in the Premier League was intense, although it not inflict any long-lasting damage. The following season, Reid’s Sunderland side amassed 105 points as they won the Division One title.

Lee Clark:

“It was as if someone had died when we got back to the dressing room. Heads were down, there were a few tears and it was an emotional place to find yourself.  Reidy declared we had nothing to be ashamed of, we’d had a right good go at it and we’ll have another go next season.

“He then told us the chairman had organised a party for the players and wives in Peterborough. The devastation was so bad after we lost the contest that Bobby Saxton got back on the team bus in his tracksuit and boots. He hadn’t changed into his club suit. He was on a different planet and his emotions were running high.

“He then turned on defenders Darren Williams and Jody Craddock and gave it to them big style: ‘You two ******s have just cost us a place in the Premier League! I told you all week about looking after Mendonca!’ Williams and Craddock didn’t need telling anything. They were just as devastated as the rest of us.”

Michael Gray:

“I didn't really want to talk to anyone for a while afterwards, and there were people knocking on the door, so Peter Reid invited me over to his place in Yarm for a few drinks. He told me I'd been brilliant for him and encouraged me to use the next season to put things right, which is great because I needed to hear that.

“So I stayed with him for a couple of days and then myself and a few of the lads travelled to Yorkshire to watch a few friends of ours playing cricket for Durham. We had a few too many drinks and a bit of banter with Darren Gough on the sideline!

“It was just one of those summers where I let myself go for the first couple of weeks and then knuckled down and got myself fit and raring to go for the next one."

Clive Mendonca:

“The strangest thing was two weeks later, I was on holiday in Ayia Napa. I was sitting by the pool with my wife and went off to the toilet. Who comes out as I was going in? Michael Gray!

“He’s looked me in the face, shook his head and said, ‘You’re the last person I want to see!’ But, obviously, Micky’s also from Sunderland. He went to the same school as me, so we had a drink and we had a good night.

“We had a laugh about it, but I tell you what, it really took it out of him. He was devastated. Obviously, he was a Sunderland lad and it really hurt him.”

Mark Bright:

“I felt incredibly sorry for Michael Gray, you could see he was devastated and he was one of the guys who didn’t want to take one. I don’t care how cold-hearted you are, you have to feel sorry for the losers of a game like that.

“They had to start all over again in August, but Sunderland got their reward for being a part of such a brilliant game when they came up as champions the following year. Peter Reid did a fantastic job to get them to recover so quickly after a disappointment like that.”

The Northern Echo: