Cult Heroes Header
Those of you as entrenched in the world of Social Networking as I am, well Twitter at least, will have been unable to escape a phenomenon which captivated the Sunderland AFC following public signed up to the service - #randomexSAFCplayers. Tuesday 10th January saw enough Sunderland fans take to their keyboards to remember, no, pay tribute to the weird, wonderful or just forgotten men that have represented their club over the years that the topic managed to "trend" across the UK.
Names such as Marcos Di Giuseppe, Tobias Hysen, Claudio Marangoni, Roly Gregoire and many, many more were enough to keep the nostalgia-obsessed amongst us entertained for the evening, whilst no doubt confusing the rest, so kudos to @GhostofRoker for kick starting the fun and games!
One name that did crop up helped to inspire this week's Cult Heroes ahead of Saturday's home tie with the impressive Swansea City - the one, the only, Reuben Agboola.Reuben was born in the Camden area of our fair Capital and would go on to learn his footballing trade with Southampton where he joined as an amateur in 1978 before impressing enough to seal a professional
contract with the Saints in 1980. Agboola was thrown in at the deep end by a man who would later go on to manager our very own SAFC, Lawrie McMenemy, as an injury-struck Southampton travelled to Old Trafford. Along with fellow youngster Danny Wallace, Reuben helped his side to a hard fought 1-1 draw, a result which vindicated McMenemy's decision to play the pair:
"I was thrilled coming to Old Trafford... knowing I would put the two youngsters in. And why not? Matt Busby showed everyone about playing kids at Old Trafford years ago."
Yes, you read that right, Lawrie really did seem to compare himself to the late, great Sir Matt Busby...
Agboola struggled to hold down a first team position following his debut, making just eleven appearances over his first two seasons. However by November of 1982 Reuben had worked his way back into McMenemy's plans and would later go on to star in Lawrie's strategy to employ a sweeper the following season, which, believe it or not, actually worked. Agboola was perfectly suited to the role and was an integral part of that Southampton side which went on to record their highest ever final league position of second along with an FA Cup run which saw McMenemy's side fall short to Everton in extra time of the semi-final.
Despite coming off the back of his most successful season to date Reuben would again lose his place in the side the following term to Kevin Bond. With his spell on the South coast clearly at an end Reuben was relieved to swapthe red and white stripes of Southampton with those of Sunderland in a £150,000 deal in early 1985. Agboola, since retiring from the game, admitted that the major contributing factor in his decision to leave The Saints was his turbulent relationship with McMenemy.
Reuben's SAFC debut was not quite as successful as Southampton's battling draw at Old Trafford as a game against Liverpool at Roker Park was abandoned due to a frozen pitch. Agboola really must have been going through a serious run of bad luck back in the mid 1980's as his official debut, away to who else but Southampton, resulted in a 1-0 defeat. Far from the happy homecoming he would have hoped for. Reuben's bad luck continued as he struggled to make an impact on Wearside and the club's fortunes were not faring much better as SAFC would ultimately succumb to relegation.
The 1985/86 season, as we all know, saw SAFC reach the Milk Cup Final, a game infamous for another Cult Hero, David Corner's, indiscretion which ultimately led to Norwich's winning goal. However Reuben went a long way to earning the respect and admiration of the travelling fans as despite having played no part in the game itself, Reuben was cup-tied, he made a point of going over the Sunderland fans to thank them for their support.
The 1986/87 season saw Agboola reunited with his former Saints mentor as Lawrie McMenemy took over the reigns at Roker Park and we all know how that panned out... Evidence of the rocky relationship McMenemy and
Agboola "enjoyed" was clear when Reuben spent part of the season away from Roker on loan with Charlton Athletic. To be fair, Agboola probably didn't mind given the way things panned out under Lawrie's guidance.
Following another change in management at Roker, Reuben would go on to flourish under new gaffer Denis Smith, playing undoubtedly the best football of his spell on Wearside. Agboola's form was mirrored throughout the squad as SAFC quickly put right McMenemy's wrongs and returned to the Second Division and ultimately, back to the First
Sunderland's return to the top flight also marked the end of Reuben's time with the side. SAFC struggled, again, and Agboola found first team action hard to come by. A loan move to Port Vale in November of 1990 was agreed before a more permenant home with Saturday's opposition, Swansea City, was secured. Agboola would only make twenty-eight appearances for the Swans before decided to call it a day on his professional career.
It should not be forgotten that Reuben made history during his time with Sunderland becoming the first player on the club's books to be capped by an African nation, Nigeria, in 1990. Unfortunately for Reuben it would turn out to be his first and last cap.
Ultimately Agboola should be remembered for his wholehearted approach to the game, a player who never gave anything less than one-hundred percent and played his best football during one of the worst spells of the clubs long and otherwise fairly illustrious history. It also cannot be denied that Mr. Agboola sported a rather superb 'tache, so well played sir.