Kevin “Super Kev” Phillips is a bonafide Sunderland Legend and a player many consider to be the club’s greatest ever Striker. In terms of Sunderland’s Premier League experiences, no player has made anywhere near as much of a impact as Super Kev who will be forever engrained in SAFC folklore.
Phillips was born in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. He began his career in Southampton’s youth academy where he cleaned the boots of none other than future north east rival Alan Shearer. Considered too small to play upfront he played at right back throughout his younger years, he did not make the grade at the Saints however and signed for Non League club Baldock Town. Kevin combined playing right back for Baldock with working in Dixons to pay the bills.
His career would be changed forever when Baldock had a severe injury crisis leaving manager Ian Allinson little option but to give Phillips a run up front. The goals started to flow immediately and Watford noticed his potential, paying Baldock £5,000 to take the talented, though somewhat raw, youngster to Vicarage Road. Phillips would repay Watfords faith in him by netting 24 gaols in 59 games over the course of three injury disrupted seasons.
In July 1997 Sunderland manager Peter Reid signed Phillips for £325,000, which in hindsight is the best piece of business the club has ever done. Sunderland had just been relegated to the Championship at the time. Phillips immediately began to go about smashing many a club record, scoring in 7 consecutive games and scoring in 9 consecutive home games. he finished his first season with 35 goals in all competitions which was another record. Sunderland reached the Play Off Final against Charlton in the 1997/1998 season and despite Phillips scoring twice in the final at Wembley the Black Cats lost out on promotion to the top flight after an epic 4-4 game that Charlton eventually won on penalties. A game Philips reflects on as being the most disappointing of his career.
The 1998/99 season would see Sunderland promoted to the Premier League with a record points total of 104. Super Kev netted 26 goals in just 32 games despite missing four months of the season with a broken foot. He also achieved the rare feat of winning an England cap having never played in the Premier League.
Going into the 1999/00 Premier League season many pundits predicted a season of struggle for the Black Cats and motormouth pundit Rodney Marsh predicted that Super Kev would struggle to score more than 5 goals at Premier League level. How wrong Rodney would be. Super Kev formed a lethal “little and large” strike partnership with Irishman Niall Quinn and by mid September he had scored his 6th Premier League goal and by the end of October he had been voted Premier League player of the month.
“Sunderland Fans were the best, just for the passion and love of football. There wasn’t much like it, playing in front of 40,000 Mackems with them willing you to score.” Kevin Phillips
Sunderland and Phillips would confound all of their critics with a superb 7th place finish that season and Super Kev finished the season as Premier League top scorer with 30 goals, ironically finishing ahead of the man whose boots he used to clean, Alan Shearer. His tally also won the European Golden Boot and he is still the only English man to ever win the Golden Boot and until Harry Kane last season, he had been the last Englishman to finish as the Premier League’s top scorer. These were the glory days for Sunderland fans and Super Kev was their Talisman. This 30 goal season has not just gone down as being the best by a striker in Sunderland folklore but is also recognised as one of the best ever by a striker in Premier League history.
The season of 2000/01 again saw Sunderland finishing in 7th place, narrowly missing out on Europe. Phillips did not quite reach the heights of the previous campaign but did still manage to contribute 18 goals over the course of the season.
Over the next couple of seasons Phillips form would drop off somewhat due to a combination of injury, disciplinary problems, Sunderland not adequately replacing players and unsettling interest from the North London clubs.
He scored 13 goals in 2001/2002 although he again proved to be Sunderlands man for the big occasion scoring a last day goal in Sunderlands 1-1 draw against Derby, a goal that saw Sunderland finish 17th and narrowly miss out of relegation.
Phillips scored just 6 goals in the 2002/2003 season with Sunderland sadly being relegated with a then record low total of just 19 points. Phillips was sold to his first club Southampton for £3.25 million that summer, leaving the North East having scored 130 goals in just 235 games, breaking the legendary Brian Clough’s scoring record to become Sunderland top scorer in the post war era. Not surprisingly Phillips is also Sunderland’s record Premier League goalscorer with 61 top flight strikes.
“It remains the proudest milestone of my career when I broke Brian Clough’s goalscoring record” Kevin Phillips
As a player Phillips was quick, nimble, had a lethal strike and a instinctive nose for goal that made him a nightmare for defenders to mark. More importantly he had that will to win and desire to be the best allied with a love of finding the back of the net that all great strikers are born with. As his strike partner and fellow Black Cats Legend Naill Quinn said “He had that ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck when his team needed it.”
Below is a youtube compilation of some of his best SAFC goals, as you can see Super Kev could score all types of goals, long rangers, tap ins, one-on-ones and despite his size of 5’7″, some great headers.
After leaving Sunderland Phillips would continue to score goals and played for Southampton, Aston Villa, West Brom, Birmingham, Blackpool, Crystal Palace and Leicester, playing until the age of 41 which is a testament to his desire and professionalism. He also amassed a total of 8 England caps but unfortunately did not score any goals. After helping Leicester achieve automatic promotion in 2014 he took up a coaching role with the club and is currently a coach with Derby County.
Fittingly he played the final game of his career in Sunderland stalwart Jody Craddock’s Testimonial at the Stadium of Light, where nearly all of the famous early 2000’s team was reunited along with manager Peter Reid, bringing down the curtain on a stellar career in a Stadium where he had played his best Football in front of a group of fans that idolised him. Kevin “Super Kev” Phillips, a true Sunderland Legend.