Here we remember ex-players who are sadly no longer with us.
Everyone at the Sunderland Former Players Association was saddened to hear the news that John Leadbitter, who played for the club during the 1960s, had passed away. This is the eulogy that was written by John’s family and was read out by the priest at his funeral:-
Funeral Address JOHN LEADBITTER
We are here to commemorate, and celebrate, the life of John Leadbitter, who though he spent some time away from his home town, was Sunderland through and through. He was a man with many talents but with a passion for sport; who exuded confidence and relished challenges. A man who worked hard and played hard; and who, most important of all, was a great dad and grandad.
John was born in Grangetown in 1953, son of a coalminer also called John. His mam died tragically early and John grew up very close to his dad and learned a lot about life from him. Some of his best memories from childhood are the summer holidays he spent near Barnard Castle where John Snr used to spend his holidays from the pit working on farms and country estates to earn extra money. The work John helped his dad with ranged from hay-baling to pheasant-beating – not to mention catching rabbits - and gave him a love of the countryside which he never lost. When he became a father himself, he loved to take his lads regularly to the area he had grown to love so much, especially the spectacular High Force waterfall. And, in time, he would encourage his beloved grandchildren – Jake, Lucy and Freya – to enjoy the beautiful countryside of northern England, including the Lake District.
John and Doreen had been at Broadway School at the same time but it was through mutual friends that they started going out together. They were married in 1973 and lived at Town End Farm for about 3 years before moving to Hall Farm, needing a bigger house once Lee was born, followed by Steven 5 years later.
By the time of his first marriage, John’s career as a professional footballer had, sadly, been and gone. On leaving school in 1968, he’d signed schoolboy forms at his beloved Sunderland AFC and became a full professional 2 years later. Tragically, shortly after signing professional forms, John suffered a bad knee cartilage injury from which he never really recovered. He dropped down a level but after 19 games for Darlington it became clear that his knee would not stand up to the rigours of professional football and he was forced to retire from the game.
John then embarked on a variety of jobs, including demolition work, car sales, steel-fixing and foundry work. Surprisingly, he hadn’t really used the skills he’d learnt as an apprentice joiner whilst a youngster on Sunderland’s books but, on being made redundant from the foundry, he turned his hand to shop-fitting, going to London, where the work was. Amongst other establishments, he worked on the Yves St Laurent store, Tiffany’s and even the Houses of Parliament.
He later worked on the increasingly popular bowling alleys, his work eventually taking him to East Yorkshire. And it was there that he met Joanne, whom he married in the mid-90’s. They lived in Scarborough and it was there that John’s third son Adam was born.
John continued to live in the Scarborough area for the rest of his life, though work would take him further afield, once again. By now he had become a kitchen designer and fitter, using the innate skills he hadn’t fully utilised in his previous jobs. This is where John was probably at his best. He was a perfectionist in all areas of life – including in his appearance – but particularly in creating kitchens. Using traditional tech drawing techniques for the designs, and building them himself by hand, he made kitchens of the highest quality. He saw each commission as a challenge and prided himself on doing a top-notch job every time.
He didn’t advertise, preferring to rely on word of mouth and the amount of commissions he got was testimony to the high standards of his workmanship. His work took him from Scarborough to York to London, and he even went ‘international’, as he liked to say, when getting special requisitions in Portugal and Barbados.
Away from work, John threw himself into sport. Football was obviously his first love but he was a great all-round sportsman, excelling at badminton, cricket, golf and squash. He came fairly late in life to squash but, relishing a challenge as ever, despite having to start at the bottom of league 6 he quickly progressed to the top of league 1. He encouraged the lads to enjoy their sport, too, watching Lee and Stephen play football whenever he could. Lee remembers one time when his dad drove up from London to watch him play for Sunderland boys, and then drove back down straight after. John was similarly committed to his dad, taking time off work when John Snr was diagnosed with a terminal illness, helping him to extend the expected last 6 weeks of his life into 6 months.
And it was John’s own health problems which curtailed his sporting activities. As well as his long-term knee problem, his hip joints also stared to wear out. But it was a heart attack 15 years ago which was the biggest cause for concern, the attack coming out of the blue and bringing him very close to death. It was a shock to John and the family but, typically, he fought back and went on to have knee and hip replacements, hoping to be able to resume some of his sporting activities. Tragically, it wasn’t to be, as his cancer diagnosis soon followed these ops. Fittingly, Lee tells me John was wearing a pair of Sunderland shorts when he passed from this life.
And though he has passed from this life, he will live on in many ways. Not least through his sons and grandchildren. And also through some of the odd sayings of which he was so fond, and which have inspired Lee, Steven and Adam to write this message to their beloved dad:
‘No-one is trying to pretend John was perfect. But his enthusiastic approach to life brought joy into the lives of many people. And this will ensure that his memory, and the memories people have of him, will live on; memories from which those who knew, respected and loved him will be able to draw comfort and inspiration for many years to come.
For you will all have fond memories of John. Public memories, perhaps, of things which happened in gatherings; or more private and personal memories of things which happened just between the 2 of you, and which are known only to you and John. And these memories will sustain you, because they speak of the person John was; and because they speak of love, which is God’s greatest gift to us, and part of the very fabric of our being. For just as good is ultimately stronger than evil, so love is stronger than death, and in a very real sense will overcome it; and it is this knowledge which gives us the sure and certain hope for a glorious future in the place where all loved ones will one day be re-united for ever, in the eternal presence of God, our maker and redeemer.’
Amby died shortly after being admitted to Hospital and his funeral took place in Dublin on Saturday 9th January. I first heard of Amby’s situation on New Years Day and then three days later the message arrived that he had passed away.
The sad news prompted me to think back to the years (1958 – 1960) when I’d been a team-mate of Amby’s at Roker Park. At the time the Club was trying to recover from being relegated to the Second Division for the first time in it’s history. The manager, Alan Brown, was rebuilding the team and Amby, together with Charlie Hurley, Len Ashurst, Stan Anderson, Cec Irwin and Jim McNab were seen as key to his success.
Despite being relegated (and struggling with life in the Second Division) the atmosphere in the dressing room was good and my memory is that Amby played an important part in this. He was a great character, a good listener and always looked on the positive side of things. Just as important though was his attitude towards training. It’s fair to say that not everyone on the playing staff enjoyed this aspect of being a professional footballer. However, Amby did and he always, as the saying goes, ‘put in a hard shift’. His wholehearted attitude to training was reflected in his match day performances. These memories of him were confirmed when, on learning he had passed away I got in touch with his team mates, Jim Montgomery and Len Ashurst. Jim replied, ‘So sad – lovely man’ and Len commented, ‘ Great player to have in front of you, never stopped running, a true little lion’.
Although Amby and I lost touch when I left the Club in 1960 we renewed our friendship when the Former Players Association was established in 1999. I was honoured to be asked to represent the Association at his funeral. His popularity in Ireland was reflected by the chapel being full to capacity. Although I had met his wife, Brenda before, this was the first time I had met his children and grandchildren. Amby’s daughters each gave a reading and then, his teenage grandaughter, Alizia, stood and sang (beautifully) one of Amby’s favourite songs – ‘On the Street Where You Live’ from the musical, ‘My Fair Lady’. When she finished she was given a tremendous round of applause by the mourners – I can only say that Amby was given a great send off!
After the service everyone adjourned to a nearby inn for the ‘HOOLY’. This lasted for quite a long time and featured a short video showing critical moments in Amby’s life, football career and family. I was given the opportunity to speak for a few minutes about Amby as I had known him.
Amby’s family have been in touch since the funeral to express their thanks that the Association attended.
Dominic (Nick) Sharkey, passed away after a short illness, on Sunday 8th February 2015 at the age of 71.
He joined the ground staff at Sunderland Football Club on leaving school in 1958. Right from the outset his talents and enjoyment of the game was clear although, by his own admission, he wasn’t too keen on having to train every day! Despite the Club having a number of established goal scorers, Nick did enough to convince manager Alan Brown to select him for the first team even though he was still only 16 years old. Recently, in an interview, Nick said, very honestly, of his debut, ‘the game had somewhat passed him by and the opposition centre half hadn’t given him a kick’!
During the next two seasons Nick faced competition for the centre forward spot from established strikers Don Kitchenbrand, Ian Lawther and Brian Clough. His commitment to the game and, again, his honesty, is seen in his acknowledgement that this period greatly helped his development as, in his view, it ‘gave him the opportunity to learn from the best’. Eventually, in 1962, following Brian Clough’s career ending injury, Nick established himself as the regular centre forward and set about doing what he was good at – scoring goals. In all he made 117 appearances, scored 62 goals (a strike rate of more than one every other game), became one of a handful of Sunderland players to score more than 4 goals in a game (five against Norwich) and remained immensely proud to have been a member of what many consider to have been Sunderland’s best team in living memory.
He was transferred to Leicester City in 1966 but, unfortunately, he suffered a serious injury which led to his eventual retirement from playing at the age of 28 when, in his own words, ‘he fell out of love with football’. By this time he’d married and, as his family commitments grew, he prepared himself for a life outside football by enrolling at Durham University and undertaking a Business Studies course. This led, eventually, to his becoming a sales executive, a career which lasted until his retirement at the age of 69.
During his time in football and afterwards, Nick formed some great and long lasting friendships. In particular he remained close to many members of the 63 – 64 team, especially Len Ashurst, Jim Montgomery, George Herd and Cecil (Cec) Irwin who he describes as his ‘greatest’ friend. Nick had many strings to his bow – he wasn’t just good at football – a highly competent (and competitive) golfer he was extremely active in helping to raise funds for local charities and good causes. In 1999 when the Sunderland Former Players Association was formed Nick became a member and from 2012 until 2014 he took on the responsibility of being Chairman.
He was invariably good company and enjoyed relaxing with his friends, especially after a round of golf. He wasn’t afraid to speak his mind but this was always done in a way that didn’t cause offence and usually helped resolve whichever issue was being discussed.
It was a tremendous shock to everyone who knew him when he passed away so quickly. His place in Sunderland AFC’s history and in the hearts of supporters was recognised at the home game against QPR when a tribute to him was screened around the ground shortly before the match kicked off, the players all wore black arm bands and everyone in the ground applauded his memory.
Nick Sharkey, great man, great player, greatly missed.
Remembered by family, friends, team mates and everyone in the Former Players Association.
Signed from Torquay United in September 1958 by Sunderland manager Alan Brown, Peter Wakeham soon established himself as a first team regular after making his debut against Grimsby Town a few weeks after arriving at Roker Park. An agile and highly-rated ‘keeper, Peter held the number one jersey for the best part of five seasons before losing his place to an up-and-coming Jim Montgomery. His most successful seasons at Sunderland were 1960-61 when they reached the 6th round of the F.A. Cup before losing to high-flying Spurs in a replay and the following campaign when the club came within a whisker of clinching promotion back to the top flight.
Whilst he produced many fine displays during his time at Roker Park, Peter is perhaps best remembered for one particular performance against Sunderland in April 1964 which could easily have denied his former club promotion.
Having joined Charlton Athletic two years earlier, he found himself standing between his former colleagues and a return to the top flight on the final day of the season at Roker Park. For almost the entire game Peter performed heroics in the Charlton goal, denying one Sunderland raid after another, before Johnny Crossan finally clinched victory and promotion for the home side with only minutes remaining.
Peter’s career at The Valley lasted another twelve months and in May 1965 he moved back north to join Lincoln City before finally ended his playing career at non-league Poole Town. At his peak, there were few better ‘keepers around and in 1959 Peter was on the verge of representative honours when he was selected as stand-in for Fulham’s Tony Macedo on an F.A. tour of Italy and Germany. Whilst he didn’t manage an appearance on that tour, he did play for an F.A. X1 against the Royal Air Force later that year.
In later years Peter and his wife Anne lived near Bridgend in Wales where he died in March 2013, aged 76.
Johnny Watters, the man who tended to the injuries of generations of Sunderland players for the best part of thirty years, has sadly died at the age of 92.
As a footballer, Johnny was no mean performer himself having served Celtic in his younger days and he was the last survivor of the team that faced Rangers in an Old Firm derby that attracted a record crowd of over 130,000. During the war he served in the Royal Navy and then trained as a physiotherapist before joining Sunderland in 1955.
Johnny was one of the club’s great characters and his popularity with players and staff was legend at Roker Park as Jim Montgomery recalls: ‘Johnny was an absolutely magnificent character – anybody you spoke to would have a different story about him. Johnny always had his pipe in his hand and I remember one day the door of the treatment room suddenly opened and in walked Alan Brown our manager who hated smoking. Johnny immediately slipped the pipe into his pocket but as Brown stood there talking, you could see the smoke gradually coming out of Johnny’s pocket!’
Sunderland’s goalkeeping legend also recalls that it was Johnny Watters who first persuaded him to join his local club and begin a career that would last a record 623 first-team appearances: ‘I’d been to Burnley for trials but just after I got back Johnny turned up on our doorstep with my old St Hilda’s School teacher Alfie Lavender and asked me to sign for Sunderland. I was only 15 when I went to Roker Park but from the start Johnny looked after me brilliantly. If you were on the treatment table and somebody like Stan Anderson or Charlie Hurley walked in, Johnny would say ‘Go and have a bath,’ and you would have to wait while the senior players were given treatment.’
Jim also remembers that as well as looking after the Sunderland playing staff, Johnny also had his private clients: ‘You would go in on a Sunday morning and there would always be a bottle of whiskey or a leg of lamb, gifts from people he’d treated but he never took any money.’
Johnny’s Roker Park career came to an end when he retired in 1983 but he still kept in touch with the countless players he’d nursed back to fitness over the years and he will always be fondly remembered as one of Sunderland Football Club’s greatest servants.
Born in Bolton, Bill Holden came to prominence with neighbouring Burnley earning a reputation as a powerful goal-scoring centre-forward netting 79 goals in his 199 appearances for the Clarets and gaining international recognition with an England ‘B’ cap against Scotland in 1953.
In December 1955, Holden’s goal-scoring exploits at Turf Moor finally persuaded big-spending Sunderland to pay the Lancashire club £12,000 for his services however, his Roker Park career was relatively short-lived and within 12 months he had moved back to Lancashire, joining Stockport County for £6,000.
In all Bill Holden made 24 league and cup appearances for Sunderland scoring 7 goals and is perhaps best remembered for the two strikes which knocked FA Cup holders Newcastle United out of the competition in the 6th round at St James’ Park in March1956.
Bill spent his final years in a nursing home in Morecambe and in 2011 he died following a long illness, aged 82.
Everyone at the Sunderland Former Players Association was saddened to hear that former Sunderland winger John Fraser has died in a nursing home in Southern Ireland, aged 72. John had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for a number of years.
During a visit to Wearside in August 2010, John’s wife Joan kindly agreed to do an interview regarding John’s career and she told us that in spite of his severe health problems, John still had fond memories of his time at Roker Park back in the 1950’s.
‘John is suffering from the advanced stages of Alzheimer's Disease and the past few years have been extremely difficult for us,’ says Joan, ‘However, I know he still retains a great affection for Sunderland - he loved playing at Roker Park alongside the likes of Charlie Hurley who he always referred to as a ‘true gentleman.’
John was born in Belfast and was signed by Sunderland from Glentoran as a replacement for Irish international winger Billy Bingham who had been transferred to Luton Town.
He made his debut wearing the number seven shirt in the 1-0 victory over Huddersfield Town at Roker Park on 28th February 1959 and his impressive performances in the Sunderland first team earned him international recognition when he was capped by Northern Ireland in a ‘B’ international against France later that year.
‘I used to watch John from the Roker Park terraces and was introduced to him by another Sunderland player, Jimmy Potter,’ recalls Joan, ‘There were quite a number of Irish lads at the club in those days, the likes of Ian Lawther, who sadly died recently, Amby Fogarty, Jimmy O’Neill and Martin Harvey who I went out with briefly before meeting John.’
John and Joan were married in 1960 shortly before John severed his ties with Sunderland and headed south to join Portsmouth. There followed a spell with non-league Margate before he moved back into league football at Watford where he and Joan became great friends with an Irish youngster who was to become one of the greatest goalkeepers in the English game.
Joan recalls: ‘I remember John coming in and telling me about this young Irish goalkeeper they had at the club who was terribly homesick and was about to pack his bags and head back to Ireland. We decided to invite him to stay with us and he eventually settled down and was soon in the Watford first team. That youngster was Pat Jennings who, as everyone knows, went on to become a footballing legend but fame didn’t affect him at all and he always remained a smashing lad.
‘I’ll always remember seeing him on the ‘This is Your Life’ programme at the height of his fame when he made a point of stating that his career would never have happened if it hadn’t been for John and Joan Fraser looking after him when he was at Watford. We hadn’t seen him for years but he never forgot us, but that was typical of Pat, you really couldn’t meet a nicer guy. A few years ago we bumped into him quite by chance at a Pro-Am golf tournament in Ireland and when he spotted us he gave us both the biggest hug you could imagine!
After leaving Watford John and Joan emigrated to South Africa where John continued his playing career with Durban City before moving into coaching and eventually management. After retiring from the game he developed a plumbing business which he ran until he and Joan decided to move to Southern Ireland to be close to their family. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary earlier this year.
Interview by Brian Leng August 2010
John Goodchild, who played inside-right for Sunderland during the 1950s and early 1960s, has sadly died, aged 72.
John was born in Sherburn Hill, County Durham. He worked as a miner and played for Ludworth Juniors before signing for Sunderland. He scored on his first-team debut, on 4 September 1957 in a 3–2 home defeat of Leicester City in the First Division, and produced 16 goals the following season. He then fell out of favour, and, despite scoring a hat-trick away at Leeds United in February 1961, his first game of the 1960–61 season, never appeared for the club again. John remembers "thinking to myself that if I couldn't get into the team after scoring a hat-trick away from home, I'd be on the transfer list at the end of the season. That's exactly what happened."
He joined Second Division club Brighton & Hove Albion, and in his first season with the club, was their joint-top scorer (alongside Bobby Laverick and Tony Nicholas) with 10 goals in all competitions. Two years later, by which time the club had been twice relegated and were now playing in Division Four, he was top scorer on his own, with 15 goals in all competitions. In 1964–65, John was one of six goalscorers to reach double figures as Albion won the Fourth Division title.
He returned to the north of England in 1966, spending a season with York City and a brief
spell with Darlington.
John was a keen cricketer. He first played for his village side, in Littletown, at 14, and appeared for Durham Second XI in 1959. He played cricket for many years in thr Durham County League for Ushaw Moor CC.
May 2011 saw the death of one of Sunderland’s stars of the 1950s: Tommy Wright. A Scottish international, Tommy was Sunderland’s top scorer in 1953-54 and ever present in 1949-50 as the Lads went agonizingly close to a seventh title, eventually finishing third.
Born in January 1928, Wright was 83 when he passed away on May 3rd. Hailing from Clackmannanshire in Scotland, Tommy began his career with Blairhall Colliery before making his name with Partick Thistle with Sunderland shelling out £8,000 for him in 1949. As the Bank of England Team of Britain’s top stars was assembled in the early fifties, Wright proved himself to be a vital member of the side. Sometimes used at centre forward but more usually on the right wing Wright always scored goals as well as making them.
Of his 55 goals from 180 games for the Lads, four came against today’s visitors Wolves, two in Roker wins in 1949 and 1953 and two at Molineux. However Tommy will be most fondly remembered for scoring in each of his first three derbies against the Magpies, his late equalizer at St. James’ in September 1952 ranking alongside the greatest goals the red and whites have ever scored against the black and whites. Having left the home defence in his wake Wright leathered home a 30 yarder. Wright also scored twice in a 7-1 thrashing of Arsenal, notched both goals in a Christmas Day beating of Manchester United in 1951 and at one point scored a dozen goals in 13 games.
Capped three times by Scotland he helped his country beat Wales away, draw with Northern Ireland at Hampden and draw in with England at Wembley.
Returning to Scotland in 1955 in part exchange for Charlie ‘Cannonball’ Fleming, Tommy starred for East Fife before returning to England for a brief stint with Oldham before coming back to the north east to end his career with North Shields.
Part of a footballing family, his son Tommy Wright junior played over 400 games as a winger with Leeds, Leicester, Bradford, ‘Boro and Oldham and is now assistant to John Sheridan at League Two champions Chesterfield. Tommy was also the uncle of former Leicester and Scotland player Jackie Sinclair and Willie Sinclair who played for Huddersfield and Falkirk.
Born in Belfast in 1939, Ian Lawther joined Sunderland from Crusaders in March 1958 and made his first team debut against Aston Villa at Villa Park early in the 1959-60 season. He soon became established as the club’s first choice centre-forward and ended his first campaign in English football as Sunderland’s leading scorer with 18 goals as well as winning his first full international cap for Northern Ireland in the Home International Tournament against Wales at Wrexham.
After topping the goal-scoring charts again the following season Ian’s future prospects at Roker Park looked bright but, following the signing of Brian Clough from Middlesbrough during the 1961 close season, he was immediately transferred to Blackburn Rovers for £18,000. Whilst Sunderland were obviously keen to recoup part of the £45,000 fee they’d paid the Teesside club for Clough’s services, many Roker fans felt the club had missed a great opportunity to form a potentially devastating strike partnership by playing their new signing alongside the popular Irish international
After leaving Ewood Park in 1963 Ian went on to provide great service to Scunthorpe United, Brentford, Halifax Town and Stockport County and on retiring in 1975, he had played nearly 600 league games in English football and had also been capped four times by Northern Ireland at full international level.
Ian died in April 2010, aged 70.
We were sorry to hear of the death of Lewis Wheatman who died on February 20th 2010 in Sunderland Royal Hospital, aged 87. Lewis played 16 war time games debuting away to Leeds on September 27th 1941 having joined Sunderland in 1939 before signing for Hartlepool in 1944. Ryhope born and bred, Lewis was a blacksmith at Ryhope colliery who played as a wing half at Roker Park where he counted Raich Carter, Bobby Gurney, Patsy Gallacher and Eddie Burbanks amongst his team mates.
Although he never played a Football League or FA Cup game for the Lads, Lewis was a fascinating last playing link to those stars of the thirties and was featured in the programme’s ‘Looking for the Lads’ series just under two years ago. A stalwart of the Sunderland Former Players’ Association, Lewis was at the SFPA’s most recent event in the sports bar just before Christmas and will be a big miss at future events.
Lewis was believed to be Sunderland’s oldest surviving player, a mantle that now passes on to former England international Ivan ‘Ivor’ Broadis who was born on December 18th 1922, some six months after Lewis Wheatman.
Few men have given Sunderland Football Club more loyal and dedicated service than Billy Elliott who served the club as a player, coach and manager during an association with the club that lasted almost 30 years.
Born in Bradford in 1925, Billy was already an established England international when moved from Burnley to Sunderland in June 1953 and he went on to play 212 games scoring 26 goals in his six year spell at the club. As player he had a reputation for his tenacity and work-rate, qualities that would serve him well in his coaching and managerial career in the years that lay ahead.
Although very much in the background, Billy played a significant role in Sunderland’s 1973 success having helped develop and coach many of the players in the F.A. Cup-winning squad.
Billy was caretaker manager at Sunderland immediately before Bob Stokoe’s arrival at Roker Park and again 6 years later when he was desperately unlucky not to be offered the job on a permanent basis after almost guiding the club to promotion.
Whilst his career in football saw Billy working for a number of clubs both at home and abroad, Sunderland remained his home and almost right up to his death at the age of 84 he was a regular visitor to the Stadium of Light.
As long as football is played on Wearside, Ian Porterfield’s 1973 F.A. Cup-winning goal will remain one of the most iconic moments of the club’s history. Ironically, the man who scored what is widely regarded as the most famous goal ever scored by a Sunderland player was never normally renowned for his goalscoring prowess.
Bought from Raith Rovers for £30,000 in December 1967, Ian was seen by the Roker Park management as the man to replace the legendary Jim Baxter following the Scottish international’s departure to Nottingham Forest.
Like Baxter, who also began his career at the Kirkcaldy club, Porterfield was a cultered left-sided midfielder, a play-maker rather than goalscorer, and those goals he did score invariably came from his favoured left foot. It is even more surprising therefore that the glorious volley which brought the F.A. Cup to Wearside in 1973 was scored with his weaker right foot.
After making his debut in the red-hot atmosphere of a Tyne-Wear derby at Roker Park, Ian soon became a first-team regular and for the best part of 8 years he was the ‘engine room’ of the Sunderland midfield. However, his football career almost came to an abrupt end in December 1974 when he sustained serious head injuries following a horrific car crash and only the expertise of the surgeons at Newcastle General Hospital saved his life.
After battling back to fitness, he eventually joined Sheffield Wednesday as player-coach and soon afterwards began a long and successful career in football management both at club and international level. When he died of colon cancer in September 2007 at the age of 61, he was still in charge of the Armenian national team and had just recorded a memorable 1-1 draw against Portugal in a European Championship qualifier in Yerevan.
A Scotland Schoolboy international, Jimmy McNab was a stalwart performer for Sunderland throughout the 1960s, a terrific servant for the club who made well over 300 appearances in a Roker Park career spanning over ten years. Jimmy made his debut in a Division Two game against Ipswich Town alongside two other debutants who would go on to become legendary figures at the club, Cecil Irwin and Len Ashurst. He held his position in the side for the next nine games before tragedy struck when he sustained a broken leg in a game at Rotherham.
Fully recovered, he returned to the side less than a year later and thereafter was pretty much an ever-present in a Sunderland team chasing promotion back to Division One. Promotion was finally achieved in 1964 with the half-back line of Harvey-Hurley-McNab firmly established as the backbone of the side and also widely regarded as the finest in the club’s history. A consistent performer who was noted for his tough tackling and uncompromising approach to the game, Jimmy played 37 games during the promotion campaign, missing only 5 games in the run-in following an injury sustained in the 0-0 draw against Norwich City.
He briefly lost his coveted number 6 shirt following the arrival of Jim Baxter in 1965 but continued to perform for the team in a more forward role and occasionally at left-back. Jimmy’s final Sunderland appearance came in a 1-1 draw at Blackpool in January 1967 and soon afterwards he joined Preston North End where he gave great service during his seven-year stay at Deepdale. Jimmy then moved on to Stockport County before retiring from the game in 1976 to take up a career in insurance. His services to Sunderland Football Club were finally rewarded with a testimonial match in May 1999 at the Stadium of Light where he came off the bench to slot home a perfectly executed penalty. Sadly, in June 2006, Jimmy died at the age of 66 following a short illness.
When Bob Stokoe took over as Sunderland manager in November 1972 few supporters, even in their wildest dreams, could have visualised the incredible events that would unfold just a few months later.
Whilst the new Roker boss had inherited a squad that included quite a number of talented players, the league table showed a Sunderland team hovering perilously close to the bottom of the Second Division with relegation to football’s third tier a very real possibility.
Yet, such was Stokoe’s impact on the team, by the end of the season they had climbed to sixth place in the league and lifted the F.A.Cup in a glorious campaign culminating in probably the greatest F.A. Cup final victory ever when they defeated Leeds United at Wembley, prompting Sunderland fans to name their new manager ‘The Messiah’.
The 1973 triumph also saw the Sunderland manager join an elite band of men to have won the F.A. Cup both as a player and as a manager, having picked up a winners medal with Newcastle United following their victory over Manchester City in 1955.
As an accomplished central defender, Stokoe spent the best part of his playing career with the Magpies clocking up over 260 league appearances before taking his first steps into management when he joined Bury as player-manager in December 1961. There then followed spells in charge at Charlton, Rochdale, Carlisle and Blackpool before he fulfilled his dream of returning the North East.
He followed his 1973 success by leading Sunderland back to the First Division three years later but ill-health forced him to resign just a few months into the club’s first season back in the top flight. In April 1987 he was asked to return to Roker Park as caretaker boss after the disastrous Lawrie McMenemy era but sadly, was unable to prevent the club from dropping into the Third Division.
After his death in 2004, aged 73, rival fans from both Sunderland and Newcastle attended his funeral in Prudhoe to pay tribute one of the truly great names of North East football. At the Stadium of Light his memory is now preserved for all time by a wonderful statue at the south-east corner of the ground which captures the moment at the end of the 1973 final when he raced across the Wembley turf to greet Jim Montgomery.
Regarded by many as one of the finest wing-halves in Sunderland’s post-war history, Arthur Wright first came to prominence at Castletown School where he picked up schoolboy international honours for England before joining the Roker Park ground staff in the mid-1930s. He was only 18 when he made first-team debut in a 0-0 draw with Leeds United at Roker Park towards the end on the 1937-38 season and whilst the war interrupted his playing career, he would eventually become an established member of Sunderland’s famous ‘Bank of England’ team of the early post-war years.
At his peak there were few finer players in the English game prompting one well-known sports magazine to comment: “Arthur Wright has developed into a fine attacking half-back with a great shot (Sunderland people think the strongest in England). He became adept at changing the point of attack besides being a sound, dependable and clever defender”.
International recognition duly arrived in 1948/49 when Arthur represented the Football League and he was then selected for the England touring side only to be forced to withdraw due to the illness of his daughters. Sadly, whilst he was now widely regarded as one of the best wing-halves in the English game, he was never given another opportunity to pick up that elusive full international cap.
Arthur went on to make over 280 appearances for Sunderland, scoring 14 goals, before hanging up his boots at the end of the 1954-55 season. He then joined the Roker Park backroom staff where he operated as first-team trainer predominantly under manager Alan Brown and was a key figure in developing the Sunderland team that gained promotion back to Division One in 1964. The following season, following Brown’s shock departure, Arthur was briefly in charge of first-team affairs at Roker Park.
One of the club’s greatest-ever servants, Arthur finally retired from the game in 1969, bringing to an end an association with Sunderland that had lasted over 35 years. Throughout his Roker Park career he had continued to live in Castletown where he ran a small off-license and he later moved into the pub trade running ‘The Travelling Man’ in West Boldon. Arthur died in May 1985, aged 65.
Sunderland Former Players were saddened to hear of the passing of Corny O'Donnell. Corny's Funeral arrangements are as follows:-
Friday 9 March, 11am St Augustines, Wealcroft, Felling NE10 8QS
12.00 Saltwell Crematorium, Saltwell Road, Gateshead, NE8 4TQ