The Bomber Resigns
And then, after all the celebrations, came the shock of Alan Brown resigning although I don’t think people really knew the reasons. All the lads were on bonuses to win promotion, we did really well for those days and most of us were given an increase but Alan told me later that he’d been offered nothing.
It was a tragedy for the club and, in my view, a terrible mistake by the directors. Just as I said the Roker fans had played a part in helping us achieve promotion, then so did Alan Brown because he built the team from nothing. It was a very sad day for me, and I know it was a sad day for all the youngsters he’d given a chance to.
Arthur Wright and old Jack Jones took over, Arthur Wright was all right, but Alan Brown was a very, very difficult act to follow. Jack Jones was one of his coaches and it wasn’t an easy job at all. Not surprisingly we struggled, George Hardwick came in, he was a real character was George although I liked him and I think many of the players liked him too but he was very, very laid back. I’ll always remember one game at home when we got beat 2-1 and when we came into the dressing room there he was lying under the sun lamp, so he was obviously worried sick! However, we got through the season with no real danger and he took us to Wembley to watch the Cup Final. There were speeches afterwards by the directors saying how he’d done a good job and then shortly afterwards he was sacked - if ever the old cliché about ‘a vote of confidence’ was proved right, then that was it!
McColl & Baxter
Well I could actually write a book on the arrival of Ian McColl and Jim Baxter but the less said about that the better. McColl unfortunately thought the sun shone out of Baxter’s backside, so Slim could do nothing wrong whatsoever. I would have loved to have had the ability on the ball that Jim Baxter had - that’s all I would have wanted from him though! Baxter was possibly the most gifted left footed player I’ve ever seen, but not my cup of tea. I don’t want to say anymore about him.
When McColl took over I remember him having me in his office because I was the club captain and one of the first things he said to me was ‘I don’t really need this job, I’ve got a business at home and I earn good money.’ I said: ‘Well I’m going to tell you something, if you don’t need this job then you should never have taken it because its one of the biggest jobs in football!’ I don’t know if McColl liked what I said or not, but I suspect he didn’t because I soon found myself out of the first team.
I’d been out injured initially and he brought in George Kinnell who was a cousin of Jim Baxter. I quite liked George, a big honest centre-half, no where near as good as me mind, but that’s neither here nor there! Gradually McColl got rid of a lot of lads from the Alan Brown era and bit of a split developed amongst the players. I was the club captain and I tried to keep the atmosphere right, but it was very difficult because for a period of time I wasn’t even in the team so I didn’t have the same influence. In my view, McColl totally destroyed the team spirit that existed within the promotion squad and I was delighted when he left the club midway through the 1967-68 season.
The Return of Alan Brown
In football they reckon you should never go back and in my opinion Alan Brown should never have returned to Sunderland. He left something special in 1964 and he thought it was still there when he returned. Unfortunately it wasn’t, the young players which he’d developed had grown up and were now mature players, they weren’t his players and Alan found it quite difficult. I got back in the side and Colin Todd came in alongside me - he was a superb player and very, very quick. I was glad he did so well because he was a lovely lad, I gave him a lot of advice and he listened. I thought the arrival of Colin Todd would put 2-3 years more on my career, but little did I know that around the corner I was about to be given a free transfer
We went to Burnley, I can’t remember if we needed points towards staying up, but we won 2-1 and I had one hell of a game sadly though, my last game for Sunderland Football Club. We won 2-1 which was satisfying and certainly better than my first game when we lost 7-0! Nevertheless, the finish was very, very sad for me because even today I look at football as one club and Sunderland was my club.
One of the reasons I was given a free was for services rendered and you could make a good killing. I went to Bolton for two years and the financial package was very, very good although I’d have loved to have finished my playing days at Roker Park but life doesn’t work out like that. You have got to go forward and you must think of your family first. Nat Lofthouse who was manager at Bolton was one of the nicest guys you could ever meet and he was very good to me. I was in the first team all the time until my daughter was born with major health problems. We’d lost a baby before that and when I told Nat he said: ‘Look just take as long as you want and let me know when you’re ready to come back.’ Fortunately my daughter Joanne was born and although we had terrible problems with her, like her sister she’s now a gorgeous woman with a good husband and wonderful grandchildren.
Unfortunately, I never got back into the first team - they had a centre-half there called John Hulme who was simply a stopper but very good at it. When I’d gone there I’d taken his place and I’d given him some stick for allowing an old guy like me to keep him out of the first team, which was a bit of a spur to him. John was a very good professional and I actually signed him when I became manager of Reading.
Looking back, I had fantastic career in the game and while I would have probably been a millionaire if I’d been around today, I wouldn't change those memories for the world!
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Very sad to hear of the passing of Laurie Bolton, Rob Mason pays tribute HERE
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