Reliving the 1973 cup final; ‘loving’ Sunderland – Roker Report meets… Bobby Kerr (Part Two)

Part two of our chat with club legend Bobby Kerr really is a blockbuster – we talk about the 1973 cup final, hating Leeds, loving life on Wearside, and ‘stalking’ Eddie Gray.

RR: You’re one of only two men to captain Sunderland to FA Cup Final glory in the club’s long history, the other being Raich Carter. Did you ever meet Carter and if so what are your memories of him? As a Hendon lad myself I’m curious.

BK: He wasn’t around much when we won the Cup, he was a man who liked to keep his private life private. Although, I do have a photograph of me and him which was taken and used in the Sunday newspapers in 1973. Carter was a gentleman, an absolute gentleman. All you had to do was look at the way he dressed and looked. He was always in a suit. I got on well with him because I’ve always liked to dress smart too. To be honest, Alan Brown made me that way – under him you were always smart as a carrot, we were always ‘suited and booted’ as Brown used to say. All of the ’73 lads are the same even now, if we go anywhere we’ve always got a suit on.

Mind being a Hendon lad you must know the Blue House Pub? I used to live down Hendon back in the day just close to the Blue House in Canon Cockin street, the mural of Carter on the side of the pub is a hell of a piece of art.

RR: You were instrumental in Sunderland getting to the Cup final as you played every minute of every game. How did you manage to help pull off the biggest sporting upset of a generation?

BK: We just went on, we had a good set up with a good blend. We had a good solid defensive formation. Richie Pitt was a big part of the defence and Dave Watson. I mean, Dave Watson was superb and we had a goalkeeper in Jim Montgomery who was almost picking goals out of the back of the net with his saves. Right down the front we had Vic Halom who was a wall, you could pump the ball into him and it would stick. Hughesy (Billy Hughes), Dennis Tueart, myself – we had a good strong side from the backline through to the front-men.

Even behind the scenes there was a great setup, with Arthur Wright and Jack Jones. They didn’t get as much credit as the players on the field but they were just as important. We all used to socialise and have a drink, there was a good togetherness and that helped us to go on.

RR: The day after the Cup final the players and management celebrated in a London hotel, some of the celebrations were broadcast live on TV including an interview with you and Bob Stokoe, you both look delighted!

BK: Oh aye, we both had a glass of champagne in our hands. I think we were a bit pissed! I couldn’t stop laughing behind him! Great days.

The gaffer and the captain 

RR: Had the celebrations lasted long into the night before as well?

BK: I think me and Monty went straight to bed, we didn’t end up going out in London. We had a couple of cans in our room then turned in for the night.

Me and Monty were always roommates and often used to take a couple of cans of lager to bed with us on the Friday night before away games. We’d have a curfew of about 9:30. Some of the lads used to sneak out but me and Monty used to go to bed. We’d lock the door and if anyone knocked on the door it was ‘f**k off!’. Sometimes the Brummie coach Arthur Cox would shout back ‘It’s Coxie!’ and me and Jim would have to shout our apologies!

The coaching team didn’t find out for a long time that me and Monty would have a few cans the night before a game. Someone found out eventually and jokingly asked us ‘why didn’t’ you tell us about the cans? You bastards.’ I think we responded by saying ‘well why should we f**king tell yeas!’ 

It was different back then, a couple of cans used to help us relax before the game with such an early bedtime. Some of the lads used to talk about sleeping tablets, I’d have never have touched them. Couple of cans, telly on and it was goodnight for me and Monty. We’d be up in the morning and ready to go.

We did the same thing the night before the Cup final, same roommates – same routine.

RR: On the day of the 1973 Cup final the commentator stated that ‘the noise from the fans was enough to stir even the most experienced’ – what are your memories from the win?

BK: To be honest, I think I was a bit overpowered by it all. I think the whole team were overawed too. I didn’t take much of it in. Now when I reflect, I think ‘f**king hell!’, you know? When you walked out there on to the Wembley pitch and heard the noise it was colossal. If I did that now I’d be shitting myself! I mean there was 100,000 in the crowd.

When I look back now at videos of the final and I watch myself, I’m bouncing the ball up and down and I’m chewing some gum! If you watch it back I’m chewing away as we’re walking out. I look back at myself and think ‘what the f**k are you doing?’ I must have been a bag of nerves! I suppose that was my way of trying to get rid of that nervous energy.

RR: You faced Leeds Captain Billy Bremner in the coin toss, you won and chose to make the teams switch ends – was there any reasoning behind that?

BK: Just trying to be f**king clever. I was, honestly. There wasn’t any wind, I just thought f**k it. Honestly, that’s the truth – I was just trying to be clever.

RR: Did it mean more to you to win the Cup against Leeds, given that it was a clash with Norman Hunter that caused one of your leg breaks?

BK: I don’t think I was like that but it must have been inside of me. I don’t remember thinking about it too much but deep down it must have driven me on, I must have thought ‘aye, f**king up yaes!’

To be honest, Sunderland and Leeds were always rivals, there was a bit of bad blood between the sides. You had Willie McPheat – well Bobby Collins of Leeds broke his leg. Norman Hunter with me. There was always something there, this thing about Sunderland and Leeds – a bit of tension. Even when I used to play in the youth teams it was there.

RR: Was it that tension the lead to the ‘RIP Leeds’ coffin being paraded around Roker Park following the 1973 Cup win?

BK: Oh aye! There’s was always anti-Leeds feeling, stuff like that used to happen quite often. It was always like a kicking match when we played Leeds and I think it was down to the history between McPheat and Collins and myself and Hunter. They were known as ‘Dirty Leeds’ back then, brilliant team – they won everything that was going. But, Christ did they like a battle.

RR: It’s often said that Don Revie and Bob Stokoe didn’t get on too well, how true is that?

BK: They never got on, they always had this problem with each other. I think that probably contributed to the tension between the two teams as well. It doesn’t seem as prominent now but back then it was a real fierce rivalry.

RR: Is it true that you dropped the FA Cup?

BK: Oh God! Aye, when we won we went up the staircase to receive the trophy. Obviously, I collected the cup, as I turned around to walk off I’ve fallen down the stairs, if you watch it you can hear the cup clunk! The f**king cup bounced off the floor! Watch the video back, the players that come after me make the same mistake, everybody is falling all over the place. One of the lads goes to shake hands with somebody then falls over. Aye, it’s worthwhile watching it back just for that, it was hilarious!

The journey back to Sunderland with Cup was phenomenal. I don’t think we realised what we’d done until the journey back. We were coming back on the bus from London and people were standing on the bridges waving at us, we were all thinking what the f**k’s this? Some of us were still playing cards, it just hadn’t sunk in what we’d achieved.

RR: A brilliant feat for 26-year-old Kerr to get the better of Billy Bremner and Johnny Giles at Wembley in an FA Cup Final.

BK: We thought more of them than they thought of us. Oh aye, Leeds underestimated us. If you look at the way Dick Malone handled Eddie Gray, God I almost felt sorry for Eddie. If he went for a shite, Dick went with him!

Norman Hunter, Johnny Giles and all their f**king posh names – smashing blokes don’t get me wrong. But when it came to football they were f**king c*nts.

RR: If you look at the interview footage before the game with John Motson and the Leeds players, one or two talk about scoring early and creating a real exhibition of football, you didn’t allow that to happen.

BK: Oh no, and that’s because they didn’t know we were going to clog Eddie Gray at every opportunity. I’d made my mind up. If he can’t get the f**king ball then they can’t score. If Gray can’t get the ball they’re f**ked and the best way to do it was to stand on him. Me and Dick didn’t let him out of our sights.

Some people say to me ‘Well you didn’t do that much in the Cup Final!’ I always respond with ‘Yeah you’re right because I was too busy f**king standing on Eddie Gray!’ 

If the ice cream man came across the pitch then I would have got one before him.

RR: Where were you on the pitch when Ian Porterfield scored and what are your memories of his goal? I guess you were marking Eddie Gray!

BK: Aye, I wouldn’t have been too far away from him!

SAFC.com

RR: Personally, it rankles me that you helped shaped culture in Sunderland with your contribution to its football, yet you won’t have earned as much as some of the Sunderland players who’ve raked in hundreds of thousands to sit on the bench. What do you make of player wages and agents these days?

BK: I don’t blame players for making as much money as they do, but it’s stupid when they blow it all on daft things. Buying four cars and extravagant things – but that’s down to them I guess.

Christ, I wish I’d had a good agent! I still made enough money to live, in my day there wasn’t as much money flying around. It was more of a working-class game. Some of the miners were making the same amount of money as we were. They were good days.

Mind, I didn’t play well all the time. I wish I could have gotten the fan in the Clock Stand who shouted at me for years, he used to scream ‘Kerr, get yourself off and take Micky Henderson with you!’Every time I had a bad game, I’ll never forget it. Funny looking back.

RR: What was it like living in Sunderland after you’d brought the cup back?

BK: Oh, brilliant. It was brilliant to live in Sunderland anyway. As I mentioned earlier when I went to play for Blackpool myself and Dick Malone would travel back to Sunderland. A young Phil Brown used to come back with us too. We had some good times and laughs together at Bloomfield Road but it wasn’t the same as Sunderland. Brown was linked with the Sunderland job when Keane left I think.

RR: Why do you think it took until the 1975-76 season for Sunderland to get promoted to the First Division following the win in ’73?

BK: A lot of the lads left. Micky Horswill went, Dennis Tueart and Billy Hughes too. There was a few that left and they deserved to leave, Dave Watson’s another. They all went on to do good things elsewhere.

RR: Was there any interest in you?

BK: Oh aye, but I always said I didn’t want to leave. If you look back on how my career went then maybe it can be judged as mistake, but I was Sunderland through and through.


And that was that, three hours in the company of a man forever embedded in Wearside folklore. Bobby was open, gracious, funny and welcoming. I’d like to go on record thanking him for agreeing to speak to me.

On behalf of us all at Roker Report, I’d like to wish Bobby well in the future. A true Sunderland legend.

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“I was a hero in town when I scored twice against Newcastle!” Roker Report meets… Bobby Kerr (Part One)

James Copley spent three hours chatting to 1973 FA Cup winning captain Bobby Kerr. In part one the Little General takes us through his early life, his move to Sunderland, scoring against Newcastle and playing under Bob Stokoe and Alan Brown

 

It’s 2:30pm on Thursday the 31st of August 2017 – Transfer Deadline Day. I’m waiting outside of the Highfield Hotel in Houghton, the weather is hot, not a cloud in the sky… I couldn’t care less, I’m shitting myself. I’m due to meet a man that ranks in the upper echelons in the pantheon of Sunderland’s greatest ever players.

Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup Final winning captain Bobby Kerr limps around the corner, dressed as smart as a carrot.

The Little General puts me at ease in an instant whilst shaking my hand he speaks in a broad Scottish accent with a twang of Mackem: ‘You must be James? Let’s sit doon and have a pint…’


RR: Firstly, I’d like to thank you for sitting down with me today, it really is an honour. How are you keeping? Our readers would love to know what you’re up to these days.

BK: No problem, I never really do interviews anymore! I’m not involved at all with the club now but I see Jim Montgomery and Micky Horswill every so often, it’s always nice to see them. I tend to see old pals at the Former Players Association events but other than that I see mates at funerals, unfortunately.

I’m happy pottering around my local community in Houghton with my partner for now, there’s few nice pubs and even though I don’t go to church I’m on good terms with the local vicar, he likes a drink!

RR: You were born in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire in 1947, what was it like growing up in Scotland in the 50s and 60s?

BK: Scotland?! Well, it was all football. When I came home from school I’d get my ball and go up the park. I lived in a village in the Vale of Laven and there was nothing to do other than play football.

RR: Which team did you support as a child?

BK: Well I’m a protestant, so Rangers! It was either Rangers or Celtic where I was from, the local team was Dumbarton but not many kids my age supported them as they were down the lower leagues. I left Scotland when I was 15, so it’s been Sunderland ever since. I’ve lived in the North-East ever since. Even when Stokoe signed me for Blackpool I used to travel with Dick Malone to Blackpool for training and matches.

RR: How did the young Bobby Kerr’s move south of the boarder come about?

BK: Sunderland had a chief scout back then called Charlie Ferguson. Well Charlie’s Mam lived in Dumbarton, which was only about half an hour away from the Vale of Laven. So, Charlie used to scout in that area so he could come and see his Mam.

If you want to work it out, he was using his expenses to go up and see his Mam up in Dumbarton! That’s how he spotted me.

But aye, Charlie was responsible for bringing a lot of the 1973 side to Sunderland, he had a great scouting network, not just in Scotland but in Ireland too.

RR: You were brought to Sunderland by the disciplinarian Alan Brown after Ferguson spotted you – what are your memories of him?

BK: He was a hard man. Brown used to send us training around the running track quite often. He used to like pitting the first-team against the reserves too, but when he shouted stop, you stopped dead in your tracks. You didn’t move.

He used to say when he’d stopped us: ‘The balls coming down this right side, it’s going to be crossed over. Where’s the left back? You should be tracking this ball as its coming down the wing and attempting to stop the cross.’

Everyone would be stood still taking in every word, absolutely shitting themselves! Oh aye, he ruled by fear. A brilliant manager, mind.

RR: You recovered from two broken legs very early on in your career, which must have been extremely hard. During your rehabilitation, you spent time with the youth team then managed by Brian Clough. What was old big head really like?

BK: As bad as Alan Brown! Another hard man, very hard. And he surpassed Alan Brown – you didn’t mess with Cloughie, not if you knew what was good for you. Alan Brown was a brilliant manager and obviously Cloughie was as well. In my eyes, Clough became better than Alan Brown and that took some doing.

The broken legs impacted my career, I didn’t really have an international career because of it. Not one cap. I think I would have done if I hadn’t broken my leg, because I started so well for Sunderland. 7 goals in 11 appearances, I was on the way to being talked about as a player for Scotland until those injuries.

When I was at Blackpool I ended up standing on the ball and dislocating my hip too. I was through on goal, just about smash it in past the ‘keeper. I was one on one with the ‘keeper and I stood on the f**king ball, that was painful. I was in hospital for ten weeks!

When I was in Hospital recovering from the dislocation, two Vaux drivers used to pop in and see me every week with a couple of cans, we used to sit outside in the sun and have a drink. They had beards like you. In the ninth week of my recovery my wife came down to see me, the doctor said I could go in the morning, well my wife had just that afternoon left to go back to Sunderland! I thought ‘F**k! What am I going to do?’ The two Vaux lads came into see me and I explained the situation, they said ‘Don’t worry Bobby, we’ll take you.’ They picked me up in the wagon and dropped me off at the front door. All the neighbours are out in the street with my wife confused as to why this big Vaux wagon has pulled up outside and there’s me getting out of it. They couldn’t believe it!

RR: It was a new manager, Ian McColl, that handed you your debut in New Year’s Eve 1966 against Manchester City at Roker Park. Sunderland won 1-0 and you scored. What are your first recollections our old ground and the crowd that day?

BK: It was amazing. The fans were brilliant with me because we’d won and I’d scored the winner. I went home to Scotland to celebrate the New Year straight after the game and we celebrated my debut with a few drinks! Playing with the main man Jim Baxter was special, he was one of the best Scottish players of the era. Baxter played for Rangers so he was a real hero of mine. Anybody with anything to do with Rangers loved him. With him performing so well in Scotland then coming down to England it was a dream for me to play alongside him.

RR: We’ve discussed Alan Brown, what was Bob Stokoe like to play for?

BK: All the players got on great with him and he was the one who christened me the Little General.

I remember when me and Hughsey had both bought Morris cars one Friday, neither of us had a licence but we were due to take our tests on the Monday. Well, someone shopped us to Bob that we didn’t have a licence yet and he gave us an almighty rollicking! He was worried we’d get into trouble and throw a good football career down the drain, he cared about our wellbeing. I passed my test anyway!

RR: You scored twice against Newcastle in a 3-0 against Sunderland’s arch rivals in March 1967. What was the rivalry with Newcastle like back in the 1960’s and 1970’s and has it changed in comparison the almost toxic rivalry we see in the present day?

BK: There was still a lot of rivalry, it was always Sunderland and Newcastle. It went right through the town, it wasn’t just football. If you went anywhere in the town before a big derby game someone would shout ‘you better beat those f**kers!’

I was a hero in the town when I scored the two goals. I used to live in Hamden Road right next to Roker Park, I’d come out of my house and be next to the ground, players back then were mixed in with the fans, all part of it together.

Tales From the Stands II: Forcing Sunderland’s away day culture on Yanks & Southerners

Come one come all and gather round to feast your eyes on our latest feature, Tales from the stands: a collection of fans’ favourite moments watching The Lads over the years. Today we’re recounting a baptism of fire for fans from across the globe on a Tuesday night in London.

My decision trade the famous cultural hub of Hendon for Swansea University presented many problems – the main one being a lack of opportunity to watch my beloved Sunderland. A hard challenge as I’d had a season ticket for years and obsessed over my heroes since I was a young lad.

Fortunately, a glorious red and white opportunity presented itself to me when Gus Poyet’s men were due to travel to Craven Cottage to face Fulham in the fourth round of the FA Cup in February 2015.

I organised travel from Swansea on the National Express bus and managed to get my hands on some student tickets, all in all the trip was only going to cost around £30. How wrong I was, but I’ll get to that issue later.

I persuaded six of my uni mates to turn out for what I promised would be a footballing feast for the ages.

Joe – a Reading native and Chelsea supporter. Zak – an Arsenal fan born in the south. Alex – a Yorkshire Gooner. Taylor – an American who’d taken to supporting Swansea. Kev – another American with a passion for Arsenal. And finally, Joel – a third Yank with no allegiance.

I’d organised for the travelling party to meet up with my one of my best friends from back home, Rob. Rob’s a London-based Sunderland lad but supports Arsenal, owing to the influence of his much loved and widely respected late Father, George Dagg. However, Sunderland are very much his second team and occupy a special place in his heart.

Decked out in my Sunderland memorabilia – Left to right: Joe, Joel, Rob, Alex, myself, Zak, Taylor, Kev.

I was eager to share the Sunderland away day culture with my mates in order to prove my claims that my club had the most passionate fans in the country despite being, for the most part, positively shite.

Sunderland – both the place and the club – form the key cornerstone of my identity and I wanted my mates to witness other Mackems having talked the area, the club and its fans up to them at every available opportunity.

The coach journey was uneventful by away day standards, most of the lads tried to squeeze a nap in while occasionally turning to look on in horror as I threw shots of straight vodka down my neck to ‘sharpen up.’

We arrived in London, met Rob and proceeded a Weatherspoon’s near the ground called The Rocket in search of alcohol.

The Yanks & Southerners were immediately struck by the friendliness of the good-humoured Sunderland fans and were surprised that many in the pub knew each other or at least exhibited a nod and a smile in recognition of one another. Quite the culture shock for them.

After several pints we stumbled over to a picturesque Craven Cottage, the game kicked off and Sunderland started well only to go a goal down against the run of play. Where have we heard that one before?

I started to doubt myself. What If I’d just dragged my mates to watch Sunderland lose to a Championship team in the freezing cold? Especially given that I’d talked the experience up? This had the potential to put a dampener on everything.

However, a comical Fulham own-goal levelled the scores before Ricky Alvarez, in his only meaningful contribution to the club, fired Sunderland into the lead with a screamer, causing limbs to fly.

A Jordi Gomez penalty at the death sealed it for the lads and sent the 2,500 strong away end into sheer delirium.

Joel was so impressed that he demanded I source him a ticket for the upcoming Swansea v Sunderland game. A request to which I happily obliged.

I’ll leave it to Joel in his WordPress blog written in the days after the game to sum up the experience:

My British roommate James is a die-hard Sunderland football fanatic. James got me and six other guys together to go see a “real” football game against Fulham in London on a Tuesday night. That’s a 10-hour bus ride round trip from Swansea, and the game didn’t start until 7:45pm.

But my god was it worth it. The away section was fully packed with Sunderland fans who not once sat down the entire game and shouted obscenities at the Fulham section as if they had just insulted every Sunderland fan’s mother. Nearly every fan had to drive eight hours away from home just to see this game. On a TUESDAY NIGHT. Now that is dedication to your team. 

Each goal had the packed away section jumping over each other in pure ecstatic joy. James stayed in London that night because he was alive with invincible energy after his team had won. The rest of us journeyed our way home on the worst bus ride I hope to ever be on. A five-hour ride that started at 1AM. Absolute hell. Was it worth it?

Undoubtedly.

Mission accomplished? I think so.

The story of Len Ashurst: 458 first team appearances – a true Sunderland legend

‘The fans on Wearside are special. They remember things so vividly and are so happy to give of themselves.’ – Len Ashurst.

The year is 1939. On September 3rd, Britain and France declare war on Germany plunging the world into war for the second time in most people’s lifetime. In football, January 2nd sees the all-time highest attendance for a UK Association football league game as 118,730 people watch Rangers beat Celtic in an Old Firm derby played at Ibrox Park. And on March 10th in Fazakerley, Liverpool, Len Ashurst is born.

The greatest of Sunderland players pulled on a red-and-white shirt more often than any other outfield player in the club’s history, playing 458 games – only goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery has appeared more for Sunderland than Ashurst.

Sunderland fans remember Len fondly due to his undoubted quality as a footballer, but also because of his grit, hard work and steely determination. Former Manchester United and England star, Nobby Stiles, once said about Ashurst that:

In a match at Old Trafford I had Len by the throat. I quickly let go when I realised the consequences.

Ashurst was evidently hard as nails, but this should not to take away from his overall talent as a footballer as the left back’s quality as a footballer was indisputable. He was so good that the great Bill Shankly once explained that:

Len Ashurst was the one that got away. He could have been a Liverpool player.

High praise given Shankly’s Liverpool won the First Division in 1964, 1966 and 1973, the FA Cup in 1965 and 1974 and the UEFA Cup in 1973. Liverpool were the dominant force in English football under Shankly, so for the Scot to remark that Ashurst could have been a Liverpool player alongside the likes of Ray Clemence, Ron Yeats, Emlyn Hughes and Roger Hunt is an incredibly impressive homage to his footballing talents.

The Liverpool-born defender also gained admiration from leading figures outside of football. The former Labour Party leader, Neil Kinnock, once commented that:

Len Ashurst is the sort of man that makes British football great.

Alongside Goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery and fellow defenders, Charlie Hurley, Jimmy McNab, Cecil Irwin and Martin Harvey, Ashurst formed one of the most noteworthy and memorable Sunderland defences in the club’s history.

Ashurst also played for Sunderland at the same time as Brian Clough – and it’s fair to say that the two have history. Clough held a grudge against Ashurst as it was the defender that played the through ball that ended Clough’s career in a game against Bury on Boxing Day, 1962 at Roker Park.

Speaking to The Chronicle  Ashurst explained:

Cloughie was giving chase and Chris Harker, the Bury keeper, come racing out. They collided and Cloughie’s knee went. That was it. I felt from that day on Brian blamed me for over-hitting the forward pass. He never mentioned it but I knew. I could tell – and he never refuted it once.

Clough’s disdain towards Ashurst lead to the left back refusing to play in Clough’s testimonial game at Roker Park, and the prickly relationship between the two lasted into both men’s managerial days.

The pair faced each other in two games; in the first game Ashurst’s Sunderland held Clough’s Nottingham Forrest to a 0-0 draw at the City Ground. However, in the replay Sunderland knocked Forest out 1-0 at Roker Park on the way to the Milk Cup final at Wembley.

Ashurst describes an intriguing encounter with Clough after the initial game at the City Ground as:

Having got a good result at the City Ground, I thought I had to see Cloughie and knocked on his door. I went in and said I’d have a double whisky. ‘A man after my own heart’ he said and poured us both a liberal helping. My assistant, Frank Burrows, joined us but insisted he wanted only an orange juice. ‘Well, you can bugger off,’ roared Cloughie. An embarrassed Frank began making his way to the door – and I followed him!

Tom Cowie had appointed Ashurst as manager of Sunderland on the 5th of March 1984. Len guided a struggling side to to survival in the First Division at the end of the 1983/84 season and signed Sunderland legend Gary Bennett in an attempt at pushing on the following season.

Sunderland Manager Len Ashurst (left) and Norwich City Manager Ken Brown (right) shaking hands before the Milk Cup final at Wembley Stadium in London – The Chronicle

Despite beating Clough’s Forest on the way to reaching the 1984/85 Milk Cup Final, Ashurst could not prevent Sunderland from relegation to the Second Division and was relived of his duties.

The Sunderland manager always watched the first fifteen minutes of the game from the grandstand before taking a position in the technical area – a habit seemingly abandoned by modern managers. Len did not intend to change his routine at Wembley for the Milk Cup Final; however, much to his dismay, he found a Sunderland Council member in his seat! As unhelpful as ever, the council member didn’t relinquish his position and Len, in his own words, ‘spent three minutes traipsing around Wembley looking for somewhere to sit feeling like a right prat.

It is one thing to be outstanding on the field and to manage a Sunderland side to Wembley, but what makes Ashurst a true Sunderland legend is his love and respect for Wearsiders. Len was, by his own admission, a ‘hard-bitten’ character, yet he did explain in heart-warming detail the link he has with the Mackem public. Commenting in his Autobiography, Left Back In Time, Len stated that:

Nothing gets to us (players) more than the genuine warmth of supporters. I was lucky enough to experience plenty of that during my time playing for Sunderland. But the fans on Wearside are special. They remember things so vividly and are so happy to give of themselves. 

Len also described making his way home after attending a Sunderland v Stoke City game at the Stadium of Light on March 13th, 2007:

As I was wending my way home from the thousands of others from this evening match, a supporter moved alongside me, turned to me as he walked by and said, ‘how are you, Len?’

‘Fine, thank you,’ I responded and shook his hand. It costs nothing after all!

‘Thanks for the pleasure you gave me,’ he continued. ‘I used to watch the 1964 promotion-winning side, they were the most enjoyable Sunderland team ever.’ Then my new-found friend melted into the crowd.

A lump came to my throat… for me to hear so unexpectedly that all the sweat and effort in that red and white striped shirt so long ago was appreciated… it was a special, fleeting moment amongst my own.

Len Finished his managerial career in the Middle East and Malaysia. Ashurst played a major part the evolution of the Premier League, including having an instrumental role in the foundation of Premier League Academies where he worked for many years as a Match Delegate.

His love of the beautiful game is as inspiring as his remarkable six decade career. A true Sunderland great, I’m sure you’ll all agree.

SAFC U23s 2-1 Spurs U23s: Djilobodji has a mare, but mackems win – Match Report & Player Ratings.

Sunderland pulled off a late comeback to win this evening against Tottenham Hotspur, with goals from Ethan Robson and Denver Hume sparing the blushes of Papy Djilobodji, who had an evening to forget. Here’s how the lads rated.

Co-authored by Gavin Henderson.

Sunderland U23s took on Tottenham Hotspur U23s this evening in their season opener at Eppleton Colliery Welfare, with former Everton left-back Bryan Oviedo making his first appearance of the season following his recovery from an injury sustain whilst on international duty.

Oviedo picked up a hamstring problem back in April which kept him out of the final run towards the end of the season, and then upon his recovery from that issue he suffered a leg injury which saw him sent home from the Gold Cup by Costa Rica.

Senior Goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter made the starting line up, along with first teamers Lynden Gooch, Jack Rodwell, Papy Djilobodji and Donald Love in a strong looking Sunderland side.

Manchester City v Sunderland - Premier League
Donald Love was drafted in at right back – Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Sunderland XI: Robin Ruiter, Donald Love, Bryan Oviedo, Elliot Embleton, Thomas Beadling (c), Papi Djilobodji, Andrew Nelson, Ethan Robson, Lynden Gooch, Jack Rodwell, Jack Diamond.

Subs: Michael Ledger, Max Stryjek, Luke Molyeneux, Denver Hume, Adam Bale.

Tottenham XI: Brandon Austin, Timothy Eyoma, Jaden Brown, Oliver Skipp, Christian Maghoma, Japhet Tanganga, Shilow Tracey, Joe Pritchard (c), Kazaiah Sterling, Dylan Duncan, Will Miller.

Subs: Marcus Edwards, Luke O’Reilly, Ryan Loft, Keanan Bennetts, Samuel Shashoua


Match Action

First half

Sunderland started the game with Jack Rodwell playing as a number ten behind Lynden Gooch, who led the line for Elliot Dickman’s side.

A pretty uneventful first 20 minutes saw Spurs have the first real chance of the game, which forced central defender Tom Beadling into a goal-saving tackle.

It was Gooch who provided Sunderland’s first meaningful opportunity on 21 minutes with a superb solo effort. The American beat three Tottenham defenders in the box before firing a shot at straight Spurs ‘keeper Austin – a great bit of play by the United States international.

With ten minutes left to run in the first half, Spurs took the lead through Kazaiah Sterling after some sloppy defensive play from Sunderland afforded the Spurs man with a golden opportunity, which he dispatched with ease past Robbin Ruiter.

Sunderland ended the first half strong. Jack Rodwell burst forward to allow Gooch a chance to slip the ball through to Diamond, but the American dithered and the attack was ended quickly.

However, further hapless defending from Papy Djilobodji almost gifted Spurs their second. The former Chelsea defender sold Ruiter short with a terrible back pass, but was spared of his blushes after some indecisive play from Spurs led to the move breaking down.

Half Time: Sunderland U23s 0-1 Spurs U23s (Kazaiah Sterling, 34)

Livingston v Sunderland - Pre Season FriendlyPhoto by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Second Half

There was one change for Sunderland at half-time as Lyndon Gooch came off for Luke Molyeneux, pushing Andrew Nelson into the central striking position.

Spurs started the second-half much like the first, tidy in possession.

Much like the first half, the second was typically uneventful at the beginning – but, not wanting to divert from his usual antics, Papy Djilobodji was off the boil. Had it not been for the bar, the Senegal international would have afforded Spurs another simple opportunity as he was out-jumped with ease, leading to the ball striking the woodwork.

Andrew Nelson was lively throughout the second period after moving up front and had a number of half-chances, causing the Spurs back line considerable discomfort.

And it was just after the hour mark when Jack Rodwell and Bryan Oviedo were withdrawn – neither man gave a glittering performance but it was the minutes under the belt that was most important, with both players striving towards full fitness after spells out through injury.

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League 2Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Upon the departure of the two senior squad members it gave Sunderland some impetus, and it wasn’t long before they were back level.

With the ball loose in midfield, Ethan Robson intercepted it quickly and marauded through the centre of the Spurs defence, blasting home past the ‘keeper to level the scores with 20 minutes to play – a good, powerful finish.

With the match even both teams ramped up their efforts to get a foothold in the game and the pace was upped considerably – for the first time in the evening there was an edge to the play and both sets of players were putting everything into every tackle.

And then came the clincher for the Mackems – Denver Hume won it for Sunderland with a minute to play, smashing a superb strike from just outside of the box in to the bottom corner of the net. It was brilliant play from the left back, who celebrated signing a new contact with the club this week by scoring the winner.

Full Time: Sunderland U23s (E Robson, Hume) 2-1 Spurs U23s (Sterling)


Player Ratings

Robin Ruiter, 6/10 – Didn’t really have much to do and was tidy as usual, not helped by Papy Djilobodji’s defensive limitations. Pulled off two good saves at the end to preserve Sunderland’s win.

Donald Love, 6/10 – Solid performance for Don Love. He didn’t do anything flashy, kept things simple and worked hard.

Bryan Oviedo, 5/10 – Poor before being substituted on the 62 minute mark. Needs more game time to resume full fitness, nearly cost Sunderland a couple of goals and generally looked off the pace.

Elliot Embleton, 6/10 – Tidy in possession.

Thomas Beadling, 7/10 – Tidy on the ball in the first-half, looked more assured than his central defensive partner.

Papi Djilobodji, 3/10 – A performance to forget for the Senegalese defender. He almost gave away a penalty in the second half and looked generally unsure on the ball.

Andrew Nelson, 7/10 – Much better when moved into the middle following Gooch’s withdrawal.

Ethan Robson, 8/10 – Neat and tidy display from Robson today, passed the ball well and helped to break up the play. A great interception and burst forward to slot in a powerful finishes shows that this lad has a bit of quality.

Lynden Gooch, 7/10 – Industrious performance from Gooch in the first-half playing as the central striker. The forward exhibited some good touches and worked his way into some good goal scoring positions. Needs to improve on his finishing.

Jack Rodwell, 6 /10 – Flattered to deceive for the most part. Showed his passing ability in flashes but is clearly working his way back to full fitness. Rodwell should be dominating games like this, we didn’t see that tonight.

Jack Diamond, 7/10 – Carried the ball well all night and looked very energetic. Still has a lot to learn but the winger didn’t look out of place having been fast tracked to the U23s team for this season. A good, solid performance from the youngster.

Adam Bale, 5/10 – Did nothing of note.

Luke Molyeneux, 5/10 – See Adam Bale.

Denver Hume, 7/10 – Sunderland’s match winner managed to get forward far more successfully than Oviedo in an impressive substitute performance.

Man of the Match: Ethan Robson – Took his goal well, got stuck in and just generally impressed. Will be pleased, having shone in front of the onlooking Grayson.

Match Preview (For Roker Report): Bryan Oviedo set for a return to action this evening for the U23s v Spurs

Sunderland U23s face Tottenham U23s in the opening game of Premier League 2 tonight – what can we expect from Elliot Dickman’s side?

Sunderland under-23s host Tottenham Hotspur this evening in the Premier League 2 as the lads start their league season at Eppleton Colliery Welfare (kick-off 7pm).

The young Black Cats, under the tutelage of Elliot Dickman, have faced four non-league sides as well as a conditioning trip to Austria with the first team in a tough pre-season campaign.

Speaking to safc.com Dickman explained how the preparation work has gone for his young side:

We have shown a really good attitude and without the ball we have been quite good. The messages have been consistent about their work ethic and we have to work very hard as a team. We have to make sure we are very competitive and without the ball we want to make sure that we don’t panic, we look after it and we play sensibly. 

It will be the same messages we have been using for the last six weeks. The good thing was that we played against four men sides which was terrific for us and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

There were different challenges for the lads physically, plus the fact that these teams have been around that level on a regular basis. They are a bit more street wise so they know the game a bit better and the tricks that can be used to their advantage. 

Bryan Oviedo looks set to feature having missed Costa Rica’s opening game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, injuring his leg during training. Scans revealed muscle damage and the Costa Rican has been out of action since early July.

Tottenham Hotspur v Sunderland - Premier League 2Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

The defender has only played ten games for Sunderland but his return will be welcomed by Simon Grayson, who needs rotatable options at left back. With 31 international appearances and Brendan Galloway failing to convince against Derby and Bury, Oviedo’s experience could prove valuable in the Championship.

Other first team players expected to play this evening are Robbin Ruiter, Jack Rodwell, Donald Love and Papy Djilobodji, with the Sunderland manager stressing the need to give his squad players game time whenever it is possible.

Opportunities to progress to the first team are there for the U23s if they capitalise on chances like tonight. The path of progression to the first team has been paved by Duncan Watmore, Lyndon Gooch, George Honeyman, Josh Maja and Joel Asoro in recent times as Grayson attempts to construct a hard-working and energetic side.

Jack Diamond could be the one to watch tonight. Able to play on each wing and upfront, the youngster was fast-tracked into the U23s a year early. The attacker has pace and regularly contributed to the U18s with goals and assists last campaign.

Could he be the next starlet to break through into the first-team?

Entry is free for season ticket holders, if you don’t have a season ticket the game is a steal at £3 for adults and £1 for over 65s and under 16s. Cash sale tickets are available on the door.

Sunderland 1 Derby 1; Reasons why we should feel optimistic following our season opener

While a draw isn’t the best case scenario on the first outing of Grayson’s men, it certainly isn’t the worst. Let’s see what positives we can take going in to the next match.

In the lead up to Friday’s opening day clash with Derby, I, like many other fans I’m sure, felt extremely pessimistic. With the match being televised on Sky and the footballing world watching I was terrified of another humiliation. I’d predicted a lacklustre defeat following the drubbing by Celtic a week previously. Much to my surprise, Sunderland’s performance actually helped instil a little bit of a feel-good factor back in me. I left the stadium feeling rather positive for the first time in a long while.

Before the game I had predicted that Sunderland would crumble if they went a goal down. With the thrashing by Celtic and the Darron Gibson debacle still raw, I imagined morale must have been quite low.

The game kicked off and Sunderland started well. However, despite dominance in the first ten minutes it seemed to me that Derby scored completely against the run of play.

Galloway was caught out by a cross-field switch and was then skinned on the byline allowing Johnny Russell to get past him and pick out Bradley Johnson in the middle for the goal.

Instead of crumbling, Simon Grayson’s side didn’t panic and remained composed and hard-working, continuing to play well. Grayson praised his team:

(I’m)Disappointed we conceded the goal but the biggest thing was we didn’t crumble. Maybe this time last year the team might have gone under but they got back on the front foot and asked lots of questions.

Although Galloway was at fault for the opening goal and looked uncomfortable in pre-season, he grew into the game and gained confidence as events unfolded. The left-back also looked decent going forward in support of Aiden McGeady.

McGeady looks very good at Championship level and could prove to be a very astute signing given the small fee Sunderland paid for the Irishman. The winger managed to both cut inside and travel down the wing with the ball whilst throwing a few fan pleasing tricks for good measure. His crossing also looked exceptional and he proved a handful all night. He faded towards the end of the game but hasn’t played much in pre-season. A full ninety minutes will have done McGeady the world of good, I’m looking forward to watching his silky skills this season.

Another of Grayson’s new singings, Lewis Grabban, equalised for Sunderland from the spot just before half-time. Fully deserved too, given the Wearsiders dominant play. Grabban hit the woodwork in the second half with a good shot, his general work rate pleased many in the crowd.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet ChampionshipPhoto by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

The Grabban chance was created by Lee Cattermole who worked his socks off and put in man of the match performance. The skipper forced an excellent save out of Scott Carson in the first half. Cattermole, alongside his midfield partner N’Dong, did very well to break up Derby’s play and nullify the threat of Tom Huddlestone.

George Honeyman also presents another reason for Mackems to be positive; the little lad worked and battled on the right wing all night. The midfielder has his detractors but proved that he has potential to develop into a good player for Sunderland at this level and, given enough playing time I can envision real quality payoff from his terrier-like approach.

Chris Martin and David Nugent had chances to win it for the Rams and we must remember that Derby are an experienced Championship team with some good players at that level: their side included Andre Wisdom and ex-England international’s Scott Carson and Tom Huddelstone. To take a point from Derby in a game in which we trailed early on and knowing Sunderland had real chances to win the game, has to be seen as a positive. As Grayson put it in his post-match interview:

It is going to be a slow process but we’ve got to take positive steps and tonight we gave ourselves the platform to build up.

I haven’t got a magic wand, I can’t suddenly turn this club into a real positive, happy-go-lucky club playing free-flowing football – they’ve got to earn the right but it’s about taking those small steps.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet ChampionshipPhoto by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

My only real criticism of Grayson on the day is that he failed to use any of his three substitutions. In the closing stages it could be argued that Sunderland could have done with added quality and energy, Gooch and especially Khazri could have provided this in abundance. But he can perhaps be forgiven for his refusal to upset the balance of an already fragile team, when to go for a point could have seen us lose everything we’d worked for. Above all though, it was refreshing to see that Grayson was genuinely mortified when Sunderland conceded. There was no Moyes-esqe bravado.

The game against Derby represents a small step forward – the players’ good graft and grit proved that they are responding to Grayson and his attempts to implement a clear pattern of play and assert his own tactics. As fans we must give Grayson time to work, and accept that things aren’t going to change overnight. Add in to the equation that Sunderland still have Watmore, Oviedo, McNair, Maja and Rodwell to return and there’s the makings of a good Championship side there. So far Grayson appears to be ideally suited to making them tick.