Len Shackleton: the sad news that was too hot to print

Shack
The other day, I came across my old Len Shackleton t-shirt in a pile of worn-less-often SAFC related togs. It may have been sandwiched between my Lionel Perez t-shirt and a couple of old tops commemorating promotions that led to relegations.

Most people probably remember the Shack one from the excellent people at Philosophy Football: blank page from his book, Clown Prince of Football, on the front, Shackleton and No 10 on the back.

The slogan on the front, of course, loyally follows the title of the chapter which constituted that blank page: “The Average Director’s Knowledge of Football.”

But coming across it again reminded me of a story about the day he died that I never tire of telling other Sunderland fans – indeed fans of other clubs, too.

It was a Tuesday in November 2000 and we were playing Man Utd in a League Cup that night. I had wangled a work visit from London to Newcastle to make sure I could be there.

We won 2-1 after extra time, Kevin Phillips scoring the winner from the penalty spot after watching Phil Neville obviosuly, and therefore oafishly, telling the keeper Raimond van der Gouw that he knew from England training which way SK always put his spot kicks.

Pre-match, time to kill, I was walking absent-mindedly through the Bridges shopping centre – you need to have time to kill willingly to do that – when I suddenly saw a newspaper billboard that stopped me in my tracks: “Shack dead.”

I fumbled for my coins to buy the Echo, only to be told by the news vendor: “It’s not in the paper, pet. It was too late for them. I just thought people would like to know.”

What a terrific gesture, in itself a great tribute to a great man, I thought then and still think now. And I naturally bought a paper anyway.

Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

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