Monsieur Salut asked Pete Sixsmith for a slice of nostalgia and it doesn’t come much better than this, a lovely piece that brings back to life an opening game played between Sunderland and Leicester City – ie the other way round from this coming Saturday – more than 50 years ago. We were both there, as was the youngest player to turn out in what was then the top flight …

Pete Sixsmith: 'where did those 51 years go?'

Pete Sixsmith: ‘where did those 51 years go?’


This is the fourth time
in my lifetime of supporting Sunderland that we have opened the season with Leicester City, but the first time we have visited the burial place of Richard III for the starter.

The other three games were at Roker Park, where the Foxes have been far too cunning for us, drawing two and winning the other.

Two of them came in successive seasons, the last being a dreary 0-0 draw that marked Niall Quinn’s debut as we returned to the Premier League, albeit for one season. The previous year it had ended in a 2-1 win for the visitors, with Steve Agnew levelling after Steve Korica had put the Blues ahead. Alas, the bald one lost the ball in midfield in the second half and Julian Joachim (always a thorn in our side), sped away to cross it for current Scunthorpe United boss Mark Robins to fire home.

That game took place at a crumbling Roker Park, the teams were sponsored by recognisable local firms (Vaux Samson and Walkers Crisps respectively) and the players were numbered 1-11, with no names on their backs. And the sun shone as it always did in the dim and distant past.

The other game took place at Roker Park on August 22 1964. The season started later then, despite there being two more clubs in the league, but there were no “international weekends” so that pointless friendlies could be played or small nations put ruthlessly to the sword. Nor were there players jetting off to all corners of the world to represent their countries.

Leicester were a well-established First Division club and boasted a pair of internationals in their team in Gordon Banks and Scottish cap Frank McLintock. On top of that they had a clutch of good British players in their team – Graham Cross, who played cricket for the county, Colin Appleton from Scarborough and Richie Norman, a full back who had learned his trade at Horden CW and was, until recently, involved on the physio side with Nuneaton Town.

We had the promotion team of the previous season minus two. One of them was Jimmy Montgomery who had broken his arm in training a week before the season started. The other was the manager Alan Brown, who had left over the club’s refusal to pay him a bonus.

So off we went with a new manager and new goalkeeper for the start of the season. Wrong.

The Board of Directors, in its infinite wisdom, decided that there was no need to appoint a new boss and they decided to pick the team and sign players, referring to trainer Arthur Wright and physio John Watters if felt they needed any professional advice.

It was an amazing situation as a laundry owner, builder, fish and chip shop owner and sundry other local businessmen took a club into a top-flight season. Folly on this scale makes me appreciate Bob Murray and Ellis Short who at least appoint managers and, as far as I know, never meddle in team selection.

Moreover, the board never quite got round to signing another goalkeeper before this game. There were two reserves, Derek Kirby, who was 18, and Derek Forster, who was 15 and had just left school (as they could in those days). The younger Derek was an England Schoolboy international and he was given the green jersey on that day 51 years ago to become the youngest player to have played in the top division.

He would have been two years older than me and younger than Monsieur Salut [not by much – Ed], a topic for discussion as we set off on the King Willie bus to the game. We were going by bus for the first time as Dr Beeching had done for the Shildon to Sunderland rail link via Durham, so Colin’s dad, Ernie, had obtained places for us on the bus that started out at Close House and picked up at Shildon.

This was my introduction to the core of Sunderland support that makes it such a great club. Most of those on the Central Coaches flyer worked at Shildon BR Workshops and had come straight from a morning’s work. It was my introduction to Bill Reilly, Kenny Snowdon, George Michael Thompson and Vernon from Close House, probably the nicest man I have ever met.

The bus had loaded up with (wooden) crates of Brown Ale at the Royal Hotel in Close House and most of it was drunk by Jasper Jones, a legend in the town for his prodigious drinking feats and a man of considerable girth.

Jake was only a bairn

Jake was only a bairn when Sixer saw the 3-3 game

have a go at Guessing Saturday;s SCore .. https://salutsunderland.com/2015/08/leicester-city-vs-sunderland-guess-the-score-or-maybe-guess-the-team/

We travelled with this bus for three years until I moved to the OK from Bishop to go with school mates.

The game was a dramatic one. After two minutes, Mike Stringfellow, a winger whose name echoed his build, took advantage of slack defending to fire home past young Forster. Our tyro keeper then made a string of excellent saves before Frank McLintock took advantage of a mix up between Martin Harvey and Johnny Crossan to set up Tom Sweenie for the second.

Doom and gloom around Roker Park as the 45,000 crowd contemplated a disastrous return to what older fans regarded as their natural home.

Johnny Crossan then took matters into his own hands and set George Mulhall up for a goal just before half time and, early in the second half, George Herd pounced to level after Crossan’s shot had hit the bar. When Nicky Sharkey set up George Mulhall for the third, we cheered and waved our rattles and threw our hats into the air – only for Cec Irwin to lose the ball and allow Ken Keyworth to run through and score seconds after Mulhall’s fine effort. Hats were retrieved and rattles stayed firmly unwaved.

It ended 3-3, a good game but a disappointing result. Under Matt Giliies, City ended up below Sunderland that year, with us reaching the heady heights of 15th out of 22. The board signed a goalkeeper after Forster conceded four at West Brom and three at Chelsea and for a while Sandy McLaughlin (for it was he) kept a fit Monty out of the team – until he had a “difficult” game against West Brom on New Year’s Day 1966.

George Hardwick was eventually appointed in November and he steered us away from the relegation zone before he was sacked and replaced by Ian McColl at the end of the season.

Looking back, it was an opportunity wasted. We came up with Leeds United and, despite having a bigger and better ground and a (far) bigger and better fan base, we never pushed on. Travelling back on that bus, I am sure that the older men on it were beginning to realise that this club found it difficult to do things right. Some things hardly change.

* YouTube’s archive of long-ago Match of the Day editions includes these snippets from one of the “difficult” games for Derek Forster mentioned by Sixer ….

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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.

15 Responses to “Leicester City v SAFC: managerless, no adult as goalie but one point” Subscribe

  1. Phil Johnson August 4, 2015 at 1:43 pm #

    Pete you have reminded me of a couple of things.

    1) The ineptitude of the SAFC board of that time who destroyed the best Sunderland team I’ve seen in my lifetime – adding/transferring out players as well as picking the team!

    and

    2) On, a lighter note, that I scored past Derek Kirby within (I’m guessing) 30 seconds of my trial match for SAFC.

    I kicked off and passed the ball to Brian Chambers who then played it back to the right half, who switched it to the left winger who then gave the ball to Chambers.

    He then had a shot which Kirby saved at full length and I followed up to slide the ball (arms akimbo – Crossan style) into the back of the net!

    Not one of the opposing team had even touched the ball (apart from Kirby).

    The remainder of the half Chambers showed his quality and knew exactly when I wanted/didn’t want the ball and we reached half time 2-0 up.

    At half time, though, he was put on to the other side and I hardly managed a kick, apart from scoring again but it was disallowed for offside – I’ll admit to handball, but how could I have been offside from a corner?

    Anyway, Pete, just a couple of things that you reminded me of!

  2. Jeremy August 4, 2015 at 2:21 pm #

    Lovely piece of nostalgia that. What happened to Forster after he left us?

    • Bill Taylor August 4, 2015 at 2:25 pm #

      Fell from glory a bit, Jeremy – Charlton Athletic, Brighton and then played in the Wearside amateur league. I prefer to remember him in goal for Sunderland, brimming with confidence and calling for the ball.

      • Phil Johnson August 4, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

        I can remember a photo of him in the Leicester game when he dived full length (towards the half way line), on the edge of his box, to cut out a cross and thought he looked brilliant.

        Unfortunately, though, he never grew the extra inches and imho was never going to be tall enough to make it as a top class keeper.

        The same problem that the boards signing (Sandy M) had to face, but they should have know that he wasn’t, at his age, about to grow any more.

        • Malcolm Bland August 4, 2015 at 7:12 pm #

          Mention of Forster brings back a nostalgic memory for me. As a student at Durham I had taken a holiday job as a Mr Whippy in Sunderland and had to go out with an experienced ice cream salesman to learn the round I was to take over. At about 2.45 he parked up outside Roker park and was doing a roaring trade but just before 3.00 my mentor asked me to ‘hold the fort’ while he went for a pee.

          He was away for just over 90 minutes,,, he had gone to watch the match! No apology when he returned. All he could talk about was the 15 year old ‘keeper!

  3. Eric012 August 4, 2015 at 2:41 pm #

    I quite liked Sandy McLaughlin, a decent keeper.

    • Phil Johnson August 4, 2015 at 2:48 pm #

      Apart from the fact he was only about 5ft zilch, which tended to give him the odd problem!

  4. Jeremy August 4, 2015 at 6:21 pm #

    Thanks for info on Forster lads. I was always intrigued by the stories of him as a bairn. Too young to have seen him. What height was he Phil? Keepers are taller and taller than ever.

    Peter Shilton wouldn’t have even been considered as a top keeper these days at a straight 6 feet. Most of them in England are a minimum 6’2″ these days. The majority of them are taller than that. Not so much the case in other countries but height has become considerably more important since Schmeichel played.

    • Bill Taylor August 4, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

      I looked on-line and his height was given as 5-foot-9. That sounds at least 3 inches taller than I remember. Maybe Phil knows more accurately.

      • Phil Johnson August 5, 2015 at 2:27 am #

        I don’t know his actual height Bill but, going on memory, think that would be about right.

  5. Bill Taylor August 4, 2015 at 6:57 pm #

    I realized when I saw the game the other week why Pete Sixsmith refers to “the Giant Pantilimon.” He’s a big bugger, at least 6-foot-6 and well-built with it.

  6. Jeremy August 4, 2015 at 7:15 pm #

    Pants is 6′ 8″ plus a half in fact Bill. Forster wouldn’t get in to a school team these days at that height. Someone that short would be considered laughable as a goalkeeper!

  7. Terry August 4, 2015 at 11:21 pm #

    Memory Lane

    It was about that time when I was allowed to travel to Sunderland on my own from Gateshead. 63-64. I was 12 years old and the walk down to the old Gateshead station from Bensham and the journey to Seaburn were always an adventure. The walk down through Marina Avenue and the short-cut was exotic to this Bensham dweller. I marvelled at the houses. Dreamed one day of living there. Would I let my child do that now? Certainly not. Different times but we got away with it.

    There’s more to SAFC memories than the football.

    I remember Derek Forster as being shortish for a keeper but with wide shoulders. I remember the coming years of Ian McColl. He signed my autograph book at the Central Station when he was Liaison Officer for the 1966 World Cup teams.

    I remember being told to piss off by one of my favourite 60’s players when I asked him for his autograph. Looking back it was probably because it was 10 o’clock on a miserable Wednesday night afer a loss and he was rolling a fag while standing out of the rain, waiting for a taxi.

    I had to walk back to Seaburn for the train to Gateshead, then walk to Bensham to get up at 6.30 for my paper round before school.

    He had a brief career after us and a brief managerial career. He’d just had a bad night.

    It’s more about the club than the football.

  8. Jeremy August 5, 2015 at 12:02 am #

    Really lovely post that Terry which sums up my feelings and resonates with me about my own experiences when I was a bairn and starting to go on own. The football was and remains almost incidental to the wider experience.

    The sharing of the emotion of a good game, the crowd, the humour, and all the other stuff that made football what it was. No longer that way, and to be honest, I find PL football completely sterile. Fans are not the same, atmosphere either. Stadiums are sterile, and there’s no mystique with the players either.It’s all gone and we are getting old.

  9. Paul August 5, 2015 at 12:00 pm #

    An omen? Sunderland got their first away win that season by beating Leicester 1 nil at Filbert Street.

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