Soapbox at Accrington Stanley: Joe Hinnigan, who’s Joe Hinnigan exactly?

Fans with long memories, or an anorakish taste for detail, will know the answer immediately. Pete Sixsmith offers a guiding hand to those less acquainted with the legion of former Sunderland players …

Not a great couple of days for us Red and Whites. A hangover from the bitter disappointment of Tuesday night was made even worse when the news came through of Titus Bramble’s arrest.

This was followed by the most unlikely win of the season to wit, that of the Mags at Chelsea. No doubt there will be a considerable amount of childish gloating going on from those of a black and white persuasion.

Let me state categorically that if the situations had been reversed, there is no way that Messrs Randall, Sixsmith, Robson etc would be making comments like “We beat the Champions, you lost to a team who were bottom of the league. Ha ha ha.”

Then, Liverpool lost to Northampton. After the initial chortling at this splendid win for the Cobblers, I got to thinking about the backlash that may well come on Saturday, as we go to Anfeld with three central defenders injured, one (presumably) with his head all over the place and probably without a recognised left back.

The pleasures of last weekend and the rousing draw against Arsenal seems eons away as we go into two games that will test our fortitude and abilities. Hopefully, the next two weekends will be as good as last.

It started on Friday night at Accrington Stanley, probably the most evocatively named club in the Football League. They were founded in the late 19th century and took the name from Stanley Villa WMC, before going bust in 1962.

Their crowds are not great, sandwiched as Accrington is between Burnley and Blackburn. It’s a small town, but is proud of the fact that they have clambered back into the Football League and they have a very clear identity. Managed by a former teacher John Coleman, they have a growing reputation for playing decent football.

That was evident on Friday last when they demolished Lincoln City 3-0, scoring three cracking goals and missing a fair number of good chances. The players are mostly young and appear to be pleased to have a job and they showed it by playing with a smile on their face.

Leafing through the programme, my attention was drawn to two famous names on Stanley’s staff. Asa Hartford (reference points: named after Al Jolson, West Brom, Man City, Scotland, hole in the heart) was in charge of their youth set up and the club physio was one Joseph Peter Hinnigan, better known as Joe. That was the Sunderland connection I always look for.

He was a marauding full back, signed from Wigan Athletic in 1980 for a substantial fee. He played 63 times for us and scored four goals all of which came towards the end of the 1980-81 season as we waged our customary battle against relegation.

The most important one came at Selhurst Park where he netted the only goal in an absolutely vital win. He was one of Ken Knighton’s signings in the pre-window days, when a player could be plucked from relative obscurity and given a chance in the top league. That doesn’t happen now. We have just spent £2m on a full back who appears to be out of his depth in the Reserve league.

That Palace game was one hell of a trip back. Older readers may remember a Unilever/British Rail promotion, where a certain number of tokens taken from Unilever cleaning materials gave you a 2-for-1 ticket. During that promotion, four of us travelled all over the country by train thanks to my ingenuity.

Rather than use buckets of Persil and Domestos, I used to go into a Cash and Carry at St Helens Auckland on a mission. As well as buying sweets for the school tuck shop (none of those now; thanks, Jamie Oliver and co), I would slip into the area where there were trays of Domestos and cut the tokens out of the wrappers with a small modelling knife.

This allowed us to have a jolly good time and this trip back from Palace was a snorter. The players were on the train and as we were sat in the buffet, we accosted them when they came in for a drink. I had a passing acquaintanceship with Stan Cummins and he invited the four of us into the first class area. What larks, Mr Pip.

Ale was quaffed in the company of Stan, John Cooke (now the kit man and the great survivor at Sunderland) and Joe. Stories were exchanged and secrets were divulged. We staggered off the train at Darlington, rolled down Victoria Road and on to the bus home.

I thought of that night as Joe came on to treat a not very badly injured Stanley player. He seemed a popular figure with the Accrington Pals and, as he dabbed the modern equivalent of the magic sponge on his young charge, I wondered if he was thinking back to those days at Roker Park when he played in front of crowds in excess of 35,000 and if he was pondering the many changes that he must have seen as a player and a physio.

Johnnie Watters had probably retired by then – it may have been Steve Smelt in charge of injuries. Whatever happened to him?

Off to Liverpool we go on Saturday, with hope in our heart and looking for our first win there since Gary Rowell slotted home a penalty and Mr Horan and myself ate black pudding sandwiches in a Thwaites’s pub on Scotland Road – a long time ago. Time for a repeat.

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