The Johnny Crossan Story (2): hero with ‘a wee bit venom’

With thanks to

Where were we? This is the second part of the Johnny Crossan interview. There will be a third, coming soon, and the first can be seen here.

The amount of time Johnny was willing to give up for a piddling little fan site was quite astonishing. But before we resume the full sequence of questions and answers, I have something that needs a special mention up high.

My question, towards the end of a long telephone conversation from Sedgefield to Derry, was this:

I have a boyhood memory of playing in the park after school and stopping outside my own penalty box to turn and shoot high past our goalie. At the time I imagined it as my Johnny Crossan moment. Can you see why a young boy would identify you with rebelliousness?

And Johnny’s response was to laugh. And continue to laugh for some seconds before giving the answer you find below. For an old codger able to look back on a few decades, it was priceless.

Here, then, is Part Two of the Johnny Crossan Story, as told to Salut! Sunderland:

How was your rapport with the fans and how well did you settle in the area?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I always found people in the North East had the same sort of mentality as us in Ireland. One time, long after I’d left Sunderland, I was on holiday in Puerto Banus in the south of Spain with my wife and kids and some lads saw me kicking the ball about on the beach, came up and said I seemed to be able to play a bit and asked if I’d turn out with them in a match the next day, They were Sunderland lads. Without false modesty, I played reasonably well and when the lads got talking to my wife, who never really liked football, she said “oh yes, he does it for a living” and then that I’d played for Sunderland. One of them said “he must be Johnny Crossan” and we never had a moment’s peace for the rest of our time there. Sunderland people, wherever you go, treat you like royalty if you’ve played for their team.

And I was extremely disappointed to leave. Like Monty, I had played 42 matches (in 1963-64), the entire season plus cup games, but let’s just say George Hardwick (appointed manager four months after Alan Brown’s departure from the team he’d led to the top fight – ed) played a part in it.

Any particular memories closer to Roker Park than that part of Spain?

There was that last game of the season when we only had to draw at home to Chelsea to go up. Alan Brown had waiters and waitresses lined up to serve food to celebrate. And we lost 1-0. I went out to the Seaburn Hotel and had a lot to drink. Then I slept all day Sunday and on the Monday I met this little old woman when I went up to Fulwell for some groceries; she stopped me and said “you’re Johnny Crossan, aren’t you?” and she could see I was on a real downer. But she didn’t rub it in, she couldn’t have been nicer or more sympathetic. I am not sure where else you’d have got that after the disappointment everyone felt.

When you left, did you feel there was more Sunderland could have achieved?

I have always felt Sunderland is a club that buys too many ordinary players when a better way would be to buy two or three really good ones, though Sunderland will never be able to compete in that respect with the likes of Chelsea and Man City unless they are bought by some super-rich guy like Abramovitch.

I never thought I’d say this but money is ruining the game. I used to have arguments with Brian Clough who, many years ago, was saying “yes, it’s right that players should want more but mark my words, money is going to destroy football”.

What do you feel Niall Quinn brought to the club, what will be his legacy?

He has brought a bit of stability. He’s a gentleman for whom I have the utmost respect, a decent guy with no trace of bulls*** and, when I think back to my time at Sunderland, he clearly got the same impression of the place that I did and was the sort of man who wanted to do something for the club. That was what made Quinn what he is in the North East. Also, let’s not forget he was a decent player. He was dead lucky with Roy Keane; Roy was an outstandingly good player but Sunderland had a magnitude that was just too much for him (as a manager) after he got them promotion.

What is your impression of Steve Bruce as manager; will he survive the recent changes at the top?

I honestly think the only thing that would affect him would be if he did not get a couple more results together. He’s spent a lot of dough but it goes back to buying mediocre players instead of really good ones. There is something about the really good buy that creates a special atmosphere and ambience in the stadium, an air of great expectation. Look at the effect Messi has with Barcelona; if he’s not playing, it’s almost a bit of an anti-climax.

But will top players ever come to Sunderland?

Well you do get the odd one thinking Sunderland is way up there in Scotland somewhere but you have to recognise this is a big, big club. Remember that at the time Alan Brown originally wanted to buy me, in the late 1950s, it was known as the Bank of England club.

I ask away supporters a question about cheating: I call it the Barton Question but it was previously the Eduardo Question. That covers diving and feigning injure but what form of cheating most annoys you and what would you do to stamp it out?

Referees seem to me to favour the big clubs. If there’s anything going, they get it. Alex Ferguson went a year without doing BBC interviews. Any manager who did that was supposed to be fined £1,000 a time and what happened? Nothing whatsoever.
There are players falling over in the penalty area or rolling about but what I cannot understand, and cannot understand big time to the extent that I have to turn down the sound if they talk about it, is what happens in the goalmouth when there’s a corner or free kick. There’s falling, shoving, knocking people over; it would be a yellow card if it was in the middle of the field but with corners, the referee just watches it, walks over to tell them to stop, walks back and it happens all over again.
The people who run football are numbskulls with not a brain in their heads but if they really cannot see what is going on they should be sent to the Isle of Wight for a four-day clinic to tell them. Players will always try to con the referee or find a way round the rules – look at Jonny Wilkinson changing the ball – but the referees and authorities have a job to intervene.

A friend of mine Pete Horan remembers playing with you at 5-a-side after a lad he was working with in the tax office in Derry told him to come along.

That would be Eugene O’Donnell. He was in the shop earlier to make sure I was playing tonight.

.. at this link
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I have a boyhood memory of playing in the park after school and stopping outside my own penalty box to turn and shoot high past own goalie. At the time I imagined it as my Johnny Crossan moment. Can you see why a young boy would identify you with rebelliousness?

(Prolonged laughter)

A rebel without a cause maybe! It’s true I played with a wee bit venom. And there’s no better feeling than scoring a goal. My reaction might have been that bit extra. Yes, I suppose I was a bit of a rebel. I would argue my point, which I still do.

Tell us about James McClean, a product like you of Derry City and already on our bench a few times so far …

I’d say he has half a chance of making it. He still has a lot to learn but he is an out-and-out left winger who cuts inside very well, though he’s not then great on his right foot. But if he gets the bit between his teeth he could do well.

Thanks for all your time. The hotel manager has promised to waive the charges but I am getting worried that he might think I’ve abused that gesture … good luck with the 5-a-side.

No worries. I’ll go out and get a hat trick.

* Thanks again to Brian Leng and all at The Roker End for permission to reproduce photographs.


Interview: Colin Randall

5 thoughts on “The Johnny Crossan Story (2): hero with ‘a wee bit venom’”

  1. I think that JC is getting his seasons mixed up!

    He may have played 42 league games in the season before GH was appointed, following Brown’s, unfortunate, departure but that would have been the 1963/64 season.

    He could not have done that in ’62/’63 because he didn’t sign for the club until October of ’62!

    Something that I’ve, also, always remembered is that he never managed to score one goal playing alongside Clough and didn’t get onto the score sheet until he scored two, in a cup replay against Gravesend, in January 1963.

    None of that, though, should detract from a very interesting interview with (IMHO) one of our best players over the past 50 years.

  2. I remember Johnny very well, one of the best inside forwards in the business; compact, mobile, skillful, and brave. But alas that’s when Sunderland could attract the best players in the land. Now SAFC are trying to attract the best players in the World and it just does not happen. Sunderland have to develop our home grown talent, (which there is plenty of)and have a mix of top league veterans. Players like Elmo, Cattermole, Gardener, etc are very very good players, but they are not top class, in fact Sunderland does not have one top class player and that is what Johnny was eluding to. Sunderland Football Club need top class players. Thanks for bring these great interviews.

  3. I remember Johnny Crossan at Sunderland first with Brian Clough and then with Nicky Sharkey, he formed formidable partnerships with both of them. As inside forwards went we all thought Johhny and George Herd were outstanding. As he says after we got promoted we did buy average players, the board never pushed the boat out, linked with many like Ron Davies, Gilzeane before he went to Spurs and many other class acts but they never materialised. I still look back at those three seasons and the parade against Charlton in the last game, fantastic. Then first four games in old Div One until it showed how average we were. Ever since it has been a roller coaster ride, now I hope that SNQ and his magic carpet take us to greater hights. My Sunderland memories have great nights against Man U in cup, beating Everton in the previous round, 3 games against Leeds, (time off school) Missed the cup final, i was overseas and had to sit in an aircraft cockpit to hear the game on BBC. Sunderland is in the blood and there is no cure.

  4. I think that there are some great points here that Johnny makes particularly about Sunderland being a “great club.” He’s right and if we accept that we are not going to compete with the best then we never will. Otherwise if becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. If a boxer goes into the ring thinking that he’s going to get beat then get beat he will. We have a massive fan base, and a great owner and (hopefully he will make a great chairman too). If we, the fans undersell our club then we are done for.

    Maybe Johnny;’s view is outmoded, but if that’s the case then so is mine.

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