Johnny Watters RIP: a hero in the background

Sixer's a real brick, says Jake

Pete Sixsmith hails a grand Olympic tournament, frets about Saturday at the Emirates and wishes a fond farewell to an important figure from Sunderland’s past …

Thank you M Salut for being the first person ever to liken my distinctly non athletic figure to that of the fastest man in the world. Change the s in fastest to a t and you would be much closer.

The Olympics have gone and very enjoyable they have been. I cheered for the showjumpers, roared Mo Farrah home and punched the air when we won silver in the Women’s Modern Pentathlon. It was a glorious two weeks that will last long in the memory, until Mr Alzheimer comes calling.

Now we are five days away from the start of the season and the rumours are coming in thick and fast. Ward from Wolves, Sess to Spurs, Defoe as a swap, Tommy Miller in as a midfield general, that kind of thing.

The trip to Arsenal on Saturday is looming up: an early start, a long journey and then, well, who knows what. Maybe a win, maybe a draw, more likely a defeat as M Wenger shows off his new forwards and waves goodbye to RVP.

There was some sad news from the club today as they announced the death of Johnny Watters. He was the club physiotherapist from 1955 to the mid 1980s and was a constant presence on team photos that included some of the great names of Sunderland’s past – Billy Bingham, Charlie Hurley, Colin Todd, Jimmy Montgomery, Shaun Elliott and Paul Bracewell.

Click here for the Martin O’Neill ‘Team of all Talents’ mug: £9.50, post-free for UK buyers, from the Salut! Sunderland Shop

Johnny was usually stood on the end of the line, a small and rather chubby man, with glasses similar to the ones that Arthur Askey wore. He was dressed in a white coat and his hair had a parting in it that was as straight as a touch line. Sometimes, there was a pipe clamped firmly between his teeth or in his hand down by his side.

He had played for Celtic in the 1930s and was in their team when they played Rangers in front of a staggering crowd of 118,597 at Ibrox in 1939. He saw service in the Royal Navy during the war and became Sunderland physio in 1955.

He was the man with the magic fingers when we won the cup and there are pictures of him in a white coat over his suit, cavorting round Wembley trying to catch Kerr, Hughes and Malone, fellow Scots all.

There are some lovely comments about him on RTG, with some contributors writing about encounters with him. I met him once, in 1974, when I took the Ferryhill Under 15 team on a tour of Roker Park, when the ground was still in its pomp.

We were walking around the rabbit warren of offices and I asked the guide where the manager’s office was and was Bob Stokoe in there. Mr Watters passed us in the corridor and said, loudly, “You can’t go in there, the Messiah is busy”, snorted and walked away. I got the impression that he was not over enamoured with Bob on that particular day.

He died peacefully at the age of 92, which is a good age. No doubt he will be rubbing Ellimans and using his heat lamp on Jimmy McNab, Ian Porterfield and Mel Holden in footballers’ heaven. I wonder what he would make of the current crop – not much, I would think.

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1 thought on “Johnny Watters RIP: a hero in the background”

  1. Can’t ever remember Johnny Watters running on to the pitch with his magic sponge. Not even sure if he could run! RIP to a stalwart of Sunderland’s past.

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