A Christmas present for Sunderland and Arsenal fans, and maybe rugby-playing schoolboys

John McCormick once again delves into Sunderland’s past to take a look at one of the greats who wore the famous red and white stripes.

John McCormick, getting ready for Christmas

Charles Buchan, signed in 1912, still holds Sunderland’s all-time league goals record, with 209  and is second behind Bobby Gurney in the all time list of Sunderland goalscorers. (See http://www.safc.com/the-club/history/roll-of-honour if you want to disagree). He was Sunderland’s leading scorer for seven of the eight seasons from 1912 -1924, which includes the 1912-13 Championship/Cup runners up season.

He was capped by England during that championship season and was no doubt destined to become an England legend – or maybe not as he didn’t always get on with management. Here’s how his autobiography describes one event: “When I got into the dressing room despondent at defeat I sat next to George Elliot, the free-scoring Middlesbrough centre-forward. On the other side of him was one of the linesmen. He passed some remarks to Elliot about the right wing, Mordue and myself that I could not help overhearing and did not like. So with the hot-headedness of youth I told him just what I thought about him. He turned out to be a member of the FA selection committee.

However, it was the war and not his temperament which ensured Buchan didn’t get the chance to play another international for seven years. During those seven years Buchan did serve his country. As a Grenadier Guard (Wikipedia says it was the Sherwood Foresters; war records do show a Charles Buchan served with them) he saw action on the Somme, at Cambrai where he won the Military Medal, and Passchendale.

Although the football league was suspended during the war Buchan did manage to play in army and exhibition games. Here’s another extract from his biography: “Out in France… …My first game was just behind the Somme Front, just after the big push in July 1916, at our camp in Marie-court a little north of Albert. From the playing field we could see the spire of Arras church. Legend had it that when the statue of the Virgin Mary hanging at right angles fell, the war would end. We devoutly wished it would fall right then. No sooner had we started than the German shells began to drop perilously near the field. So we packed up and restarted on another pitch. The game had to go on!

Post-war Buchan resumed his career with Sunderland and was still there in 1925, when Arsenal came calling. Sunderland asked for £4000.  Arsenal thought this was too much for someone approaching 34 and offered £2000 plus £100 per goal during his first season. They ended up paying £4100 as he scored 21 goals. After winning another cup runners-up medal and scoring 49 goals in 102 games for Arsenal, Buchan hung up his boots, at the age of 36. Over his whole career he played only six times for his country, scoring four times.

Charles Buchan, courtesy of www.murraycards.com

After retirement Buchan wrote about football for the Daily Chronicle and made radio broadcasts for the BBC. In 1947 he helped establish the Football Writers group and was instrumental in developing the annual Footballer of the Year award. Stanley Matthews became the first winner, in 1948.

This gave Buchan the basis for striking out on his own and in September 1951 he launched ”Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly”, which aimed to replace the “Athletic News”, long since merged with the “Sporting Chronicle”. Buchan died in 1961, aged 69, but his magazine ran until 1974, first as Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly, then Football Monthly and finally Football Monthly Digest. At its peak in the mid 60s it sold 250,000 copies a month and there were 100,000 members in its boys club.

Personally, I can’t recall anything about “Football Monthly” even though it ran from just after my birth until the year after I graduated. I’m not saying I never read it but while I can remember buying the New Musical Express and can still remember some of its articles (the comment on the naughty word in the Small Faces’ “Lazy Sunday Afternoon”, for instance) there’s absolutely nothing in my memory about the “Football Monthly”.

Maybe that’s because I couldn’t afford it. Simon Inglis (see below) says its price “put it out of reach of many a working class boy”. However, as it remained at 1/6d for over ten years and only went up to 2/6d in the world cup year of 1966, I doubt it was that. Maybe it was that “Football Monthly”, “struck a chord with middle class fans, especially boys at rugby playing schools where soccer-worship had to be conducted under desks or under the bedsheets” and I was certainly not one of them.

The magazine is now a collectors’ item. The first issue will fetch upwards of £85. A complete bound set will set you back £2,500. If you can’t afford this you can always fork out a few quid for “The Best of Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly”, published in 2006 by English Heritage and edited by Simon Inglis, whose introduction provides the quotes used in the previous paragraph.

If you do buy the book, though, be prepared for disappointment. It says it’s the “best of” but it skips controversy. There’s little mention of the maximum wage or signing on payments, for example, and a lot of the writing is bland, at least by our standards. For example, in 1954 Len Shackleton, who later proposed a player strike against the maximum wage while refusing to sign a players’ union letter admitting to illegal payments, wrote that all coaches should pass a test in ball control. (He also quoted Bill Murray, then Sunderland’s manager, as saying the League should concentrate on letting young players learn to play the “Hungarian way” rather than throwing them into the fray, which might strike a chord with Goldy). Murray, who eventually resigned as a result of the 1957 scandal, had previously argued against outlawing passes back to the keeper in an article entitled “Keep these ‘Reforming’ Meddlers out of Football”. Buchan himself, who as we’ve seen was an outspoken player, wrote in a 1958 opinion column that playing games on Friday and Saturday evenings was not a good thing.

They all must have known what was going on, as must John Macadam, described as “Britain’s leading sports writer”, who wrote a 1957 article saying that half-time pep talks were phooey. As far as I can tell they all kept their heads down when it came to cleaning up a really murky part of the game.

I could be wrong. There might be more meat in the actual issues of the “Football Monthly than in the “Best of…” . Buchan might even have discussed the allegation that illegal payments were involved in his own transfer to Arsenal, though I doubt it. I’ve no idea what the archives contain and I’m not likely to find out as they are copyright material and users have to pay a fee to access them. If you own any back copies of “Football Monthly” have a look and let us know what they say about the really important football issues of the time.

I expect to have to look elsewhere to find out what happened to my club during my youth and I don’t expect to find much (if you think “Football Monthly” is bland look at http://www.safc.com/the-club/history/story-so-far). Perhaps it will be too much effort but it’s possible I’ll come up with something, in which case I’ll let you know. Until then, keep the faith and, if you’re thinking of a present for a loved one, buy them a subscription to “A Love Supreme”.

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3 thoughts on “A Christmas present for Sunderland and Arsenal fans, and maybe rugby-playing schoolboys”

  1. There was a Charles Buchan Football Annual around in the late 60s or early 70s. Still have a copy somewhere.

    Fascinating read, John (article that is. Not the Annual).

  2. I used to get “Football Monthly” when I was a lad and “Look and Learn” so I doubt if it was cost as we weren’t that well off. Of course at that age I wouldn’t have been interested in the maximum wage or coaching debates. I also remember that in the 1960’s “Projects” was the favoured teaching method in Primary Schools and mine was on SAFC.

    I copied a picture of George Herd, from (I assume) CB’s FM and to this day it is the only thing I have ever drawn that I have been happy with. But now I come to think of it I probably used tracing paper anyway.

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