The Johnny Crossan story revisited: (2) a rebel in Sunderland’s cause

Spot and click to magnify Roker Park. And then read on for the next part of a SAFC story from just a few years before that photograph was taken (1970).

The reproduction, with barely any updating, of the first part of Salut! Sunderland‘s 2011 interview with a charismatic Roker Park hero, Johnny Crossan, was well received, with positive comments here and on social media. Nick Barnes, who does such a good job with Gary Bennett of bringing matchdays to absentees and exiles with his BBC Radio Newcastle commentary – available everywhere via – liked it and so did one of his predecessors, the same station’s expert on all matters Durham County Cricket (and more besides), Martin Emmerson.

So here is Part Two (of three); remember the interview was conducted – from Ramside Hall before a retirement shindig for the Northern Echo’s Mike Amos – at the back end of Steve Bruce’s reign, before James McClean had been given his first taste of action by Martin O’Neill. There is a third, which will come soon, and I have written to Johnny in the hope of bringing the story bang up to date.

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.
Towards the end of a long telephone conversation from Sedgefield to Derry, I said:

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

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 …

See also: The Johnny Crossan Story Revisisted Part One: Sunderland, not Man City, in his heart

With out usual thanks to
With our usual thanks 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 Abramovich.

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 injury 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.

Jake invites support
Jake invites support

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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 (see Part 3, coming soon, to see how he got on – Ed)

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


See: the Johnny Crossan revisited series in full. This is Part Two; now look at

Part One: Which club is forever lodged in his heart? –

Part Three: Snap verdicts on Brian Clough and Charlie Hurley-

Interview: Colin Randall

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