Hayley Mulls: me and ‘Cannonball Charlie’

Hayley: 'I'm as good as any lad, except maybe Cannonball Charlie'
Hayley: ‘I’m as good as any lad, except maybe Cannonball Charlie’

Hayley Penman is 10, a lot younger than most of the people around here, but she is not entirely new to Salut! Sunderland, and she is a Sunderland fan, a regular at the SoL. Her contributions are always welcome – and Monsieur Salut owes an apology for the whimsical category title of Hayley Mulls (her next project is to come up with a better one). Here, she discovers a close-to-home link with a Sunderland hero who died long before she was born: ‘Cannonball’ Charlie Fleming …

Blairhall, where I live,
is a small mining village between Alloa and Dunfermline.

When I go to the Stadium of light for a home game on a Saturday, I travel by car, bus, train and Metro. And I do the same on the way back. But Blairhall is also the village where Charlie Fleming was born and where he lived.

Like me, he made the trip to Sunderland for matchdays, but he was going there to play football, not watch, and at Roker Park.

Charlie and I went to the same school, Blairhall primary, but he didn’t have the same teacher!

He joined East Fife from Blairhall Colliery and became an important reason for their success in the 1940s and 1950s.

Charlie won the League Cup with East Fife in 1949 and 1953 and was part of the side that reached the 1950 Scottish Cup Final[ He played 173 games for East Fife and scored 117 Goals.]

During his time with East Fife he also won his only international cap, and scored twice in a 3-1 win over Northern Ireland on 3 October 1953.

He moved to Sunderland in January 1955 for £20,000 (plus Tommy Wright in exchange) where he remained for three seasons. And he was very good, scoring 71 goals in 122 games. No wonder that his nickname was “Cannonball Charlie” in recognition of his shooting ability.

Charlie played as a striker. Maybe not as many goals as for East Fife or, later, Bath City the other teams but still lot of goals for us.

Blairhalls – where he also played in a Scottish amateur cup final – is tiny. No seats, no shops, no gates. It’s just a open green space. But in that cup final, there were 3,000 people there. Can you believe it?

Charlie left Sunderland in 1958 to become a player manager at Bath City. For them he scored 216 goals in 300 Games! He was 31 when he joined them. That is sooooooooooo many goals!

When he retired, he moved back to Oakley, the village next to Blairhall. Charlie died on August 14 1997 aged 70 – the day the Stadium of Light hosted its first league game.

And I still play on the pitch that he played on!

There have been a few other famous players that played for Blairhall:

Eric Martin (Southampton), Jackie Sinclair (Dunfermline and Newcastle) John Lunn (Dunfermline). In 1938 six players left Blairhall and signed for Celtic, including Jimmy Birrell. For such a small village Blairhall has  produced some really good footballers.

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10 thoughts on “Hayley Mulls: me and ‘Cannonball Charlie’”

  1. I meant to say earlier M Salut, that the “Mulls” suffixed to Hayley’s name had me thinking of Hayden Mullins. I wonder if Hayley “Spills” might work a little better.

    Mmmnnn……….maybe not

  2. Excellent piece, Hayley. Charlie Fleming was before my time but people who saw him play speak very highly of him. It must be great to think that every time you play football, you are playing on the same grass as a famous Sunderland and Scotland player.
    I hope your teacher gave you an A*. I would have done.

  3. Welcome to Salut, Hayley! I enjoyed your article. Astounding that such a small village could produce so many footballers. It’s a shame that the production line seems to have stopped.

    I admire your determination to get to games, using all those different means of transportation. That’s dedication for you.

  4. Great story Hayley.

    I saw Cannonball Charlie several times, and he usually obliged with a goal. His goal per game record is impressive in comparison to anyone.

    I seem to remember that he is the only player to have broken a goalpost with a shot TWICE.

    Your village has certainly produced it’s share of footballers. Scotland was once a conveyor belt of talent, and I was lucky enough to see some of the best.

    In it’s early glory days, Sunderland were never shy about signing Scots, and during my years of watching we have had some memorable ones, including Charlie Fleming.

    Tommy Wright,George Aitken, Willie Fraser, Jim McNab, George Mulhall, Bobby Kerr, Ian Porterfield, Billy Hughes, George Herd. I’d welcome any of these in our present side.

    • I forgot Jim Baxter! Best Scottish player I’ve ever seen – although well past his best when he came to us.

  5. I agree Jake, fantastic, and it’s reading stories like this that reminds us of the special love that fans of our club have, it’s greater than any other teams (to paraphrase someone close to this forum in Lance Hardy’s superb tome “Stokoe, Sunderland and ’73”).

    My dad saw Charlie Fleming play many times and loved the guy.

    I was touched by your contribution Hayley, we have so many historic links to great Scottish players, I bet the Fleming family would be so proud of you too.

    Next time I win Guess the score (?!) I’ll donate the mug to you.

  6. Great memories, Hayley.
    The first time I saw Sunderland play was 1956 when we played Blackpool. Charlie scored one of the best goals I have seen when a centre came over from the right and he volleyed it into the top corner from about 25 yards. The orange net bulged with the power of the shot, leaving their goalie clutching fresh air. What a goal in that memorable 5-3 victory.

  7. Brilliant essay Hayley! I never saw Cannonball in action but my dad used to tell me all about him, what a player! And you must be very proud that your village has produced so many footballers.

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