Cheer up Jan Kirchhoff: even Charlie Hurley had a debut to forget

Jake: 'in time, Jan ...'
Jake: ‘in time maybe, Jan …’

The Hoff needn’t get The Huff. We’ve all had rotten days at work and sometimes, for some of us, on the first day of a new job. Before he knows it, the fans will be singing, ‘Who’s the greatest centre half the world has even seen … Jan Kirchhoff is his name’. Anyone with the sense of history shown in Iain Foster’s comment knows Charlie Hurley also made a wretched start to life with Sunderland. Iain wonders whether we might follow King Charlie with Kaiser Kirchhoff and Pete Sixsmith takes up the story …

Charlie Hurley: courtesy of - see footnote
Charlie Hurley: courtesy of

I don’t know where
our new German centre half is staying as he acclimatises himself to life on Wearside.

He may well be at rhe Ramside Hall which has housed Messrs Di Canio and Advocaat recently or he may well have a flat in the city centre. Wherever he is, I am sure that he is feeling pretty down as he reads the local and national press and realises that the great expert and sage Robbie Savage doesn’t think much of him.

But he is not the only centre half to make a disappointing start to his Sunderland career. In 1957, a young Londoner from an Irish family made his debut in a red and white shirt at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool where we lost 7-0.

A week later, he made his second appearance at Turf Moor, Burnley and saw an improvement; we lost that one 6-0. That man was Charlie Hurley.

The difference was that Hurley was not subjected to the microanalysis that Kirchoff had to endure on Saturday. There were no smartarses like Savage making disparaging comments, no keyboard warrior saying how inept he was and no message boards wondering how we could send him back to Bavaria.

In those days, Charlie Summerbell or Argus would pass comment and the support would make up its own mind.

Charlie had signed for us from Millwall for a fairly substantial £20,000 fee (about half a million now) and was brought in to replace Ray Daniel, a Welsh international, who had lost favour with new manager Alan Brown and was relegated to being kit man for the second team.

The Irish international had no idea where Sunderland was and, in the absence of computers, was unable to Google it (other search engines were not available). Alan Brown, known as The Bomber, sweet talked his mum and before he knew it, Charlie was a Sunderland player and was in digs in Grindon Terrace – at the home of the grandmother of a former colleague of mine.

That first game at Blackpool must have been as traumatic as Saturday was for Kirchhoff. Like Spurs, Blackpool had some outstanding players – Jimmy Armfield, Bill Perry, Ernie Taylor and Ray Charnley plus the inimitable Stanley Matthews, complete with his CWS boots.

They ran rings round a Sunderland side who would have struggled to beat a team of donkeys from the nearby beach. This was a side on the slide who, after finishing third from bottom (only two went down in those days) were destined to end up in the bottom two at the end of the year, bringing to an end the club’s proud boast that they had never played in any other division than the First.

Hurley found himself up against a very good centre forward in Ray Charnley. He was a local lad from nearby Lancaster who had trained as a painter and decorator before turning pro. He certainly stripped Charlie down, scoring twice and setting another up before limping off injured after 60 minutes.

The 7-0 defeat set alarm bells ringing and they were sounding even louder the following week when a strong Burnley side (they were to finish sixth, sandwiched between fellow Lancastrians Manchester City and Blackpool) rattled in six goals without reply with Charlie being very much at fault for one of them.

A ball playing centre half was a rarity in those days of blood and thunder and Hurley had found time to put his foot on the ball and use it in Division Three (South). That was not the case in the First Division and he was dispossessed, allowing Burnley to score another goal. Stan Anderson wondered what kind of player Brown had brought to the club as Hurley looked completely out of his depth.

Of course, Brown was right and Hurley overcame that shaky start to become an iconic figure, skippering us to promotion in 1964 and coming second to Bobby Moore in the voting for the Footballer of the Year.

Songs were sung about him, babies were named after him and stories of his prowess were told in front of coal fires to Wearside toddlers for many a year.

We all have our favourite stories about him. Mine was the day he almost put a particularly nasty Leeds United centre forward called Ian Lawson over the Fullwell End fence – it took Jimmy McNab and two others to drag him off the player, who had just gone through on Jimmy Montgomery.

Maybe Jan will settle down and play a major part in keeping us up this year. Maybe he too will prove to be a cultured, ball playing centre half. Maybe there will be songs written about him. But not if he turns his back on the ball as he did when Eriksen scored the third and decisive goal on Saturday.

We shall see………

7 thoughts on “Cheer up Jan Kirchhoff: even Charlie Hurley had a debut to forget”

  1. I don’t think much thought was given to sending him on. It looked to me when he started that he didn’t know where to line up and the players around him weren’t able to tell him where to slot in.

    After that he got stuck in as much as Lens.

  2. I don’t think Sam did JK any favours throwing him in against Spurs after only couple of days training. I suspect that if Bayern Munich signed him there is a good player in there somewhere…… let’s hope Sam can find it.

  3. Charlie was one of the first goal scoring defenders who came up for corners and free kicks. It was a magnificent sight to see him powering headed goals into the back of the net.

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