George Mulhall: an appreciation

UPDATE: George Mulhall’s son, Neil, has written to Salut! Sunderland: “I would like to thank you for your lovely tribute to my father. It brought tears to my eyes reading it.” Neil and other relatives can be assured our thoughts are with them.

Pete Sixsmith writes: on a day when the SAFC news feed went haywire with talk of a new owner, new investors, new manager, new strip, new badge, new division to play in and new hope for the future (maybe), I would prefer to concentrate on something that happened almost half a century ago.

On April 23 1969, we played a rearranged game at Turf Moor, Burnley. The original had been snowed off a few weeks earlier when we were a goal down to a Burnley team who were drifting along in mid table as were we under Alan Brown.

I must have taken a day or at least an afternoon off school (I wasn’t missed) and what was a nondescript game, played in front of a paltry crowd of 10,181, turned out to be a significant one for Sunderland supporters.

In that game, two club giants made their final appearances. Charlie Hurley was one of them, a man who was loved by the support, was known as King Charlie and who remains a living legend.

The other was George Mulhall, a Scot from Falkirk, who had been with the club since August 1962 and was a popular and highly effective left winger.

George’s death was announced on Saturday, at the age of 81, and with his passing went a player who was loved and admired by all those who trooped into Roker Park in the seven seasons he spent with us.

He came from a footballing family. His brothers, Martin and Edward were players in the lower regions of the Scottish League, representing the likes of Cowdenbeath, Brechin City and East Stirlingshire.

George seemed to have a bit more talent than his siblings and was picked up by Aberdeen in 1953.

The Dons were going through a fine period and were challenging the Old Firm and Edinburgh rivals Hearts and Hibs on a consistent basis. They finished top of the pile in 1955 and won the Scottish League Cup the following year thanks to two flying wingers in Graham Leggatt (who went to Fulham) and Jackie Hather from Annfield Plain, who spent 12 years at Pittordrie and kept George out of the side.

He did his National Service and played alongside the likes of John White, Alex Young (“The Golden Vision”) and Alex Scott and was also a successful basketball player. When Hather packed up his boots and returned to his native County Durham (he signed for Blackhall CW, then a professional club playing in the Midland League), George stepped in.

He caught the eye of the Scottish selectors and was awarded his first cap in 1959, scoring in a 4-0 win over Northern Ireland and a series of consistently exciting performances on the left touchline at Pittordrie convinced Alan Brown that George was the man to replace Jackie Overfield on the left flank.

His debut was on a Tuesday night at Millmoor in September 1962. Surrounded by the cranes and scrapyards that made Rotherham’s ground such a joyous place to visit, he must have wondered what he had let himself in for as the Millers beat us 4-2.

Roker, pre World Cup

His next game was at Roker in front of 36, 399 as Luton Town were despatched and he scored the first of his 66 Sunderland goals at The Dell a week later in a 4-2 win. The other three came from Brian Clough. They formed a good, albeit brief partnership.

He was a regular for a number of years and in that fine team of the early 60s he worked well with Johnnie Crossan, giving us a strength down the left side that led to many goals and many victories. He holds the record for consecutive Sunderland appearances, making 114 between his debut and April 1964. Jack Rodwell may yet challenge him.


sent off v Leeds

Over the years, he scored some fine goals. He notched the third one at The Sports Direct as we saw Newcastle off in 1966, when he cut in from the left and rifled a shot past Willie McFaul. He scored two as we came back from 1-3 down to beat Burnley 4-3 in 1966 and grabbed a never to be forgotten winner at Old Trafford as we foiled United’s attempts to win the title on the final day of the 1967-68 season.

All in all, he played 284 times for Sunderland, scoring 66 goals and thrilling a couple of generations of Red and Whites with his direct style (straight ahead), turn of speed (many a full back was left floundering) and eye for goal (66 was a good return for an orthodox winger).

He took up management at Bradford City, Bolton Wanderers and, notably, Halifax Town, where he became as much a legend for The Shaymen as he was for the Rokerites. I met him once at a pre-season friendly between Brighouse Town and FC Halifax Town where he was a treasured guest of both clubs. He spoke fondly of his time at Roker and of living in Sunderland and said that he always looked first for our result.

He had been in poor health for a while and his passing was no great surprise. I will remember him as a dashing winger, a good player and a man who stood up for his team. Would that we had the likes of him playing for us now in these increasingly dark days.



21 thoughts on “George Mulhall: an appreciation”

  1. Always Bullet Mulhall for me. There was a Roker Park chant that had the line ‘Bullet Mulhall on the wing’. I once came out of goal for Coundon Grange Jnrs v Ferryhill YC away and scored 4 (yes, four) goals. Not sure how. Due to my lack of natural pace, I was christened Bullet (very tongue in cheek) and it has been an internet password of mine for years (not anymore after making it public sadly). So Bullet Mulhall has been a big part of my life.
    Great article and well deserved by a proper Sunderland legend – ‘legend’ being used in its proper sense.

  2. Watching George’s direct running at fullbacks was THE excitement for this 11-12 year old boy on match days. For me, he’s always the yardstick against which all our subsequent wingers are judged. Thanks for the memories to a great player.

  3. I would like to thank you for your lovely tribute to my father.
    It brought tears to my eyes reading it.

  4. Very sorry to hear of George Mulhall’s death. Great winger in an era of brilliant wingers.
    His career coincided with a wonderful time for Scottish players. At Sunderland alone we had Herd, Kinnell, Baxter, O’Hare, Martin and Mulhall. What Scotland would do to have that lot these days?

    Mulhall had it all. Pace, ball control, distribution,a cracking shot – and was very rarely injured. Great player, and, as evidenced by this correspondence, still fondly remembered.

  5. Very sad news. I remember that Burnley game.
    George was fantastic.
    Thanks for some amazing memories.

  6. The original caption for the photo said sent of at Hull. I changed it to v Hull. It looks as if both could be wrong.

  7. Like you and your other correspondents, I spent my formative years at Roker Park watching George Mulhall on the left wing. I concur with all of the comments about his skill, trickery and the ferocity of his shooting.

    One little mystery: the photograph isn’t from his sending off v Leeds in the cup second replay at Hull. If memory serves, we played in all red that awful night – and that looks like King Charlie in the background, and he didn’t play in that match.

    • You’re quite right, Mike; my mistake. It must be a photo of George’s only other dismissal, which was also against Leeds, in a league match at Elland Road at the beginning of the 1965-66 season. We did have some interesting times against Leeds in those days…

  8. During the 63-64 season, me & my brother used to get to the ground early and, alongside a bunch of other regulars (all aged about 12-13), hang around the main entrance to get the players’ autographs.
    The players would turn up between 12.00-1.00pm, park their cars, go inside for what we presumed was a team-talk, then come back out and go off somewhere – which I now know to have been The Seaburn Hotel, where they ate lunch and walked back up to the ground. The in-out routine meant that we had two chances to get autographs before the gates opened at 1.30, at which time we had to be first in the queue to get a spot on the fence behind the goal at the Roker End.
    We got to know each player’s car, and dashed for the ones whose signature we were short of, but we often just got repeats so as not to feel we were wasting our time.
    I distinctly remember George Mulhall’s rough Scottish growl, asking “Didn’t you get mine last week?”, as if confirming the Scots stereotype that they don’t part with anything lightly! “If you’re back here next time, I’ll kick you up the arse!”
    I don’t suppose that last bit was said seriously, but kids were naive and respectful in those days, and he was a scary bloke.
    These days, when pampered prima donnas have agents and minders protecting their clients from fans who may steal their “image rights” for sale on eBay, I like to think that all they really need is George Mulhall threatening to kick you up the arse!

  9. george had the hardest shot i have ever seen but he used tocut in from the left wing and pass the ball into the net with his right

  10. He had such a rocket of a shot that I think he came second in a newspaper poll as to the hardest hitters of a football ever.

    I remember him scoring with a rare, rare header at the Roker End –well it hit him in the face really and went into the net. Must have hurt like hell but his delight was infectious.

    When he was manager at Halifax he allowed some of his lads to play the Billingham Forum 5- a- side champions. We were thrashed but he was an absolute gent afterwards.

    Scotland must have had some quality players for him not to get many caps for the national team.

    A personal favourite of mine RIP George.

  11. Mullhall made the grade in the old First Division after the promotion in 1964 and he gave many a top right back a hard time. I remember him playing against Liverpool’s Chris
    Lawler, an excellent player in a great team, and, in particular, on Boxing Day in 1964. Sunderland lost 3-2 at Roker on a snow cover pitch, no shame against the reigning champions. Liverpool went two up but Mulhall, playing a blinder, got his team back on level terms, before Liverpool scored a winner. He showed his true class that day, a top football pro. Good memories and his death puts today’s events into perspective.

  12. Lovely piece as per usual, Pete. Loved George Mulhall, Was the first time I saw him against Swansea or Luton? (Update: I have checked and it was Luton.) He had just joined, we won, he played brilliantly and a man near me in the Roker End said ‘He’ll dee.’

  13. George Mulhall was one of my earliest SAFC heroes; a tricky winger with a fierce shot who was an integral part of that great promotion-winning forward line of 1964. His record run of 114 consecutive appearances was broken on Good Friday 1965 (not 1964) only because he had damaged his Achilles the previous day sitting at home watching TV with his feet up for hours on end! I remember he was fit again for the match the following day, the Saturday. By the way, I think your caption ‘sent off v Hull’ should read ‘sent off v Leeds’, during the infamous FA Cup 5th round 2nd replay played at Hull in March 1967.

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