A Sunderland footballing odyssey from Gateshead to Southport

Bobby Gurney through Jake's eyes

Crikey! John McCormick has turned writing for Salut! Sunderland into the craft of jigsaw creator, or perhaps more like that of the inventor of snakes and ladders. Discussing ups and downs that have followed the exclusion from the Football League of Gateshead 52 years ago, always looking out for SAFC links, he weaves an intricate pattern of football history …



A Southport-supporting friend
recently told me he didn’t like NUFC because of what they did to Gateshead in 1960. In those days the bottom four in the Fourth Division had to apply for re-election to the Football League.

Applying with Gateshead AFC were Southport, for the 7th time and the 3rd season in a row (which is probably why he remembers it. I can just about remember my dad’s disgust, but nothing about ‘Heed being in the league), Oldham for the 2nd year and Hartlepools United for the 4th time.

Newcastle voted for ‘Pools and Gateshead went out. Although there was anger that NUFC did the dirty on them Gateshead apparently lost out by a few votes, probably because southern teams didn’t want the extra travel, and NUFC’s vote was not the clincher. But as my Sandgrounder friend says, so much for regional loyalty!

Our conversation started me thinking. Could I get from those clubs in 1960 to their current situation via football facts, no matter how tenuous? And how many North Eastern clubs could I name and how many links to SAFC could I make in the process? This is the result of my research …

In 1960 Gateshead were replaced by Peterborough (who, from 1950-52, were managed by Sunderland’s 1937 hero Bob Gurney, whom SAFC signed from Bishop Auckland) but Southport survived another 18 years. They were replaced by Wigan, who had an ex-Sunderland apprentice Alan Crompton in their squad. Wigan gained promotion to the third division in 1982 and were relegated in 1993, the year Wycombe Wanderers achieved league football under MON’s management.

Wycombe went down this season, despite borrowing Louis Laing, completing a Wanderers hat-trick after Wolves paid heavily for losing faith in Mick McCarthy and Bolton replaced Gary Megson (whom Brian Clough sold to NUFC and who became manager of Norwich after MON) with Owen Coyle to no avail.

Bolton didn’t help themselves by throwing away a two goal lead in the penultimate game of the season, just as Anton Ferdinand was sending in a header for Djibril Cissé to put past Tommy Sorensen to give QPR (who also played Nedum Onuha) the points against Stoke, who fielded Rory Delap, Dean Whitehead and Kenwyne Jones that day.

Bolton’s cup history is impressive. They were the visitors when Darlington recorded their highest crowd of 21,000+ in the league cup in 1960 (a figure not likely to be reached when Darlo play at Shildon FC’s ground next season) but it’s the FA Cup where they shine. They lost in the 1953 “Stanley Matthews” final but have won the FA Cup four times, including the 1923 “White Horse” final, when they beat West Ham in the first game at Wembley.

West Ham (with on-loan George McCartney voted players’ player of the year) came up this season under Sam Allerdyce, who played some 25 games for Sunderland in the 1980s, so it’s possible that some down-south SAFC fans will be travelling to the Boleyn Ground via Manor Park, the local overground station, before too long.

Manor Park was the name of Nuneaton Borough’s old ground. They became Nuneaton Town in 2008 in a manner reminiscent of Spennymoor Town’s rise from the ashes of Spennymoor United (and Evenwood) some three years earlier but still have the nickname ‘Boro and actually played the other ‘Boro in 2006, which was the year West Ham fielded a dodgy player but kept their points and stayed up at the expense of Sheffield United whose manager, Neil Warnock, had previously played for Hartlepool and taken Scarborough into the football league.

In contrast to West Ham, Nuneaton Town lost six points this season for fielding an ineligible player. They still achieved a play-off place, which they confirmed by beating Blyth Spartans, who were relegated well before the end of the season.
Blyth Spartans and Nuneaton’s neighbours Coventry City both have strips which feature black shorts and green striped shirts.

Like Blyth, Coventry City were relegated before the end of the season, resulting in so much turbulence on the Salut site that M Salut closed the comments option. I normally have sympathy with fans of relegated teams but not in this case. In 2011 a statue of Jimmy Hill was erected by public subscription, which means CCFC fans paid for it. Mr Hill did the unveiling, a ceremony to which people turned up wearing Jimmy Hill masks. He must be a cult.

Jimmy Hill started his career at Brentford but had left before they played Crook Town in the FA cup in 1954. Brentford became the first club to play all other members of the football league by being relegated from the first to the fourth division between 1945 and 1962. They bounced back and won division four in 1963, when Hartlepools United finished bottom.

Hartlepools Utd were re-elected but continued to struggle until Brian Clough created the foundations for promotion in 1968 (When Bobby Cummings, who had previously played for Ashington, NUFC and Darlington scored some vital goals).

However, the newly named Hartlepool AFC lasted only one season before relegation and had to endure re-election at least once more before Len Ashurst arrived in 1971 and provided relative stability. But Len didn’t stay and Pools’ fortunes fluctuated; by the mid 80’s, despite a few months of leadership from Mick Docherty, they were struggling again.

Despite this, Hartlepools showed the meaning of regional loyalty by offering Middlesbrough the use of Victoria Park at the start of the 1986 season, after Middlesbrough had been relegated to division three, declared insolvent and locked out of Ayresome Park.

This allowed Steve Gibson’s consortium to avoid expulsion from the league and revive the club. Despite the occasional relegation, under Gibson’s guidance ‘Boro became founder members of the premiership, moved to a new ground and made it to Wembley for their first-ever FA cup final. They lost 2-0 to Chelsea, managed by Ruud Gullit.

Gullit was sacked a few months later, so he was available to take up a post at Newcastle in 1998, which was the year Tow Law were beaten 1-0 in the final of the FA Vase, as were Bedlington Terriers the following year .

Tow Law and Bedlington have never won the FA Vase but Whickham have, in 1981. Whitley Bay have won the Vase more than any other team, including in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Their defence of the trophy was ended this season by West Auckland, who lost the final against Dunston UTS.

And Dunston UTS, along with Birtley Town FC, are within the Metropolitan Borough of Gateshead, whose main team, Gateshead FC, finished in 8th place in this season’s Blue Square Bet Premier League, just behind Southport.

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1 thought on “A Sunderland footballing odyssey from Gateshead to Southport”

  1. It’s even worse than that. Newcastle, as a 1st Division club, had 4 votes. We would have had 2 and I wonder where ours went. I note that South Shields gained 1 vote and I wonder where that came from. The figures for votes gained by each applicant are available on the interet – but who voted for whom is not.

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