Monsieur Salut writes: Big Sam sends on a midfielder in place of a forward to save a point at home against strugglers. Thousands of SAFC fans see the writing on the wall. So let’s dwell briefly on real Sunderland heroes, heroes of other ages …
I shall leave the source of this lovely anecdote about Len Shackleton to identify himself if he wishes. He can appear for now as Clock Stand Charlie.
We bumped into each other the other night. The acquaintanceship goes back decades and is limited, but I remembered he was from Sunderland.
Shack? “Here’s my Shack story.” he said.
Clock Stand Charlie and Len met in a Wearside workingmen’s club when the Clown Prince was 72.
He seemed in good shape and Clock Stand Charlie asked how he kept himself alert. “Oh, by doing the same old tricks,” came Shack’s reply.
“What do you mean?”
With that, Len placed a coin on the tip of his right shoe. He flicked it first onto his left shoe and then up into the breast pocket of his jacket.
A one-line gag for sure, but one that appealed to me. This was only six years before Len’s death. His gift for entertainment had been preserved into his final years.
Clock Stand Charlie had another story. This was not remotely uplifting but recounted the way the club – under long-gone management – treated a SAFC hero, Raich Carter, somewhat less than heroically at the time of the 1992 FA Cup final against Liverpool, two-and-a-bit years before his death. The detail concerned transport to Wembley but it seems unfair to relate in detail since no one currently at the club is in the least culpable.
So instead of dwelling on a negative recollection from Raich’s life, let me finish with a reminder of another priceless tale about Shack. I posted it here in 2007 …
The other day, I came across my old Len Shackleton t-shirt in a pile of worn-less-often SAFC related togs. It may have been sandwiched between my Lionel Perez t-shirt and a couple of old tops commemorating promotions that led to relegations.
Most people probably remember the Shack one from the excellent people at Philosophy Football: blank page from his book, Clown Prince of Football, on the front, Shackleton and No 10 on the back.
The slogan on the front, of course, loyally follows the title of the chapter which constituted that blank page: “The Average Director’s Knowledge of Football.”
But coming across it again reminded me of a story about the day he died that I never tire of telling other Sunderland fans – indeed fans of other clubs, too.
It was a Tuesday in November 2000 and we were playing Man Utd in a League Cup tie that night. I had wangled a work visit from London to Newcastle to make sure I could be there.
We won 2-1 after extra time, Kevin Phillips scoring the winner from the penalty spot after watching Phil Neville obviosuly, and therefore oafishly, telling the keeper Raimond van der Gouw that he knew from England training which way SK always put his spot kicks.
Pre-match, time to kill, I was walking absent-mindedly through the Bridges shopping centre – you need to have time to kill willingly to do that – when I suddenly saw a newspaper billboard that stopped me in my tracks: “Shack dead.”
I fumbled for my coins to buy the Echo, only to be told by the news vendor: “It’s not in the paper, pet. It was too late for them. I just thought people would like to know.”
What a terrific gesture, in itself a great tribute to a great man, I thought then and still think now. And I naturally bought a paper anyway.