Isaac ‘Jack’ McGorian: echoes of Bardsley from the Roaring Twenties

Isaac 'Jack' McGorian in 1939: captain, front row with ball between his knees, of Griqualand West Team in Kimberley vs England


Not for nothing do we boast of going to the ends of the earth to find interesting snippets about Sunderland AFC. The story, for Salut! Sunderland‘s purposes, began in a coal-fired power station in the Transvaal.

Bill Richardson*, a Seaham lad who has not seen his home town or even country for a long, long time, works there. And this is what he wrote a month or two ago at the Blackcats list, an e-mail loop that brings together SAFC fans wherever they find themselves in the world:

I only found out at the weekend that one of the ladies I work with, father played for Sunderland 1926. His name was Jack McGorian.

Without the aid of a phone-hacking manual or bribes for coppers, Salut! Sunderland sleuths set to work.

Champion of Champions in bowls, at Raylton Sports Club.

First port of call was my bible, Rob Mason’s indispensable Sunderland: The Complete Record (statistics compiled by Mike Gibson and Barry Jackson). There, we learn that – shades of Phil Bardsley – Jack McGorian was a right or left back who played 22 times for the club between 1924 and 1929 and even scored once, joining Bobby Gurney on the scoresheet in a 3-1 win against Notts County in the last game of the 1925-26 season.

If the record seems modest, it should be borne in mind that Sunderland were quite a force in those days.

The daughter mentioned by Bill is Lilian Martin, who – with the help of her sister, Delia – has kindly supplied photographs and details of Jack McGorian’s life and times.

Isaac Moore McGorian, to give him his full name, was born on Oct 19 1901. He was a Sunderland lad, breathing his first in South Bishopwearmouth, in what I am pleased to remind everyone was in County Durham, to Joseph, a coalminer, and Mary Jane McGorian (nee Ashbridge). Lilian calls her father Isaac throughout, never Jack.

He was raised in Sunderland, one of a family of 10 children – six boys and four girls – and left school at the age of 14 to follow his dad down the pit. In fact the family grew to 11 when his parents adopted a neighbour’s orphaned son.

Escape from the mines came at 22, when Isaac became a professional footballer, signing for his home-town club. Here, the family records begin to differ a little from the Rob Mason book, Lilian stating that her father played at right-half for them for five seasons (1922-1927). I will stick for now with her account:

“Sunderland’s First Division record for those five seasons makes interesting reading:

1922-23: Runners-up to Liverpool (6 points behind)
1923-24: Third (53 points) behind Huddersfield (champions, 57) and Cardiff (57)
1924-25: Seventh (48)
1925-26: Third (48) behind Huddersfield (Champs, 57) and Arsenal (52)
1926-27: Third (49) behind Newcastle (Champs, 56) and Huddersfield (51)”

Rob Mason and his statisticians have McGorian’s SAFC career tailing off in 1927-28, when we slipped to 15th (recovering to fourth in the following season, by which time he had left the club).

In the 1925-26 season, Lilian relates, he played against Stan Seymour (England and Newcastle), “one of the most outstanding left wingers of that time who played a major part in Newcastle winning the FA Cup in 1924 when he scored a goal in his club’s 2-0 victory against Aston Villa in the final”.

Having emigrated at the end of his professional playing career, he was reacquainted with Seymour in 1952 in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, when Newcastle toured Southern Africa as the FA Cup holders with Seymour by then the Newcastle team manager.

Manager of the Cranborne Arms in what was Southern Rhodesia.

Isaac – who appears to have been known as Ike as well as Jack – also played in the same Sunderland team as Charlie Buchan, described by Lilian as “the famous inside-right, a prolific goalscorer who scored a club record of 209 goals for the club between 1911 and 1925 when he was transferred to Arsenal”.

She adds that Isaac also represented the North of England XI against a Football Association XI in 1926, playing at right-half. He was transferred from Sunderland to Notts County in 1927 and played for them for four seasons (1927-31) and also played for Carlisle United.

This, from the Notts County transfer, is priceless:

In terms of an “Agreement for hire of a Player” between Isaac McGorian and Horace Henshall representing Notts County FC dated 30th April 1929. It was agreed that “the Club shall pay the said Player the sum of Six Pounds per week from May 6 1929 to August 24 1929 and Seven Pounds per week from August 24 1929 to May 3 1930 at which date the Agreement shall cease and determine. The Club shall pay the Player One Pound per week extra when in the First Team.”

And so, from the contract’s terms, is this:

“If the player shall prove palpably inefficient or shall be guilty of serious misconduct or beach of the disciplinary Rules of the Club, the Club may on giving 14 days;’ notice to the said Player or the Club may on giving 28 days’ notice to the said Player on any reasonable grounds terminante this Agreement and dispense with the services of the Player (without prejudice to the Club’s right for transfer fees) …”

What would Newcastle’s collection of former prisoners, care-in-the-community cases and Bigg Market bruisers make of that?

Lilian, above such tribal banter, resumes the story: “My father emigrated to South Africa in 1937 and settled in Kimberley where he was employed as a miner by De Beers Diamond Mines. He continued to play football for the local club De Beers and captained Griqualand West against the touring England FA team in 1939 in the last game of of their tour which England won 10-1!

Wedding day

“Isaac McGorian met his wife-to-be Mary Emma Engelsman while in Kimberley and was married to her on August 31 1940 in St Mary’s Cathedral in Kimberley and left Kimberley on the same day by train to live and work at the Roan and Antelope copper mine in Luanshya, Northern Rhodesia as a timberman.”

She says he was also a talented billiards and snooker player and once played an exhibition match against the world champion Horace Lendrum in Modderfontein, South Africa. He was also an excellent bowls player and won many tournaments and championships after he retired from football.

While in Luanshya the McGorians had their first child, Delia Mary, born in August 1943. The family moved back to Kimberley for a short time and then returned to Northern Rhodesia, this time to live in Chingola where Isaac worked at the Nchanga Copper Mine where Lilian Marguerite was born in October 1948.

The family decided to relocate to Salisbury Southern Rhodesia in 1951 and McGorian retired from mining and became the manager of the Cranborne Arms Club. Isaac eventually became a security officer based at the Salisbury International Airport.

Lilian adds the sad note that her father died in hospital on October 14 1978, a week after being involved in an accident and five days short of his 77th birthday. His nephew, Joseph McGorian, “was also heavily involved in football in England and was the president and a major force in the early years of the development of Southern League club, Solihull Borough … The club was elected to the Southern League Midland Division in 1991-92 and won the championship at its first attempt.”

* In the Salut! Sunderland “Mackem Diaspora” series,:Bill Richardson wrote: Born in Seaham ’47. Left for Natal, South Africa ’78. Moved up to the Transvaal in ’81 (Mpumalanga now) on the day Reagan was shot. Spent time in Swaziland, Cape Town (nuclear power station) so know what the problem is at Fukushima. Back in the old Transvaal now. Coal fired station. Never been back to Blighty …

Monsieur Salut

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9 thoughts on “Isaac ‘Jack’ McGorian: echoes of Bardsley from the Roaring Twenties”

  1. What a great tribute to my grandfather! Thank you for publishing this article, it means a lot to our family.

  2. I would like to say a very big thank you to my brother-in-law, Tommy Ballantyne (Delia’s husband) for all his hard work doing all the technical research about our Dad. Thanks Tom, it is much appreciated.

  3. Thank you Colin for a great tribute to my Dad. Thank you Bill Richardson for putting Colin and I in touch. It really is a small world!

  4. What a wonderful story about a wonderful man, Uncle Mac. Often think about the days when I used to spend the weekend with you and Aunty Amy, Delia and Lilian, when Lil and I were best friends at school in Salisbury. Memories linger on, you truly were a special person.

  5. What a fantastic and moving tribute to my grandfather. I’m Delia Mary’s youngest daughter and I live in London. I’m always telling my British friends about my grandfather. What special memories. Thank you for documenting all this with the help of my mum and aunt.

    • Anita: it was a pleasure and I am deeply grateful to your mum and Lilian , not to mention Bill Richardson for bringing it to my attention in the first place. Lilian now tells me the nickname Jack was unknown to her – that was how Bill described him, and I think my reference book does too, but I must double check once I have a moment.

  6. I have to say that this is one of the best pieces that I’ve ever read on this site. Thanks to Bill for initiating the whole dialogue. How different could the life of a professional footballer have been? Unimaginably different. What a life Jack lived before and after his days with Sunderland.

    Thanks for providing such a fantastic insight into the life of a former player M. Salut. You are commended for it. A really lovely read.

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