Pete Sixsmith uses Sixer’s Soapbox to deliver warm eulogies to two great characters of the game who have died in the past week or so …
The death of Jimmy Adamson at the ripe old age of 82, makes me think, with some fondness, of the days when managers were not subject to the intense scrutiny that the likes of myself, Birflatt Boy, M Salut and many others put them under. How many current managers would have survived Adamson’s first months at the club?
For those too young to know or too forgetful to recall, he was appointed in December 1976, with the club in 21st position in the old First Division.
Bob Stokoe had resigned in October and Ian McFarlane had taken over as caretaker. I gather he was not very popular with the players and they may well have been pleased to see the back of him.
Adamson came in with a good pedigree as a player and a coach. He had captained Burnley to the League Championship in 1960 and had gone to the 1962 World Cup as a player – although he became Walter Winterbottom’s chief confidant and preferred successor.
Back he went to Turf Moor and became chief coach and eventually manager, supervising one relegation and one promotion in his time as boss. He brought on good players like Martin Dobson, Leighton James and Frank Casper before he fell out with Burnley’s shy and retiring chairman, Bob Lord, King of the Sausages.
He had been out of the game when he was appointed as Sunderland manager and he made a dreadful start, losing his first seven league games and going out to Third Division Wrexham in the FA Cup. His Ashington roots suggest that he had followed the Black and Whites as a youngster, but nobody seemed to hold that against him – no more than they had done Bob Stokoe.
The turning point came when he cleared out the old guard (Dick Malone, Ray Train, Billy Hughes) and brought in three fresh faced youngsters who were to have a great impact on Sunderland AFC over the next few years – Kevin Arnott, Shaun Elliott and Gary Rowell.
A couple of goalless draws against Stoke and Arsenal stopped the rot and then we went on a glorious run, losing only three of the last 16 games. In successive home games we scored four against Middlesbrough and then consecutive sixes against West Brom and West Ham, leading to vast expectations from the Roker faithful.
That we went down was probably due to dropped home points against Newcastle and Derby County as much as the last day fiddle involving Jimmy Hill – but it’s much more fun to blame the ski jump chinned one than it is to be realistic.
The next season we were favourites to storm back, but it never really happened and after a reasonable start to the 78-79 season, he was head hunted by First Division Leeds United to replace Jock Stein and took off for an unhappy two years at Elland Road.
He didn’t achieve a great deal on the surface, but he did bring through the three previously mentioned and gave Joe Bolton and Rob (“Thunderboots”) Hindmarsh regular places in the first team, so I reckon he deserves our thanks for almost turning the team round after a horrible start to life in the First Division.
A couple of days previously, the wonderful Hungarian centre forward Florian Albert had died in Budapest after heart surgery. Nicknamed “The Emperor”, here was a player who combined the touch of David Silva with the goalscoring record of Brian Clough and he was one of the finest players I ever saw.
His Sunderland connections are fleeting – he played at Roker Park on the losing side in the World Cup Quarter Final against the USSR – but he was one of my favourite players of all time, mostly because of his performance in a group game against Brazil.
He had a subtlety of touch that has rarely been seen since. If you summon this game up, look for the ball he plays to Ferenc Bene, allowing Bene to set up Janos Farkas for Hungary’s second and my best ever goal. A truly wonderful pass and so typical of him. See the clip below.
RIP, two distinguished figures who epitomised all that was classy about football. Carlos Tevez and Asamoah Gyan eat your hearts out.
* With thanks to the Clarets Mad Burnley fan site