It’s getting closer. The signing of Fraizer Campbell from Man Utd was a welcome start to Steve Bruce’s transfer dealings; more news can be expected soon. Pete Sixsmith is already in pre-season training, and tells of a visit to Brighouse that included a few moments with George Mulhall, a fondly remembered winger of the old school who served Sunderland superbly back when Pete and I first started going to Roker Park …
The town of Brighouse, along with its smaller neighbour Raistrick, is synonymous with brass bands.
Who can ever forget cringing at Terry Wogan’s stilted movements as he “conducted” the band in The Floral Dance – and reached the Top Twenty with it. Goodness, he even appeared on Top Of The Pops complete with equally stilted grin amid the hot pants and short skirts.
It’s one of those towns that you pass on the M62 without ever having a reason for going there. I must have seen the sign a thousand times and hummed that Cornish anthem as I sped on towards another defeat at Maine Road or a freezing cold draw at Boundary Park.
On Saturday, I took the A641 into the town in search of my first game of the season – and a chance to catch George Mulhall.
For the younger reader(s) of these pages, George was a real flying machine of a left winger, who had the ability to cross the ball and cut in and score. He cost £25,000 from Aberdeen in 1962 and spent seven very productive years at Roker Park before going into coaching and management.
He was quick and hard. Brought up in Falkirk (not a place for the faint hearted) he played junior football before moving to Aberdeen, where he scored regularly and won two Scottish caps. He was scouted by Sunderland and after a series of good reports (no videos sent out in those days), Alan Brown signed him to give his team a better balance down the left hand side.
Len Ashurst at full back, Jimmy McNab at left half and George and Amby Fogarty and then the great Johnny Crossan up front, gave us probably the best Sunderland side I have seen. It was the obduracy of the board that broke it up, when they refused to pay Alan Brown a bonus and he upped sticks for Sheffield Wednesday
The day was a delight. The weather was good, the Red Rooster served a good pint of Golden Pippin and an even better pork pie and Brighouse Town looked after a crowd of 400 wonderfully well.
The visitors were near neighbours, Halifax Town, in their latest guise after bankruptcy. George had managed them on three separate occasions and had got them back into the Football League after a lengthy and potentially ruinous stint in the Conference. However, more financial crises had led to them being demoted to the depths of Unibond Division One (North) where they clashed with such giants of the game as Harrogate Railway, Rossendale United and Clitheroe (minus The Kid and Alfie Hall).
I had a lovely conversation with one of their fans who revered George as much as we do Quinny. They had to get out of this league this season, he said and he thought that the new manager, the former Port Vale stopper, Neil Aspin, was the man for the job. They fielded two different teams against a gallant Brighouse selection and ran out 5-1 winners.
George was introduced to all three teams before the game and sat in the stand, surrounded by Shaymen whose eyes glistened with nostalgia as they thought about the glory days of finishing in the top half of the fourth tier of English football.
I caught him in the Portakabin VIP room just after half time and he was genuinely surprised and (dare I say it) pleased that someone from Sunderland had sought him out. He spoke warmly of his time living at Seaburn and the friends he had made and kept in the North East. Brown, he said, was a tyrant, and if he had known about him, he probably wouldn’t have signed. He snorted when I asked him if The Bomber would have managed nowadays. I took a couple of photos and then left him to continue his tour of the ground, where he was greeted with real affection. Lovely guy and a Sunderland legend for those of us brought up on that great promotion team.
On other matters, good to see the first new arrival – a quick, young and hungry forward, who should be able to feed off whatever Kenwyne and (increasingly likely) Peter Crouch can provide him with. More to come, by the looks of it and that should lead to a strong following at Darlington on Thursday.
Finally, interesting to see some of the Drumaville people looking to buy the Mags. Can’t afford to bankroll Sunderland, but can finance the Mags. Gets better by the day.