Soapbox: is James McClean our new Johnny Crossan?


The signing of a promising prospect from Derry City inspires Pete Sixsmith to reminisce about another Sunderland product of that club, the charismatic Johnny Crossan. There’s also a brilliant anecdote recalling the day another SAFC supporter was invited to play with the great man …


At a time when the opening day of the Premier League season is in doubt because of the large scale disorder that is sweeping parts of the country, it may well be no bad thing to look back to the calm and peaceful days of the 1960s when most people had an awareness of where they stood in society.

The catalyst for this piece of nostalgia is the arrival of James McClean from Derry City for the relatively modest sum of £350,000. He’s a left winger, highly regarded by both FAs on that divided island, who will with luck turn out to be as successful at Sunderland as another Derry boy, one John Albert Crossan was between 1962 and 1965.

Derry is a passionate city and the football club, based in a firmly nationalist area, has support that is as intense as any in the UK (that support might quarrel with the reference to the UK – ed). I saw them play Gretna at Motherwell in a UEFA Cup game a few years ago, and the 3,000 who had travelled never stopped shouting and singing as the Candystripes romped home 5-1.

Courtesy: www.therokerend.com*
Like young McClean, Crossan stated his senior career at Brandywell. In his day, they played in the Irish League, which seems to have had a rather murky side to it. Crossan left Derry for Coleraine and was then banned in some labyrinthine payments scandal, scuppering a move to Bristol City.

Unable to ply his trade in the UK, he took off to the lowlands of Holland, playing for Sparta Rotterdam before moving on to Standard Liège in Belgium. They were a major club in those days, regular Belgian champions and European Cup participants. During Johnny’s time, they reached a semi-final, losing to the Real Madrid of di Stefano, Puskas and Gento.

As soon as the ban was lifted, Alan Brown snapped him up and brought him to Roker Park as the last piece in the jigsaw. He lined up with George Herd, Brian Clough and George Mulhall in a forward line that, I am sure, Steve Bruce would rather fancy.

He scored regularly in that first season and then, in the subsequent promotion season, he notched 22 goals as we went up with Leeds United. Crossan was top scorer, but he also created goals for Nicky Sharkey and George Herd with slide rule passes – a less nimble Stéphane Sessegnon perhaps.

He left for Manchester City in November 1964, clearly disillusioned with the way the club was being run (no manager between May and November) and did well at Maine Road before returning to the North East and a rather disappointing couple of years at Ayresome Park, a spell disrupted by stomach ulcers.

He eventually returned to Stroke City (Londonderry/Derry) and opened a sports shop in the city centre….. cue for anecdote:

Our pal Pete Horan was working in Derry a few years ago, so I asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking my 1963-64 promotion brochure with him on the off chance that he might be able to get Johnny to sign it.

He asked the people he was dealing with if they knew where he could find Crossan. Yes they did. Where? “Well, if you come with us to the sports centre tonight, you’ll see him playing football with us. Get some gear and you can have a game.”

And so it transpired that Pete played football with one of our boyhood idols. He reported that he still had the touches, could still make those penetrating passes and, in his mid 60s, seemed as fit and as lithe as he had been in those halcyon days at Roker Park. To prove it, he showed me the film of it on his camera, and there he was, with that lopsided grin and the trademark crew cut – the great Johnny Crossan.

He signed my brochure and sent me a lovely letter in which he said that he rarely left his home city but that he regarded his days at Sunderland as his best both football wise and socially. His record of 48 goals in 99 games wasn’t exceptional in the 60s but would be sensational nowadays.
The catalyst for this piece of nostalgia is the arrival of James McClean from Derry City for the relatively modest sum of £350,000. He’s a left winger, highly regarded by both FAs on that divided island, who will with luck turn out to be as successful at Sunderland as another Derry boy, one John Albert Crossan was between 1962 and 1965.

Hopefully James McClean can emulate Johnny and become as big a hero to the current generation of youngsters as he was to us.

* Visit TheRokerEnd.com – where Brian Leng kindly gave permission for use of the photograph – or read Salut! Sunderland‘s piece about it here.

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9 thoughts on “Soapbox: is James McClean our new Johnny Crossan?”

  1. Why don’t you give Johnny Crossan a ring at his sports shop . He’s there most days at 02871268103.
    He’ll not mind you getting in touch with him.

  2. I remember deliberately scoring an own goal, an impressive shot from long range, in the park after school one night, and imagining it was just the sort of thing our Derry rebel might have done.

  3. Still lives in Derry, still has the Sports Shop and still plays at the complex every week. Your going to have a long wait lol

  4. Johnny’s “good mate” seems to have had a sherbet or two too many. Living in Derry as he has been for over 30 years, a regular at the Brandywell and still found daily running his sports shop on Collon Terrace. Usain Bolt would have bother catching up with him from there….

  5. Are you sure? Last I checked he still lives in Derry.. which was yesterday.

    No wonder you haven’t met him..

  6. Johnny now lives in the same Berkshire town as me and I found out recently from a good mate of his that Johnny is a regular visitor to my local pub.

    I’ve been trying to catch up with him for some time but not managed to meet him just yet.

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