Sunderland and relegation: been there, done that, collected too many T-shirts

Sixer by Jake

Pete Sixsmith doesn’t intend to spend the summer moping about our most recent relegation.

He intends to spend the summer moping about all of our relegations.

As he puts it: ‘Relegation Number 10 so lots of memories to ramble on about as our season rambles to an end. So depressing……’


Monsieur Salut and I missed the first one. Colin would have been playing in the Rec at Shildon, catching bees in the beck that ran at the bottom of Drybourne Avenue and accompanying his dad, Ernie, up to Dean Street to watch his first crop of heroes – Eddie Ross, Johnny Curran, Keith Hopper – as Shildon had a couple of good runs in the FA Amateur Cup.

I was patrolling the back to backs of the Hyde Park area of Leeds, pretending to be the Lone Ranger or Robin Hood, playing with the gas tar that formed in the gutters and, at school, desperately trying to catch a glimpse of singing star Marion Ryan of Spot The Tune fame, as she came in to see her twin sons Paul and Barry who were a couple of years above me.

My sporting interests were fixed on Headingley and Leeds RLFC while the round ball team at Elland Road barely registered in a city where rugby league has always vied with football as the top game. There were no Rhinos in those days, no summer rugby and very little of the game on television – not that we had one.

Leeds won the Challenge Cup in 1957, beating Barrow 9-7 in the final. I vaguely remember sulking because my dad wouldn’t take me to Wembley (something to do with mates, beer and Soho) but he did take me to see the highlights of the game at the News Theatre in City Square and I rejoiced as Aussie Keith McClellan lifted the trophy.

The next season was a disappointing one as the Loiners finished 14th out of 30 in a league where not everybody played everybody else. Oldham finished at the top but Hull beat them in the Championship play off and Wigan won the Challenge Cup beating Workington Town in the final. Current Super League leaders Castleford finished 29th, kept off the bottom by perennial strugglers Doncaster.

Meanwhile, 91 miles up north, Sunderland were heading for their first ever relegation. A shameful episode for a club that printed on the front of their programme “The only club that has never played in anything other than the First Division” and saw themselves as a club firmly rooted in the hearts of the shipyard workers, coal miners and engineers of County Durham. Even Sir Anthony Eden, former Prime Minister and one time resident of Chilton (Windlestone Hall to be precise) was a supporter.

They had flirted with relegation the previous year. Having spent the whole season in the bottom five, they rallied and ended up three points ahead of Cardiff City while Charlton Athletic were seven behind The Bluebirds. Crowds were poor and hovered around the 30,000 mark for much of the season and players were either ageing (Shackleton, Daniel, Purdon), young (Anderson, Maltby, Grainger) or simply not good enough.

The club was hit by a financial scandal that April and that led to the replacement of manager Bill Murray, who had occupied the hot seat since the end of the war. He was replaced by Alan Brown, a Sunderland supporter from Corbridge, who had had a decent career as a player with Huddersfield Town, Burnley and Notts County and who was doing well as Burnley manager.

The lure or Roker brought him home and he inherited a club in chaos that needed strong and stable government (thanks, Theresa). He got off to a bad start losing his first three games but did not, to the best of my knowledge, tell the world that we were in a relegation battle.


Out went Shack after the opening defeat to Arsenal and in came younger players. John Goodchild and Ryhope born Allen Graham and then, in October, Alan Spence and one Charlie Hurley made their debuts at Bloomfield Road – and ended up on the wrong end of a 7-0 thrashing. There was an improvement the week after at Turf Moor as Brown’s former club stopped at six.

By some miracle, they remained out of the relegation zone although results continued to be a mixture of false dawns ( a home derby win over an equally dismal Newcastle United, courtesy of goals from Don Revie and “Singing Winger” Colin Grainger) and dismal defeats at Kenilworth Road (7 bloody 1 as Golden Gordon would have put it) and repeat victories for Blackpool and Burnley.

As LP Hartley says in his fishing book, “the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” so there were no calls for Brown’s head on social media or on opinionated sites such as this. There may have been the odd letter to the Football Echo, urging Mr Brown to “give some of the young lads a go as they can’t be much worse than some of those who are being paid £12 a week in the season and £10 in the summer,” but it was a more respectful and subdued society than it is now.

There was a Conservative government led by Harold Macmillan, a man more interested in shooting grouse than shooting goals and the leader of the opposition, Hugh Gaitskill, had little feel for the game. At the cinema, already in decline, audiences flocked to various Plazas, Gaumonts and Ritzs to enjoy South Pacific (I was made to sit through that and missed a game at Headingley – hated it ever since), Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle (had them rolling in the aisles at the Essoldo, Shildon) and The Vikings (a prelude to the arrival of Torre Andre Flo, Stefan Schwarz and Thomas Sorensen in later years). On TV we thrilled to Broderick Crawford in Highway Patrol and Cesar Romero as The Cisco Kid, while Richard Dimbleby told us about the Swiss spaghetti harvest.

On the Light Programme, we had bursts of pop music in between the Billy Cotton Band Show and The Clitheroe Kid. Tony Hancock was in his pomp with Sid, Bill, Hattie and Kenneth and Dick Bentley, Jimmy Edwards and June Whitfield “entertained” us with Take It From Here.

Music wise, Elvis released Jailhouse Rock and there were a number of hits that became football songs at later dates. Elias and his Zig-Zag Flutes had Tom Hark in the charts while that old reprobate Dean Martin recorded Volare, the much missed Derek Poskett’s choice of song on train trips back from London.

Back on the pitch, we went to Fratton Park, Portsmouth for the last game of the season. Sheffield Wednesday were bottom on 29 points, we had 30, Pompey had 32 and Newcastle were on the same as the South Coast team but with a game left to play after the final Saturday. We needed to win at Fratton and win by a lot as our goal average (in those dark days, they divided the number of goals scored by the number conceded; ours was awful) and hope that Wednesday and Newcastle both lost – the latter very heavily.

It wasn’t going to happen and despite two goals from “The White Rhino” (aka Don Kichenbrand) we slipped out of the top league for the first time. Little did we know that there were another eight top flight relegations to come.

Copyright – see below

Brown stayed on and produced a fine team that got back in 1964. It took six years of patient, careful re-building and bringing in the likes of Johnny Crossan, Jimmy McNab and George Mulhall before we (and I was a Sunderland supporter by then) chased Leeds United for the title. Can you imagine a manager being given six years now to rebuild?

the centre page of the 1964 souvenir brochure*

Brown was a complex character. He was a strong supporter of Moral Rearmament, a movement started in Oxford in 1938 which said that the world would be a better place if people displayed the “four absolutes” i.e. honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. I gather that Jose Mourinho is a follower, although he has changed the last one to “self-love.”

Players either loved Brown or loathed him and what he would have made of some of those who have passed through the club in the past ten years would make for an interesting conversation. He never quite got rid of the stigma of being the first man ever to take a Sunderland side down – in fact he did it twice, but he was in good company with Jimmy Adamson (one of his Burnley disciples), Lawrie McMenemy, Dennis Smith, Peter Reid, Mick McCarthy and now David Moyes.

Johnny Crossan – with our usual thanks to


Jake: looking back
The Johnny Crossan Story (1): Manchester City 0 SAFC 1 The Johnny Crossan Story (2): hero with ‘a wee bit venom’
The Johnny Crossan Story (3): who was ‘brilliant’, who was ‘priceless’?


And there is more…. much more…. to come



*Copyright notice

The 1964 promotion souvenir was “designed and printed by R WARD & sons Ltd, High Bridge, Newcastle-upon-Tyne”. It contains no copyright notices and I could not find the company listed in a websearch. Readers please note that copyright does not reside with Salut Sunderland.

We will gratefully acknowledge copyright and/or remove material if the copyright owner contacts us and requests such action.

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3 thoughts on “Sunderland and relegation: been there, done that, collected too many T-shirts”

  1. Love the L.P.Hartley joke. Monty Pythonesque indeed. Lovely reminiscences of a more innocent time before the era of Empress Theresa.

  2. Good piece full of engaging memories (even if they aren’t all mine). I was too young, aged 5, to remember that first relegation. Five year olds then were very different from 5 year olds now. We lived in blissful ignorance. Nothing was on the telly, which was just as well cos we didn’t have one, and the only other media outlet that I engaged with was in comic form (Dandy, Beano, Topper etc). In addition, I had nobody to rouse my interest or take me to the match (dad was from Lancashire and not interested).

    I saw my first game in April 1962 (3-0 home win over the Mags!), aged 9. Just to echo Pete’s “past is a foreign country” image, me and my older brother (aged 11 and 9) started going on our own, on the bus from Chester-le-Street. We left the house about 10.00 am on a Saturday and got home about 6.00-6.30 pm (dark in the winter) having walked back and forth between Park Lane bus station and Roker Park. We hung around outside the ground, pre-Match, getting players’ autographs. If I’d let my kids do that nowadays I’d be arrested (the travelling alone bit – not the autograph bit).

    We finished third in that season, behind Shankly’s up and coming Liverpool and Leyton Orient. Leyton Orient! And we think we have it bad!

    So we were a good Second Division team. At the moment I’m not sure we’re even that. Sorry for going on, but these retrospective pieces always bring home to you what supporting Sunderland does/has done to our lives!

  3. I realised that it was probably enough when I couldn’t remember how many we’ve seen Pete.

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