Sunderland’s Twelve Days of Christmas: (5) Fulham

No Bah Humbugs here
No Bah Humbugs here

John McCormick writes: In his fifth reminiscence of Sunderland games played over the festive season, Pete Sixsmith

goes back to another promotion season. This is probably one of the many where I didn’t get to a game, unless I went to Stoke, but I do remember the signing of Marangoni and the anticipation that came with him


SAFC 1 Fulham 0 Dec 29 1979

Hands up if you remember Claudio Marangoni. Hands up if you ever saw him play. That reduces the numbers a bit. Marangoni is a bit like Roly Gregoire, Milton Nunez and Nicolas Medina. Everyone thinks they saw him play, but not that many did. He was a Ken Knighton signing, brought over from Argentina for a club record fee of £380,000. Knighton was determined to take Sunderland into the foreign market and had almost signed a Yugoslav called Bozo Bakota, before enquiries implied that he wasn’t quite the player he said he was.

The summer had been spent in pursuit of Sheffield United’s Alex Sabella, who had been outstanding in the Blades 6-2 defeat at Roker in our run in to yet another failed promotion campaign. The gifted Sabella was poached by Jimmy Adamson at Leeds United, where he flickered intermittently before fading away like a firefly on its final journey.

Knighton had been promoted to the manager’s chair from his role as first team coach, replacing Billy Elliott (the manager, not the dancer) who had failed to get us up the previous season after taking over from Adamson. He had impressed with his coaching and he had a decent pedigree as a player at Wolves and Oldham amongst others and he was certainly ambitious. Backed by the board and Chairman Keith Collings, Knighton brought some very good players into the club. Chris Turner arrived from his former club Sheffield Wednesday to challenge Barry Siddall for the goalkeeping spot and local plumber Barry Dunn was recruited from Wearside League club Newcastle Blue Star.

In those days, players could be signed right up to the deadline in March, allowing a shrewd manager to bring in players as and when needed. A shortage of goals at the start of the campaign led to the signing of part time footballer and part time antique dealer, John Hawley, who made an immediate impression by rattling in a hat trick against Charlton Athletic on his debut. That signing was supplemented by the arrival of Stan Cummins for £300,000 from Middlesbrough.

Ferryhill lad Stan was a Sunderland supporter and was desperate to shake off Jack Charlton’s tag of being potentially Britain’s first £1m footballer. He enjoyed his first spell at Roker and was the difference between the rather prosaic team that Adamson and Elliott had put together and the much more exciting one that Knighton had assembled. But, like many managers, he felt that he was one player away from having a great team – and the man who would fill that gap was Marangoni. He was a tall (6’1”) midfielder who would score the goals that would not only take us up, but would cement us as a First Division club and would enhance the reputation of Knighton.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out. Marangoni was not really an attacking midfielder and much preferred the role of the holding midfielder as practiced by Ramires at Chelsea, Flamini at Arsenal and Cattermole at Sunderland. Unfortunately, Knighton was not a man to listen to his players and demanded total obedience – which was fine as long as you were winning, but not so good when results went against you, as they did in the following season. Marangoni soon skipped off back to Argentina, deserting San Lorenzo and their fans (which included a priest called Jorge Mario Bergoglio – wonder where he ended up) and playing for Huracan, Independiente and Boca Juniors and winning 9 international caps for his country. Knighton managed Orient and ended up as a manager for GEC Plessey in Bristol.

How the Mirror put it when we clinched promotion
How the Mirror put it when we clinched promotion

This particular game was the one where the Sunderland fans present thought they had a glimpse of the future – and the future looked bright. The game was heading for a goalless draw when the mercurial Argentine picked the ball up 35 yards away from the Fulham goal, swivelled and thundered a shot past Gerry Peyton to win the game and set us up for the New Year’s Day derby at Newcastle. We lost that one 3-1. But we went up and they finished between Cambridge United and Preston North End.

There were some interesting names in our line up. Steve Whitworth (nicknamed “Crabworth” by ageing juvenile Jeremy Robson) skippered the side and was joined in the back four by Joe Bolton (all time hard man hero), Jeff Clarke and Shaun Elliott. Turner played in goal and Marangoni’s midfield colleagues were Kevin Arnott, Gary Rowell and Mick Buckley. Pop Robson and John Hawley (taking a break from “Going for a Song”) were up front, with Alan Brown replacing the itinerant antique dealer as the game progressed.

It was another team that should have done far better than it did. That it broke up appeared to be due to a dispute between Knighton and the new chairman Tom Cowie, which led to him being dismissed the following year. By that time, Marangoni was back in Argentina after a miserable time at Sunderland. He surely was the ground breaker for Nicolas Medina, Christianos Riveros and Marcos Angeleri.


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9 thoughts on “Sunderland’s Twelve Days of Christmas: (5) Fulham”

  1. I remember Knighton saying thathe wouldn;t sign Bozo beacuse he wouldn’t “sign players who tell lies”

  2. When they attempted to sign Bozo, the club were told that he was a Yugoslav internnational. He wasn’t but had played for their Olympic team, which was a pretty good standard as all the Communist countries put strong teams in the Olympics as all their players were technically amateurs.
    . He was refused a work permit by the Home Office, but the club jumped the gun and announced the signing and Knighton was photographed with Bakota, who was dressed in a red and white strip.
    There were a few Yugoslavs drifting into the English game at that time. Middlesbrough had a mournful looking Bosnian called Bosco Jankovic who was a decent player and who scored a lot of goals for them. I think he died in Sarajevo during the siege.

  3. Sabella now manages Argentina. I lived in Sheffield around the time of his supposed transfer to us, and there was a pub I used to frequent which was covered in Sheffield Star front pages, most prominent of which were several headlined “Sabella joins Sunderland”
    His wife didn’t like the place apparently, preferring the urban delights of Leeds for Roker beach

  4. I’ve still got that Sunderland AFC ’79-’80 promotion souvenir 45 put out by the club.

    The B-side was ‘Gannin’t Roker Park’ by Ronnie Roker & The Black Cats. The A-side was ‘Sunderland’ by Fine Art. Done in a extremely cheesy disco-style, it was quite cringeworthy even in its day. Haven’t played it in 20 years, as I no longer have a record-player (doesn’t that sound quaint?). All I can remember was the chorus:

    ‘Sunderland, Sunderland, Sunderland,
    Are back in the first division’

  5. “almost signed a Yugoslav called Bozo Bakota, before enquiries implied that he wasn’t quite the player he said he was”

    Pete, please say more!

    I must confess to being, totally, unaware of that link or the reason why it came to nothing.

    Having looked at his Wiki page, though, he seems to have had a decent career.

    During 1971–1980 he played for NK Zagreb as a midfielder and made 195 appearances scoring 53 goals.

    He then, between 1980 and 1986 played for Sturm Graz (apparently as a forward) and scored 86 goals in 167 appearances.

    Those stats (to me) don’t sound so shabby.

  6. I was living in Croydon then, alone, miserable and it was my birthday. I arrived in Putney met a load of supporters, had beer and watched Marangoni score! It’s a birthday memory I have never forgotten.

    Sunderland supporting: memories again last night! Keep the Faith

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