Ralph Coates: honouring one of the best players we never had

Fans at more than one ground gave him a one-minute silence on Tuesday. Now Jeremy Robson, in far-off Canada, pays tribute to a player who came from Durham mining stock and ought really to have played for Sunderland, but instead joined what was then an exodus of talent from the region to follow his trade elsewhere …

The internet provides instant access to information about any subject.

Or at least so it seems. It came as a shock at the start of the Spurs v Newcastle Utd game when there was a tribute to Ralph Coates, the former Burnley, Spurs and Orient winger who had recently departed. I hadn’t heard the sad news of Ralph’s death even though he had passed away on Dec 17, aged 64.

Read moreRalph Coates: honouring one of the best players we never had

Alastair Campbell on the Burnley legend who shocked even him


In the first part of Alastair Campbell‘s “Who Are You?” questionnaire ahead of Sunderland v Burnley this weekend, we heard of his unwavering commitment to the club, to the extent that the No 10 switchboard was under instructions not to bother him at games. The operators will have needed no further discouragement, if the film satire In The Loop was right in portraying him as a scary, foul-mouthed bully. “Oh, his swearing is much, much worse than that,” John Prescott said after seeing the film. But Alastair would say both – film and Two Jags – got him wrong; indeed, his sensitive side is revealed today as he recalls the day Gordon Harris left him flabbergasted. He recovers in time to predict an away win he can’t be there to see …

Salut! Sunderland: Are you conscious of the long history of rivalry between Sunderland and Burnley for the capture of North-eastern footballing talent (Burnley usually getting their way!), and of the links between the clubs (Jimmy Adamson being the obvious one)?

Yes absolutely. Gordon Harris was one of my earliest heroes. He was also the cause of one of my most shocking early memories. He came to take a throw in right in front of us and as he let the ball out of his hands, he let out a loud fart, and I turned to my brother and said I couldn’t believe Gordon Harris farted. Some of our greatest players came from the North East for one of the most obvious reasons – some of our greatest scouts were from there.

Gordon Harris:gordon harris: pictured with thanks to the Clarets Mad fan site**..

Read moreAlastair Campbell on the Burnley legend who shocked even him

Who are you? We’re Burnley – by the champion of spin


Alastair Campbell is famous or infamous – according to taste – for having been Tony Blair’s blunt, media-savvy communications director. Beyond the many scrapes that role got him into, he is also an accomplished Scottish piper, a novelist, a New Labour chronicler … and a passionate supporter of our next opponents, Burnley. Salut! Sunderland is delighted that he agreed to answer our questions ahead of Saturday’s match, which he will miss because of charity commitments. Here is part one …

Salut! Sunderland:
Loads of football fans, especially of clubs like Sunderland, were chuffed to see Burnley go up, but nearly everyone expected you to go straight down. Did the early home form give you unrealistic hope or can you still claw a way out of the bottom zone?

It was always going to be tough. We have the smallest squad, the lowest wage bill, and we are the smallest town ever to have a Premier League club. The start was fantastic, especially beating Manchester United in our first home game, but we always knew it would be about beating clubs at the other end of the pile and we have lost too many of those. But I am a great believer in the power of hope and commitment and even if it means winning against clubs like Liverpool and Spurs, we have to keep believing.

Read moreWho are you? We’re Burnley – by the champion of spin

Nasty smells on the web

The day began just hoping for three points against Spurs, a tall order but not beyond us. This rant came on as I found yet again that there was a mini-epidemic of spamming and phishing to deal with …

Since we exposed the odious activites of someone or something calling him/itself Andrew A Sailer, the name has been refreshingly absent from the comments left at Salut! Sunderland and other Salut! sites.

Read moreNasty smells on the web

Image conscious in Burnley


Picture this: a simple request to the Burnley FC press office: can we please use your photo of Jimmy Adamson, who managed both our clubs, to accompany a great Q&A with the man who runs Clarets Mad? Missing open goals may be the Turf Moor press office’s forte, as Colin Randall reports …

Now Salut! Sunderland would never dream of accusing Burnley of being a Nazi-occupied town just because the BNP gets the odd vote there, odd being the operative word.

But we do get the impression they’re just a little image conscious. Alastair Campbell – arguably a Salut! Sunderland protege*, Fleet Street’s best-known bagpipes player, Tony Blair’s bruising press secretary, probably Burnley’s best known supporter – shows symptoms.

Good read, said Alaistair, after seeing what Tony Scholes, editor of Clarets Mad, had contributed in his terrific answers to the Salut! Sunderland questionnaire ahead of the big game. “But change the picture!!!”

Picture? Oh, this one:


I loved it, as it happens. But it wouldn’t have been my first choice.

Tony, for ever to be admired for the speed with which he agreed to answer our questions, was the obvious subject. But he warned us early on that he “doesn’t do photos” (is he even older than the codgers behind Salut! Sunderland?).

Next stop was Burnley FC. The club site has a lovely piece that marked the 80th birthday of Jimmy Adamson, closely associated with both clubs. Could we perhaps reproduce the photo? We put the question to D Bentley and S Meakin, listed as the relevant contacts in the club’s press office.

If I am to be honest, given my dealings with football club press offices, I expected a mean-spirited but reasonably courteous brush off. I did not receive a reply, and must assume that this rank lack of courtesy at least represented the mean-spirited brush off.

So we turned tio Flickr and Google photos, finding at the latter Andreas Andrews’s evocative terrace image. No apologies, Alastair, since it’s a bloody good picture. But here’s your early invitation: do the Q&A AND choose the photo when we meet again at the Stadium of Light …


* Centuries ago, I was The Daily Telegraph’s reporter covering the West Country. Alastair was working on a local paper in Cornwall. Local papers traditionally pay appalling wages and Alastair, anxious to eat (and to advance in his career), supplied occasional stories or help with stories for the national press. And I arranged his money – undoubtedly a pittance by comparison with what he got from the Mirror or Sun lads – so maybe that made me his paymaster. We’ve met a couple of times since those days, and – despite the bad press he tends to get – I have always liked the man. I had hoped the result from Turf Moor would leave him feeling miserable, but hadn’t bargained on so meek a Sunderland surrender in the second half of a game that was there to win.