River Tay – July

With a slightly punk-rock appearance the goosander is one of my favourite ducks. A couple of days ago whilst walking along the banks of the River Tay I saw a family group that was 11 strong. Setting aside that I thought this would make for a football team, I was amazed to see that at one point all 11, yes all 11, were under the water at the same time.

River Tay daylight

I’ve seen a lot of interesting birds on my walks along the banks of the Tay.  An osprey overhead, a heron and a buzzard squabbling, the unmistakable sight and sound of swans flying overhead and a range of small birds in the oaks that line the banks here – treecreeper, goldcrest, long-tailed tit and blackcap are among my favourites. But occasionally a sight really stops you in your tracks — this charming goosander family was certainly one of those.

Goosander are undeniably attractive birds. This sleek family group was composed of Mum and ten youngsters, with their chocolate brown heads, lovely muted grey bodies and spiky heads they stand out from the crowd. They have long slender beaks, untypical of many ducks, but totally typical of ‘sawbills’ — a particular kind of duck adapted to catching fish.

The is something extremely elegant about the goosander. Although they slip underwater with a bit of energy they re-emerge with a smooth gliding movement. It reminded me of a cork held under water being released and popping to the surface. Watching a duck like this slide beneath the surfaced has a frisson of excitement — “How long will it be underwater for?”, and “Where will it rise?” are the two questions I always ask myself.

Counting them was great fun too.  I had my binoculars firmly fixed on the group but initially each time I tried to count them one or two would dive under before I could complete my count. Eventually I did manage to complete counting them and I was grateful that they were tightly bunched.

The goosander is mentioned in the introduction to one of my favourite books – Baxter and Rintoul’s The Birds of Scotland. In an opening section there is mention that goosander were at one time ‘slain because they were said to each fish fry’. When I dipped into Birds Britannica there was similar reference to the fact that goosander’s fondness for young salmon and trout had made it an unwelcome sight on traditional fishing rivers. Based on this I can only presume that they are very effective fishermen.

I lingered for some time watching them, amazed at their unity of purpose and sense of family.

River Tay

On the way back to the house I had one more connection with nature. The blackbird is often overlooked due simply to sheer familiarity. That’s a great pity as it is a wonderful songster. But today the sight I watched was a chocolate brown female leaping fearlessly  into a raspberry bush to grab the juicy fruit. It was a lovely sight and made for the perfect end to a very relaxing walk.



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Rugby Park, Kilmarnock

My question had been “What’s wrong with Rugby Park?”

“The name for a start!”, was the annoyingly logical reply. 

“And, that wee red-roofed covered terracing stuck out by the corner flag.  What’s going on there?”, my friend added, clearly less than enamoured with the eccentricities of Killie’s ground.


That was back when Rugby Park, home to Kilmarnock, was one of Scotland’s quirkier football stadiums. Sure, it was neat and tidy with acres of finely manicured emerald green grass. The verdant pitch seemed slightly removed from the fans who were kept a respectful distance from the turf by vast swathes of concreted terracing lazily arcing away towards neat bungalows. There was no towering terracing, no precarious high vantage point to be had.

The stadium housed a cavernous covered terracing along one touchline complete with imposing, almost industrial looking, stubby floodlights on the roof. There was further cover from the elements in the form of a bizarre piece of barely covered terracing perched bending one goal, off centre it seemed tucked away in a corner as if to say “Don’t judge us on this part of ground, it’s a bit of an afterthought, a work in progress. But do come and stand here if you want to be detached from the main buzz”.

That little bit of terracing, known as the Johnnie Walker end, had huge white lettering on a red roof (and remember Killie’s colours were blue and white). It seemed very crude and piecemeal compared to the other Rugby Park structures.  But it certainly gave something out of the ordinary to this ‘conservative’ ground, particularly as the main stand was typical of so many in Scotland. Dark, predominantly blue with the almost obligatory ‘enclosure’ down pitchside where, in true Scottish tradition, the most fiercely vocal critics, often men of a certain age, positioned themselves, all the better to berate the players as they entered and left the field. Behind that stand was yet more open, lush grass. Kilmarnock it seemed owned a huge patch of this Ayrshire town.

I liked the old Rugby Park, an impressive oasis of green amidst the tight grid of streets that surrounded the stadium. Tucked away amongst Scottish provincial prosperity it struck me as a good place to watch football. Oh, and the pitch not only looked good but was endorsed by the SFA, who often took the Scotland national team there for training sessions.

In a way it is odd that I found Kilmarnock’s grand old stadium so inviting as my first trip there had been rather hairy. When Scotland had three leagues, the Premier League was alarmingly easy for sides to be relegated from and on one notable occasion it was the mighty Hearts who fell through the relegation trap door. Unthinkable it seemed, the famous Heart of Midlothian reduced to scrapping it out in the second tier.

For some Hearts fans, the scrapping element was taken quite literally. The name Heart of Midlothian might have been distinguished but in the late 1970s some Hearts supporters were anything but. Early in the 1977/78 season a struggling Kilmarnock tackled the newly demoted Hearts amidst a backdrop of continual fighting. The afternoon became an orgy of punch-ups with fans charging at each other seemingly oblivious at times to the game on the pitch and the glorious sunny afternoon. I ended up seeking safety in the distant, uncovered end behind one goal as fans traded blows, and at one point we were offered a close up of an intense wresting match between a wayward Hearts fan and the exasperated police behind the goal.

The Glasgow Herald reporter was not impressed by these boisterous shenanigans and noted that he (for it was always male football reporters in those days) had witnessed an afternoon of continual ‘skirmishing’ – a word I think you would be unlikely to come across in today’s paper. It was a sour afternoon and I’m pretty sure that not long after this grounds in Scotland became formally segregated. Oh, and the match ended 1-1.

Fast-forward to a balmy summer evening a decade later and I had quite a different experience at Rugby Park. An evening when you felt you were in on something special. The wily Tommy McLean, who had once been a star Kilmarnock player, was the Motherwell manager who lured Davie Cooper from Rangers to deepest-darkest Lanarkshire. I trotted along to witness the great maestro make his Motherwell debut in a Skol League Cup tie at Kilmarnock and along with 4 or 5 thousand others was treated to a sumptuous display of open, exciting football. Kilmarnock I’m afraid was merely the stage to a Motherwell renaissance.

It was mid-August and one of those rare Scottish languid, summer evenings. In a big sparsely populated ground like Rugby Park you could sit down on the terracing and enjoy a match as I imagine you might in Italy or Spain. As a pleasant evening unfolded it was clear that the majestic Cooper was going to be a huge hit for Motherwell. Tommy McLean, taciturn but talented, was constructing a very good Motherwell side with players of the calibre of Stevie Kirk and Bobby Russell. Purposeful, direct and entertaining a 4-1 romp for the ‘Well correctly hinted at better things on the horizon. They may not have been able to compete with the Old Firm but this Motherwell side were destined to be tricky customers indeed.

Cooper with his in-built footballing genius, his probing passes, his dead-ball accuracy always posed a threat, whilst the slightly built Russell was the master of precision and seemed unable to waste a pass or possession. I still have the odd square programme from that match, Killie having at long last moved on from their little pocket sized offering that carried what was fairly described by programme enthusiasts as minimalist information.

Kilmarnock were bit-players again when they hosted Hibernian in a 2001 Scottish Cup tie. A goal with a minute remaining by Tom McManus catapulted Hibs towards another fruitless tilt at landing the Scottish Cup but in the moment the win was a great example of the drama that football occasionally does so well. That evening the colours within Rugby Park positively sparkled, aided by the bright floodlights, the shimmering electronic scoreboard, and the green of the massed Hibs fans colours contrasted neatly with the Killie blue to give a warm backdrop.  As the winning goal hit the net there was a delayed reaction before the Hibs fans roar filled the evening sky. Under the lights the new look Rugby Park was rather impressive looking, certainly more so than the likes of Motherwell’s Fir Park where the old had given way to the new in a jumble of structures that had considerably less style or togetherness.

As a boy, desperately obsessed with football, Kilmarnock had a magic and mystery about them. They had won the league in 1965, their Esso foil badge had squirrels on it, their name started and ended with the same letter ‘K’, and they were a football club who bizarrely played at Rugby Park.  What wasn’t there to like about this grand old club and Rugby Park.


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No way to treat a guest

It doesn’t seem that long ago players wore numbers 1 to 11, all games kicked off on a Saturday at precisely 3pm, children could be lifted over the turnstiles, and the first real inkling you got of results arrived with the Saturday evening sports paper. Depending on where you lived that sports paper might be pink, green or even sky blue. I exaggerate just a little, for effect, but the game has in a few short decades changed remarkably.

One of the lesser known changes has been the loss of the ‘blank Saturday’ friendly.  Let me explain.

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, say, when a big club went out of the FA Cup, particularly in the Third Round, then a yawning chasm opened in the fixture list – a Saturday that was previously pencilled in a FA Cup Fourth Round day was suddenly empty. That was the fate that befell Sunderland after losing 4-1 to Blackburn Rovers in the 1960 FA Cup Third Round.

To fill the void on Fourth Round day many English clubs looked north of the border and played out friendlies against ‘exotic’ Scottish cousins. I mention this because it serves to recall a day when Sunderland entertained Celtic and promptly pulled the ‘red carpet’ from under their guest’s feet.


Today Celtic sweep all before them in in Scotland, so it is hard to imagine that Sunderland, then in the Second Division, ungraciously thumped their Glaswegian visitors 7-1. Celtic, I should add, were not on cup duty that day rather perplexingly as they had received another long-forgotten piece of history – the cup tie ‘bye’ –  a strange arrangement whereby a club was given a free pass into the next round; simply because this was an era in which having the requisite number of teams to give an ‘even’ number of cup ties somehow escaped football’s administrators.

Saturday, January 30 1960 was FA Cup Fourth Round day – all sixteen ties kicked off mid-afternoon and meanwhile in Birmingham, Manchester, Stoke and Sunderland the red carpet – or at least a muddy equivalent – was rolled out for Dundee, Hibernian, Airdrie and Celtic respectively.

At Roker Park, for it was the grand old ground in those days, the match did not go quite to plan for the visitors. The red and white criss-cross pattern on the main stand might have seemed familiar to some Celtic followers, being as it was a red version of the self-same blue and white pattern that adorned the balcony of the Rangers main stand. Afterwards the Glasgow football press would grumble about the weather. They noted that the north-east had endured days of constant rain in the run up to the game and that the pitch quickly resembled a quagmire – although presumably for both sides.

Sunderland scored, and scored again, and kept on scoring until the poor Celtic goalkeeper was bemused.  7-1 was the result; remarkably it had been 5-1 at half time.

Lowther and Goodchild scored in the opening 10 minutes, Lowther again and Fogarty were on the scoresheet before half an hour had elapsed. Grainger made it five with only a Byrne consolation salvaging anything from a torrid 45 minutes for Celtic. O’Neill and Anderson added further second half goals for Sunderland to heap the misery on the Scots, who doubtless must have regretted venturing over Hadrian’s Wall.

Mind you January 30 was an odd day. In the Scottish Cup St. Mirren started their Scottish Cup journey in style when they scored 15 against Glasgow University and Gerry Baker,  brother of the famous number nine Joe, scored no fewer than 10.  And that’s a good place to end because the very next season Joe Baker himself scored 9 in a Scottish Cup tie when Hibs thrashed Peebles Rovers 15-1 in 1961. Nineteen goals in two cup ties for a pair of brothers.

Changed days indeed.

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Morton’s Danish Delights

The Danish invasion of Cappielow Park in the 1960s was largely the work of Morton’s charismatic owner Hal Stewart. Like many successful stories it began almost by accident.

Back in the 1960s Danish players were amateurs and this meant that in essence they were free agents. Any club wishing to sign a Danish player had merely meet the player’s own personal terms. However, there was a twist. A professional player in the early sixties was not eligible to play international football for Denmark, so there was reluctance amongst some players to go down a route which would, in an instant, end their international careers.

Given the relatively modest state of their domestic football, and a reliance on part-time players, Danish football represented a largely untapped market. The trick that Hal Stewart performed was to persuade those amateur players that if they turned professional and came to Scotland the personal rewards would outweigh the loss of international football.

The Morton owner was right. Almost all of the Danish players Morton signed used the Greenock club as a staging post to bigger and better deals.

The first signing Stewart made was the young blond goalkeeper Erik Sorenson. Rumour has it that the Morton owner actually travelled to see another goalkeeper and a casual remark alerted Stewart to the potential that Sorensen was a better option. This throw-away comment set an unlikely transfer in train.

Signed in March 1964 Sorensen’s debut was to become a story in itself. The young Dane was fielded as a trialist in a friendly against Third Lanark and Hal Stewart battled to keep his identity under wraps. His aim was probably to avoid being ‘gazumped’ but inadvertently he created an air of mystery that captivated the Scottish footballing press. Sports journalists were left puzzled by what Morton were up to and latched onto the fact that Sorensen wore all black (which was actually common place amongst continental goalkeepers) and thus introduced their readers to Morton’s man of mystery as the ‘man in black’ and ‘Mr. X’. Stewart’s Scandinavian experiment was thus launched with an element of intrigue.

There was mind you noticeable interest in Morton in Spring 1964. The club were on the crest of a wave. About to be crowned Second Division champions – in an era when Scotland had a simple two league structure – they would win no fewer than 32 of their 36 league games and net an astonishing 135 league goals. In Allan McGraw they had a striker who found the net over 50 times in a truly remarkable season that also saw them contest the Scottish League Cup final.

Sorensen was duly signed, his Scandinavian identity unveiled, and Morton had caught the eye.  This was an audacious signing. The young goalkeeper had 10 international caps as well as eight Under-23 awards and was undoubtedly a great capture.

In April 1964, the ink barely dry on the Sorensen signing, Morton further strengthened their side by signing full back Kai Johansen from Odense and he was followed a few weeks later by experienced midfielder Jorn Sorensen. The signing of the latter was a departure from the amateur script as Jorn has played in France with Metz, and his arrival revealed that Morton were so taken by their Danish experiment that they wouldn’t be restricted to amateur players. But it was back to the Danish league that Morton returned when they snapped up a new striker – Carl Bertelsen – from Esbjerg.

Buoyed by this dash of the exotic the 1964/65 season was a roller-coaster for Morton supporters. With their Danish imports they had high hopes. The season began with Morton in rampant form and although they ultimately finished in mid table they had shook up a rather staid domestic football scene and brought a dash of glamour to the Scottish game.

There was a flurry of activity in 1965 with the likes of Preben Arentoft and John Madsen beating a path to Greenock. Indeed, when Madsen signed his arrival marked a high point with no fewer than 11 Danes then playing in the top league in Scotland.

1966 brought Per Bartram and he, like Bertelsen, proved a highly efficient finisher. But by this stage it was clear that Hal Stewart wasn’t averse to turning a quick profit on his Scandinavian imports and Bartram was gone in a flash after demonstrating his prowess in front of goal. Good strikers it seems have always had a market and Stewart was content that Morton were a ‘selling club’.

Arguably the fans were less impressed. One Morton fan quipped, after the two Sorensen’s and Johansen had joined Rangers “If it goes on like this, we will have to go to Ibrox to watch Morton!”

As things transpired the ruling on only amateurs being able to represent Denmark would end in May 1971, thus Morton’s timing was fortunate, a few years later and the window of opportunity would be firmly shut.


Morton’s Danish stars

Erik Sorensen – Odense Boldklub – Morton – Rangers (£30,000)

Kai Johansen – Esbjerg – Morton – Rangers (£20,000)

Carl Bertelsen – Esbjerg – Morton – Dundee

Jorn Sorensen – Metz – Morton – Rangers (£15,000)

Preben Arentoft – Bronshoj BK – Morton – Newcastle United (£17,000)

John Madsen – Esbjerg – Morton – Hibs

Per Bartram – Odense Boldklub – Crystal Palace (£20,000)

Leif Nielsen – Houston All Stars – Morton

Bjarne Jensen – AGF Aarhus – Morton – FC Gronigen

Flemming Nielson – Atalanta – Morton – B93

Borge Thorup – Bronshoj – Morton – Crystal Palace



Morton’s Danish Who’s Who …

Erik Sorensen – Born in Odense in January 1940, Erik signed for Morton from Odense Boldklub 1913. His arrival in Greenock was accompanied by a swathe of Danish reporters who had journeyed over from Copenhagen desperate to see how one of their own settled into his new surrounds.

As an amateur Sorensen had a career outside football, in his instance with a Danish shipping company. He was 24 when he joined Morton and had amassed 10 full caps and 8 Under 23 caps.

His debut had come in a friendly against Third Lanark and Hal Stewart was keen to keep his identity secret until the deal was signed and sealed. Thus for a short period Sorensen was known as ‘The Man in Black’ or ‘Mr X’.  He had his full debut at Cappielow and was clearly a big attraction, some 10,000 coming along to watch Morton tackle Alloa. The Evening Times noted the good work he did as being ‘in typical continental style.’

In July 1967 he moved to Rangers in a £25,000 transfer but he didn’t appear to settle and the fact that the Ibrox club narrowly lost the 1967/68 league title chase appeared to dent his confidence.

In August 12 1970 Erik returned to Morton and given that he lived in the town and had a pub in Greenock this seemed a sensible move. In the 1971/72 season he didn’t miss a single game. His return to Greenock was on a free transfer and he dabbled in coaching after his playing days ended.

Kai Johansen – not long after Morton had signed Erik Sorensen they lured Danish international full back Kai Johansen to Greenock. Like Sorensen he had been born in Odense (February 1940) and was a fine athlete standing at 5’9” and weighing in at a trim 11st 8lbs.

Hal Stewart would happily relay the story of how he signed Johansen, “I got such first-class intelligence reports from Denmark about Johansen in 1964 and I went straight across to watch him play in an international match. What I saw convinced me that this was the defence man that Morton needed – if I could get him. I saw he had outstanding ability and I was not surprised to learn that he was not only Denmark’s international full back but that he was also an automatic choice for the Scandinavian team.” Later he would add “… Kai has such good control that he can hold the ball and keep it under control until he sees one of his team-mates move into the open space. Then he pinpoints his passes – long ones and short ones – with deadly accuracy.”

Hal Stewart sold Johansen to Scot Symon’s Rangers in June 1965 for £20,000 and in the Scottish Cup final replay at the end of that season the Dane scored the only goal as Rangers beat their arch-rivals 1-0 at Hampden Park. Kai made over 200 appearances for the Ibrox club. He would later live South Africa but always maintained a home in Scotland where he had come to appreciate the Scottish culture.

Carl Bertelsen – signed in time for the start of the 1964/65 season, as Morton returned to the top flight for the first time in twelve years. The Evening Times noted that Kai Johansen was going to meet Bertelsen at the airport and take him to the west end of Greenock where the striker, like Sorensen and Johansen would be housed in a bungalow.

Bertelsen made his debut in an insipid League Cup tie against Dumbarton which ended 1-1. By October 1964 Morton had Sorensen, Johansen and Bertelsen in their team and the Danish revolution was clearly gathering momentum. With McGraw and Harper as strikers they had a strong side. After half a dozen games Morton were pushing for top spot. The team were wearing a light blue strip and a phantom bugler was making himself heard whenever Morton were on the attack during home games.

Bertelsen didn’t stay with Morton long but he lodged in the memory by dint of his goals and one remarkable match against Celtic. On January 23 he starred in a 3-3 draw with Celtic in which he scored two of the Morton goals and had a third ruled out on the stroke of time as the referee had sadly already blown for time.

He was sold to Dundee in 1965.

Jorn Sorensen  – A native of Nibe in Denmark, Sorensen (no relation to Erik) was a highly skilled midfield player and would win 31 caps for Denmark. He cost Morton a then club record fee of £15,000 when he was signed from French club Metz in October 1964.

Jorn enjoyed a scoring debut in a 2-2 friendly draw with Coventry City. One of his claims to fame was playing in the Stanley Matthews benefit match along with fellow Dane Kai Johansen and at the start of the 1965 season he saw Johansen move to Rangers and soon made the short journey along the M8 himself. However, before me moved he grabbed Morton’s first goal of the season in a 2-1 League Cup win at St. Mirren and a week later he scored against Hibs at Cappielow. But with Morris Stevenson vying for the same number 10 spot in the team, and being six years younger, Hal Stewart elected to sell Sorensen to Rangers on 24 August 1965 for £15,000 plus one fringe Rangers player. However, he was only in Glasgow for one season and managed just 16 matches.

He ended his career with just over 30 caps for Denmark.

Preben Arentoft  – Born in November 1942, Preben signed for Morton from  Bronshoj (Denmark) in 1965 and in just under four years with the club made over 100 appearances.  He was later sold to Newcastle United for £17,000. That transfer came in March 1969 and proved a most fortunate time to join Newcastle, they were en route to winning the 1969 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup final and Arentoft would net in the second leg of the final against Ujpest Dosza of Hungary.

He eventually finished his professional career with Blackburn Rovers whom he joined in October 1971.  Arentoft won 9 Danish international caps.

John Madsen –  A powerful centre-half John joined Morton in August 1965 and came with 20 full caps to his name. He made his debut (ironically as it would transpire) against Hibs on August 25, but the occasion was marred by the fact that Morton fans were still coming to terms with the loss of the influential Jorn Sorensen to Rangers and had threatened a boycott; Hibs romped home 5-1.  He moved east to Hibs from Morton in 1966 and had four seasons in Edinburgh until returning to Denmark to pursue his career as an architect.

Per Bartram –  One of Odense Boldklub’s most famous players, Per’s career has a strange symmetry. He moved in this mirror-image fashion – Odense, Morton, Crystal Palace, Morton, Odense.

Born in January 1944, he joined Morton in 1966 when he was 22 and made a very favourable impression. He came to the club with 10 international caps and used all that prowess in April 1969 when he scored a hat-trick against Celtic, but not only that, all of his goals came in the opening 10 minutes! There was a certain surreal atmosphere at Celtic Park, the match falling just days after Celtic had beaten Rangers 4-0 in the Scottish Cup Final and they celebrated with the thee domestic trophies on the pitch before the game kicked off. Perhaps this over-relaxed Jock Stein’s team, but at any rate Morton won a famous victory and Per wrote his name into Morton history.

Nicknamed ‘Batman’ he joined Crystal Palace in August 1969 for £20,000, however, his time at Selhurst Park never really took off and he returned to Morton on loan in December 1970 having made only 12 outings for Palace (with 3 goals). Per doubled that goal tally with Morton in what remained of the 1970/71 campaign.

A strong centre-forward he retired from football in 1977 having by that stage helped Odense BK win their first ever league title.

Leif Nielsen – a commanding goalkeeper signed in 1969 from Houston All Stars of Texas, this was a surprise signing. As recently as 1966 Nielsen had been voted Denmark’s Player of the Year and he had won 34 caps.

His career in Greenock brought over 50 appearances for Morton, indeed he only missed one match in the 1969/70 season, but sadly the very next season Leif sustained a bad leg injury at Kilmarnock in October which effectively ended his playing career.

Bjarne Jensen – a right sided forward signed in 1967 from AGF Aarhus. At 5’11” and 12st he could handle the rough and tumble of the Scottish game having been a junior boxer as a youngster! He played for Morton in the 1969 Scottish Cup semi-final and seldom looked out of place against a very good Celtic side. Bjarne moved from Morton to Dutch side Gronigen in December 1969. He owned a hotel in the Greenock area and like a few of his Danish colleagues at Cappielow he married a local girl.

Flemming Nielson – Perhaps the most high-profile of Morton’s signings. Nielsen hailed from Copenhagen and was 30 when he moved to Scotland. He had been with Italian Serie A side Atalanta Bergamo and had won the Coppa Italia whilst in Bergamo. Some Scottish football fans might have noted the name as Nielson had played for the Italian League against the Scottish league in Rome in November 1962. Played as a sweeper, he spoke six languages and at six-foot tall cut a most imposing figure. When he left Morton it was to return to Copenhagen where served the B93 club.

Borge Thorup – was signed from Bronshoj of Denmark in 1966. He played just over 30 games for Morton and scored an impressive 15 league goals. Sold to Crystal Palace in 1969 he had a torrid time with injuries in South London and returned to Morton before winding down his career with Clydebank and then a Danish club. In his second spell with Morton he proved highly versatile and was on the scoresheet against both Celtic and Dundee United. He later returned to Greenock and settled in the area, living near Hunter’s Quay and working on the local ferry service.





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Roker Park and the World Cup

Just a few weeks to go now. Football fans across Europe are gearing up for the European Championships, and the international focus stays in Europe  after this eagerly awaited tournament as we look forward to the next World Cup finals which will be staged in Russia in 2018.

No matter how things go it will all be a far cry from 50 years ago when England famously hosted, and won, the World Cup.  Given that Sunderland staged no fewer than four matches in the tournament (at a time when only 16 clubs competed in the finals) the 1966 World Cup will be forever fondly remembered on Wearside.

The decision to host the World Cup in England was made in August 1960 in Rome. England pipped West Germany (at the time Germany was divided into East and West) by 34 votes to 27 and the selection of Roker Park as one of the venues was suggested from the very start.

Once the dust had settled on the Chile 1962 World Cup finals preparations began in earnest. In February 1963 the FIFA World Cup Planning organization group met for the first time, and by May was discussing the dates for the tournament and confirming that the tournament would be split between England’s North West, North East, Midland and London areas.


It was quickly agreed that all of the games were to be televised and the draw itself was scheduled for January 1966, by which time all of the organization and planning had to be completed.

That early 1963 organizing group was based at London’s White City Stadium, then a passable but not spectacular venue in London known for hosting speedway and dog racing. Never intended to host a World Cup football match, it was ultimately to stage an unlikely fixture when a prior dog-racing commitment meant that Wembley couldn’t host the Uruguay v. France fixture. It’s a lovely ‘going to the dogs’ story that probably won’t ever be repeated in a World Cup finals context.

Accommodation was a big issue as the visiting nations needed be housed near the stadiums where their matches were allocated. This might seem an obvious need today, but in the 1960s neither mass travel or choice of big hotels outwith capital cities were commonplace. Training facilities were also needed and even organizing food and meeting the demands of various chefs was an issue, with some nations bringing culinary preferences and diets that were quite different to those of England.

As a precaution block bookings of hotels were made to ensure that everyone who was participating in and traveling to the World Cup could be adequately housed.

Programme Cover

In October 1963 came the announcement that the grounds had been picked for the finals and at that time the north-east group was destined to be split between Sunderland and Newcastle. The prestigious quarter finals were to be be shared out between Wembley, Everton, Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday. The Government recognized that the World Cup was going to be the biggest event since the Tokyo Olympics of that year and announced that it had set aside £400,000 to assist with upgrading the various stadia.

Huge numbers of extra telephone lines had to be installed to ensure that the anticipated 1,600 journalists involved in covering the tournament could relay their stories back to base – this before the age of satellites, mobile phones, laptop publishing, or the current raft of television channels. Indeed, the BBC and the then independent broadcaster ITN agreed to pool their resources to avoid duplication of effort.

In March 1965 the Football Association Council met and agreed to approve £150,000 from FA Funds to help the six provincial clubs who were destined to be part of the 1966 World Cup (the others beyond Sunderland being Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough (who had stepped in to replace Newcastle), Everton and Manchester United). A special grants and loans committee was keen to see facilities at all of the selected grounds improved and the loans were to be interest free for five years. Clubs were thus ultimately able to collect funding from FIFA, the Government and Football League, above and beyond the FA loan.

By September 1965 The Times described Sunderland as ‘resembling a battlefield with cranes, bulldozers and concrete mixers changing an antiquated past’. The little Sunderland match programme of the 1965/66 season frequently carried a message on page two updating fans on World Cup news. The momentum was building.

That upgrade of Roker Park was indeed welcome. Some would say overdue.

In March 1964 the grand old stadium was tested to breaking point during a sixth round FA Cup replay with Manchester United – and police felt that round about 40,000 people were locked out. Safe to say that the game captured the imagination of football fans up and down England.

United, were not only cup holders, but a huge ‘celebrity’ draw and in Best, Charlton and Law arguably had the three most famous footballers in Britain in their ranks. As the crushes both inside and outside Roker Park worsened ambulances carried injured to hospital and a house near the stadium was used to treat the injured. Two gates were broken down and fans were gaining vantage points on the floodlighting pylons and a stand roof. Well and truly caught out by the interest the club had to concede later that it was a mistake that the game was not all-ticket.

There were six-mile traffic jams approaching Sunderland and when the game was underway Sunderland police force took the highly unusual decision to call on  reinforcements from Newcastle, South Shields and Durham to cope with the crush outside the stadium.   Just under 100 causalities were dealt with at hospital with almost 20 of those detained for further treatment. After the game a Sunderland official recorded that an official crowd of 46,727 had paid a healthy £9,800 at the turnstiles, but he admitted that there could have been “around 70,000 in the ground because two gates collapsed and many entrants didn’t go through the turnstiles.”

As it happens another big game was scheduled for Roker Park shortly afterwards as the English League tackled the Scottish League – an annual fixture in the 50s and 60s which, whilst already waning in importance, sparked some interest. Whether the Manchester United debacle had an impact is hard to say, but only 9,000 turned up for the 61st meeting of the old foes at league level; interestingly the stars of the show were arguably Jim Baxter (Rangers) and Neil Martin (Hibs) who would both later call Roker Park home. Baxter was nonchalantly classy whilst Martin scored the second Scottish goal in the 2-2 draw.

Jim Baxter

But back to the 1966 World Cup. Roker Park underwent a series of visually pleasing improvements, Sunderland taking full advantage of the loans and grants on offer.

The pitch was extended by three yards; an additional 9,000 seats were installed. The two tier Clock Stand saw permanent seating put into the rear section, and both this and the main stand had seating inserted into their paddocks whilst the Fulwell End was no only covered for the occasion, with a substantial roof, but seating went in there too. Add to the mix a suite of offices on stilts behind the main stand, and a TV gantry adorning the clock stand, and it is fair to say Roker Park got a real make-over.

Of the four matches Roker hosted three of them featured the USSR. However, it was Italy 2, Chile 0 that had the honour of being the first World Cup fixture at Roker Park. USSR then beat Italy 1-0 and Chile 2-1 and thus won their group and earned the right to play Hungary at Roker in a quarter final, which they duly won 2-1.

Russia featured heavily in Sunderland’s 1966 World Cup experience, and who knows, Sunderland might just provide players who influence the 2018 finals in Russia.

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Harry Hood

A tale of what might have been …

 For Harry Hood his Sunderland career remains a source of frustration. His arrival at Roker Park in November 1964 as a prolific Scottish goal-grabber should have heralded the start of something special.  That it didn’t shows just how fickle football can be.


Hood had been a sensation in Scotland, which in itself was amazing.  For the bulk of his student years he attended a rugby-playing school and only played football in the evenings with friends. A change of school sent him into a better football environment and within months he was in the school team and attracting the attention of scouts.  It was unfashionable Clyde who snapped him up in 1962 and when he rattled in 40 goals in 63 league appearances big things were on offer.

Harry remembers it well. “Things went really well for me with Clyde and pretty quickly I was a big fish in a small pond. The goals were flowing and I had 32 from 36 games in the 1963/64 season.  By the time I was 20 I was very quick, prolific in front of goal, and I knew I could make something of myself in the game.  I vividly remember that Celtic came in for me, but made a really disappointing wage offer so I turned them down.  The clubs had agreed a fee of £20,000 but the personal terms simply weren’t good enough;  I had a job outside football and Celtic were asking me to give that up to go full-time.  A few days later Sunderland came calling and made me a better offer, Clyde were even happier with a much improved £26,000 fee. The strange thing was that Sunderland had no manager. However, the ‘Bank of England’ tag was still in the air and I knew that this was a club with huge potential and a great opportunity for me to try full-time football in a quality league. It was a strange day actually because only seven hours before they signed me Sunderland’s directors had bought John Parke from Hibernian for £30,000 !”

Debut day for Harry was to prove memorable.  Not just because Sunderland beat Burnley 3-2 but because Hood was bowled over by Roker Park and the atmosphere.  “I was absolutely stunned when I ran out at Roker Park for my debut. Remember in my career I would ultimately play in front of huge raucous crowds in Glasgow but I’ve never forgotten what the noise and atmosphere was like inside Roker Park.   The fans were our proverbial twelfth man on Wearside. Mind you if I am being completely honest I would have to concede that away from Roker we really struggled.”

Alas that winning home debut was one of the few Sunderland highlights for Harry who settled well but was then beset with bad luck.  “I had two real problems. The first was that shortly after a friendly against Celtic in August 1965 I was doing some weight-training in the gym and suffered a double-hernia. I had been desperate to put on some muscle and add a bit of strength but ‘the reward’ I got was to miss virtually a whole year of football.  The second was that I never really felt that my face fitted with manager Ian McColl.”

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“The interesting thing about being out for so long was that I was able to look at the club from a ‘distance’.  There were clearly problems. There were cliques in the team and when Ian McColl took over from George Hardwick you would have to say this probably got worse.  Yet my wife and I were loving living in Sunderland, we had a club house in Barnes Park and the people were great. We used to joke that the Sunderland folk were really Scots with strange accents !  In truth the club was going through a rocky patch and the 1960s were not kind to Sunderland. On the one hand there were great youngsters like Suggett, Todd and Hughes on the fringes but within the club there was a lack of genuine direction and leadership. It is hard to put your finger on what went wrong because in players like Charlie Hurley, Cec Irwin and Len Ashurst we had class acts.”

Hood would score nine goals in 30 Sunderland league appearances but wasn’t a regular first team pick.  When other clubs began to ask about his availability he decided he would have to leave to rebuild his career.  “I was sorry to leave Sunderland because I felt I could have done so much more. But by the time I left I wasn’t seeing eye to eye with Ian McColl and I felt he never gave the likes of myself or John O’Hare the run we deserved. John was a fair player and would go on to be a key part of Brian Clough’s success and I like to think I made a real fist of my Celtic career.  Anyway, I heard that Blackpool were interested in me but when I asked McColl about it he suggested that it was Oldham and Clyde who were waiting in the wings.  I was fuming because Blackpool were a big club at the time. When that move wasn’t going to happen I elected to return to Clyde.  That was a huge decision for me because it meant becoming part-time again, finding a job outside football and basically rebuilding my career.”

Back at Shawfield Park (the then home of Clyde) Hood rediscovered his form.  He scored in his only Under 23 appearance for Scotland (against England on 7 February 1968) and was eventually signed by Celtic for £40,000.  To be more precise the legendary Jock Stein signed Harry and here there was an interesting tale to tell.  “It was a great honour to be signed by Jock, remember this was not long after he had steered the Celts and the famous ‘Lisbon Lions’ to the European Cup itself.  He told me that when Sunderland signed John Parke from Hibs (Stein was Hibernian boss at the time) he had travelled to Roker Park for negotiations hoping that Sunderland would offer him what was then a very attractive vacant post. It never happened and I often wonder what would have become of Sunderland if big Jock had been persuaded to take the manager’s job. ”

It was his spell at Celtic that gave Harry the honours he craved. He joined late in the 1968/69 season and with five goals in seven games helped deliver the title to the green half of Glasgow. In the next season he cemented his place with the supporters by scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win over arch-rivals Rangers. In short Harry thrived at Parkhead and would win five championship medals, three Scottish Cups (he scored in two of those finals), and two League Cups.

Harry’s career wound down with a move to America with San Antonio, then Motherwell before brief management spells with Albion Rovers and Queen of the South. Today he is a successful hotelier but still recalls his time at Sunderland with a touch of humour and fondness.  “I was invited down to the final game at Roker Park and really enjoyed returning to the club. I sat with Nick Sharkey and he said ‘Harry, you know you ruined my career.’  ‘How do you work that out ?’ I asked. Quick as a flash he came back ‘Well when you left my career went into decline, you were my worker and after you went I had to do my own spade work. I don’t think people realize what an engine you had’.  You know that’s one of the nicest things anyone ever said about my time at Sunderland !”

Henry ‘Harry’ Hood

Born: 3 October 1944, Glasgow

Career as a player:  Clyde (63 games/40 goals), Sunderland (31/9), Clyde (87/30), Celtic (189/74), San Antonia Thunder, Motherwell (15/0), Queen of the South (32/4)

Career as a manager: Albion Rovers, Queen of the South

Today: A successful hotelier in Lanarkshire, Scotland




Sunderland 3 Burnley 2

Roker Park, Saturday, November 14, 1964

SUNDERLAND: Montgomery, Nelson, Ashurst, Elliott, Rooks, McNab, Usher, Herd, Hood, O’Hare, Mulhall

BURNLEY: Blacklaw, Smith, Buxton, O’Neil, Talbot, Miller, Morgan, Lochhead, Pointer, Bellamy, Price
Attendance: 35,902



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Red Star turn


The 1951 Festival of Britain was intended to breathe new life and some much needed cheer into post-war Britain and fell exactly a century on from the famous Great Exhibition of 1851.  Six years of ruinous World War had left the nation drained economically, physically and mentally. The Festival would help everyone envisage a brighter future and a celebration of architecture, commerce, design and technology was intended to lift the spirits.  Football, as the people’s game, was to play a part around the fringes of this remarkable festival.

Folding card

A potted history of Sunderland from a pre 1937 FA Cup win era.

Modern living was at the heart of The Festival. Inventions that would soon be mainstream such as the hoover, washing machine and television were showcased amid much hype, and in football Sunderland were lined up to play a glamour friendly against the relatively new club that became familiar as Red Star Belgrade.

There was considerable interest in the Festival of Britain football matches which were staged the length and breadth of the UK. The England v Argentina international clash, for example, attracted a crowd of 100,000 and was billed in South America as ‘The Match of the Century’.

Red Star Belgrade were perhaps not as a big a draw as the Argentinian national side, but as a relatively new club from communist Eastern Europe there was considerable interest in their arrival from Yugoslavia. They agreed to play three matches – against Preston North End, Manchester United and Sunderland.  Be wary if you search for evidence of these games, for in the early 1950s Red Star were often referred to by their ‘Yugoslav’ name of Crvena Zvesda.

How did Sunderland come to play Red Star ?  Basically the Football Association in England played a major role in contacting other football bodies across Europe and arranging for willing clubs to come to Britain to take part in the Festival Matches. Continental clubs like Red Star, Borussia Dortmund and Austria Vienna were amongst the more attractive guests.

To have visitors from behind the ‘iron curtain’ was quite something in post war Britain. Red Star for their part planned their visit to the ‘nth’ degree, even producing a small booklet for their players that gave details of the matches they would play and all of the train and bus arrangements for their travel between matches

Preston opened the tour on a positive English note when they beat Red Star 2-1 at Deepdale then a few days later on May 12 at Old Trafford Manchester United drew 1-1 with the men from Belgrade. A firm friendship was struck between the Manchester and Belgrade club but sadly it would be a draw seven years later in Belgrade between the same two clubs that would mark Manchester United’s last game before the Munich Air Disaster.

United, who would become a major force in European football, really rolled out the red carpet for Red Star. On the Friday before their game they held a banquet in honour of their guests at The Grand Hotel in Manchester. And what interesting guests they were. Founded in the dying embers of World War Two they were essentially a Serbian club and grew to be arguably Yugoslavia’s most famous club side. They had won the Marshall Tito cup in 1948, 1949, 1950 and were league runners-up when they travelled to England.

In 1951 Red Star followed their draw at Old Trafford by journeying to Wearside.  24,196 turned up at Roker Park to see Sunderland squeeze home 1-0 courtesy of a 34th minute goal by Ivor Broadis. Belgrade were managed by Ljubiša Broćić who would later manage Juventus and Barcelona and he was reportedly impressed by the Sunderland crowd’s appreciation of his team. The great appeal of a side from Yugoslavia was that in 1950 they had become the first foreign nation  to hold England  on English soil  and that same Yugoslavia side went on to reach the 1950 World Cup semi-finals, losing to Brazil in front of 142,000 fans

Red Star would have enjoyed tackling opponents who favoured red and white stripes as their home colours. They too wore red and white and by an odd coincidence their fiercest rivals (Partizan Belgrade) wore black and white stripes ! Partizan were, remarkably, in England at the same time and played matches at Hull and Middlesbrough.

Nowadays football is a genuinely international sport. World Cups and European Championships along with the Champions League and various prestige friendlies mean that we are all familiar with foreign opposition. Add to the mix the very cosmopolitan nature of club squads and extensive coverage of overseas football and it’s clear we no longer have that same element of the unknown about welcoming sides and players from beyond our shores. But back in 1950 it was very different, and the Festival of Britain brought a welcome touch of the exotic to post-war Britain and to football fans up and down the UK.


Sunderland 1, Red Star Belgrade 0

Sunderland : Mapson, Hedley, Hudgell, McLain, Hall, Wright, Bingham, Broadis, Davis, Shackleton, Watson

Red Star : Lovrić, Stanković, Tadić, Palfi, Diskić, Djajić, Ognjanov, Mitić, Jezerkić, Zlatković, Mihajlović.


Footnote: In May 1954 Sunderland’s goalscorer, Ivor Broadis, had another Yugoslavian encounter, this time playing for England in Belgrade. The match was a highlight in Belgrade and the England team were mobbed at the airport by welcoming Yugoslavian football fans. Played at Partisan’s stadium it was reckoned that in excess of 250,000 applications were made for tickets. Broadis by this time was routinely wearing the black and white stripes favoured by Partisan, but as a Newcastle player !

There were some familiar faces for Broadis three years on … both Mitic and Stankovic had played against Sunderland on Wearside in the Festival game. Indeed Mitic proved the winner  in Belgrade, scoring the decisive goal following a free kick by Stankovic. As burning newspapers were held aloft to form makeshift torches it is likely that Broadis would have been amazed at the contrast with the rather ‘proper’ Festival of Britain match that had first introduced him to the men of Belgrade.

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