Charlie Hurley Extravaganza Part Two - "Was He Worth It?"

Hurley Cover

Time for the second part of our brilliant Charlie Hurley extravaganza from historian and author Mark Metcalf with another lengthy extract from Chapter 4 of his book 'Charley Hurley: The Greatest Centre Half The World Has Ever Seen".

Information on Mark's range of books can be found HERE and can be bought at the usual places such as Amazon, for example.

A reminder that stocks are sure to be low, so if you fancy one for yourself or for someone's Christmas box we'd recommend grabbing them while you can.

Chapter Four

Seven and six, was he worth it? Hurley leaves London for Sunderland

For Millwall and Charlie Hurley the 1957–58 season in Division Three South started at home to Southampton. The South London Press reported that "Hurley was on the form that earned him his Eire cap – and that is certainly going to earn him a lot more. He completely dominated the centre of the field and the reports the talent scouts sent out must have set many a manager itching to get his hands on the cheque book."

The 2-1 defeat failed to knock Millwall, who followed up by recording four straight victories, the last 2-1 against Port Vale after which the South London Press match report stated: "Hurley so dominated the middle that Millwall were able to keep up a non-stop attack in a thrilling game."
In the sixth game, against Exeter City, Hurley and Anslow collided, resulting in a broken leg for the right back. Ten-man Millwall lost 2-0 and Anslow did not play again that season. Two weeks later Charlie Hurley left The Den.

Described by Hurley as the hardest full back he ever played alongside, Anslow has the following to say about the ex-Millwall centre half and football in general in the 1950s.

"Charlie Hurley’s strengths were his ability to read the game and control the defence. His biggest weakness was his self-belief; at times he needed to be reassured that he was doing everything that was asked of him. He did play exceptionally well in some games. When the Millwall crowd take to you then you are on a winner. They certainly took to Charlie.

"In those days players had to be tough because of the conditions we played in. Playing in the mud with leather boots and a leather ball was not a doddle. Some of us lads at Millwall socialised after training, which gave us a close feeling as a team. It was the best time of my life and I wouldn’t have changed a thing."

Hurley himself was in the wars at Home Park, injuring a toe as Plymouth Argyle triumphed 1-0, from where the South London Press reporter noted the home side’s marked advantage in midfield but felt this could "not detract from the good work of Hurley."

The final game of Hurley’s Millwall career took place in the derby at Loftus Road, won by Queens Park Rangers with three second-half goals against a flu-hit Lions. It was reported by the South London Press that "Charlie Hurley often came to the rescue and several times wandered up field to get his now disjointed attack going."

Until 1925 and a change in the offside law, centre halves had been attacking players. But then Herbert Chapman converted Herbie Roberts into a defensive player and the "stopper" centre half was born. That was the way it stayed until Stan Cullis, the Wolves and England centre half, who became manager of the Molineux side in 1949, leading to the Black Country club’s finest period, decided the pivot of his team should be the man who started his own team’s attacks as well as stopping the other team’s. Cullis was convinced that an attractive team needed a good footballer at centre half. But it was rare for a centre half to wander over the halfway line.

Sunderland’s season had started disastrously and when they lost 5-0 in the third match at Wolves, Argus reported that "the score would have been even greater but for wild shooting by the home team in the first half." A slight recovery was capped by the winning of the first Tyne–Wear derby of the season, a 2-0 Roker Park victory watched by only 45,718 on September 21st with Don Revie and left winger Colin Grainger scoring the goals. Grainger had been signed for £17,000 the previous season from Sheffield United, where he had won seven England caps. He went on to make 120 league appearances for Sunderland, scoring 14 times.

Despite the Newcastle victory, new manager Alan Brown, concerned about the heavy defeat at Molineux, was looking to bolster his defence. He had earmarked the Millwall youngster as the player he wanted at centre half. The Sunderland manager and his vice-chairman, Syd Collings, on holiday in London, attended the match at Loftus Road where they were given permission to speak to Hurley the following morning.

Hurley, with more than one hundred League appearances, not to mention his international debut, was not that impressed and was quoted in the Sunderland Evening Echo on September 25th: "I do not intend to leave my home in London. I am playing for a first team and I am on first team money. I am quite satisfied and I have already told the club that if I must be transferred then it’s got to be to another London club. Why should I move? I am happy at Millwall."

Hurley’s references to first team money are interesting in today’s context. Players at all clubs were restricted from earning more than the agreed "maximum wage", which in 1957 was £17 per week during the season and £14 in the close season. It was Sunderland’s breaking of these restrictions by making illegal payments that had put them in trouble during the summer of 1957. By moving, Hurley would not see his wages increased. Living at home with his parents and three brothers and three sisters was comfortable enough.

The Echo reported that "several clubs are known to be interested in Hurley" and that "no move has yet been made by Chelsea, but popular belief in London is that the player will end up at Stamford Bridge". Chelsea had won their first league championship only two years previously.

Bob Pennington, writing in the Sunday Express, urged the Pensioners to not delay, with the banner headline "DRAKE MUST BUY £20,000 HURLEY" accompanying a half-page article in which he stated "This supremely talented young Chelsea team needs only a player of Hurley’s undisputed class to mature into Britain’s greatest Soccer machine within five years."

Hurley was in such demand that he was asked to play for the South against the North in an exhibition six-a-side match at the White City, where, ironically, he lined up against Don Revie and Len Shackleton of Sunderland.

Meanwhile Millwall chairman Micky Purser said: "We have had a chat with the boy and now the matter rests with him. We don’t want to stand in his way if he wished to go into a better class of soccer." Millwall, however, needed the money and were lining up Ray Brand as Hurley’s replacement.

Hurley refused to yield to Brown’s persuasion and when the manager took the train to Leeds United for a midweek match that Sunderland lost 2-1 there appeared no prospect of Hurley changing his mind. Nevertheless Brown travelled back to London after the game to resume his appeal to the Millwall centre half.

On Friday September 27th 1957 the Sunderland Echo reported, alongside a Ritz Cinema advert for The Prince and the Showgirl featuring Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, that after Brown put his case to the family and "Mrs Hurley finally gave her parental approval (Hurley) had promptly made up his mind and signed on the spot."

In a series of radio interviews for the BBC years later Hurley admitted that in 1957 he "had no idea where Sunderland was and that my first reaction was ‘no way’ to going there. I really didn’t want to go but Alan Brown was a charmer. He hardly spoke to me. He spoke to my mother, lovely family, lovely house, my what lovely kids… in all fairness they weren’t that lovely, we’d had a tough old upbringing and a tough old life. My dad was a tough old cookie. The Bomber [Hurley’s nickname for Brown] was using his charm and he melted my mother. My dad just wanted me to become a famous footballer, so there were no problems with Dad and in the end I said OK."

One factor which had weighed against Hurley signing for Sunderland was revealed by Bob Pennington, who wrote afterwards that "the reason for Hurley’s indecision about leaving home was "a close knitted family where affection goes much deeper than family" with Hurley stating: "I’m one of the breadwinners here. It’s not easy you know. Dad was ill for three months. I was here at home to help out. Mum needs all the help she can get. She’s been wonderful to all of us."

When Hurley signed the contract he got £10 as a signing-on fee. He gave this to his dad to go out and celebrate with his mates. "He came back with £6 change – you’ve got to remember that he took an awful lot of people out. It was 10d [4p] a pint then, 10d a pint! Good beer as well."

By moving to Sunderland, Hurley joined a long list of Irish people who had migrated to the north-east. As long ago as 1851 the census showed there were 18,501 Irish by birth resident in County Durham.

It was reported that Hurley was signed by Sunderland for a fee of £18,000 plus an agreement for the club to play Millwall in a friendly game at The Den, the gate receipts of which were expected to add another £3,000 to the struggling club’s coffers.

Comparisons with today’s transfer fees are difficult but at the time the record fee for a player was £35,000, so the equivalent fee today might be around £15 million, and that for a centre half not yet twenty-one!

The Millwall fans knew just how good he was, because in 2007, in the run-up to the Dockers’ Day events at the New Den, a poll was organised by the Supporters Association and the Millwall fanzine The Lion Roars to pick the best player to ever play for Millwall – the largest number of votes went to Charlie Hurley.

Following the transfer, Hurley was given time off to prepare for Ireland’s World Cup qualifier against Denmark in Copenhagen the next Wednesday and so he missed Sunderland’s 3-0 defeat of Luton Town on the Saturday, a result that moved the Roker Park club up to seventeenth.

In front of a very angry Copenhagen crowd, Ireland won with goals from George Cummins, in the fifty-third minute, and Dermot Curtis nine minutes later. Writing later in the Sunderland Sports Echo, Hurley stated that "Older hands assure me I shall never play in a rougher international and that there were times when the angry crowd looked like taking complete control. The police kept them off the pitch with difficulty. About a thousand excited people waited for us after the match, challenging us to ‘come out’. We left the ground by a back entrance."

What appears to have caused particular fury was Ireland’s decision to employ an offside trap.

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Remember everyone, we're running this each and every day this week, so come back tomorrow for more about the King, and if you missed part one, just click HERE.

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