OK people... you all know what we are up here, right? That a published Sunderland historian and author is giving you the privilege of a completely free chapter from his magnificent authorised biography of Charie Hurley, "The Greatest Centre Half The World Has Ever Seen". You know all that, yeah? Good, just checking.
Another reminder that stocks are quite limited, so if you fancy one for yourself or for someone's Christmas box we'd recommend grabbing them while you can.
For a fourth time, over to you, Mark...
Emotions among the Roker crowd could run high, and many a Sunderland player, both before and after Hurley’s time, could expect to incur the crowd’s wrath if they failed to produce the goods. Clearly a fine start was essential.
Which is precisely what did not happen on October 5th 1957 at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool, when Charlie Hurley replaced George Aitken at centre half for his debut game. Not all Sunderland supporters were happy about his inclusion and during the 1957–58 season a number wrote to the Sunderland Sports Echo to confirm this. Before the game, Argus had written that he fancied Sunderland to get a point. Buoyed by the signing of Hurley and the league debut of seventeen-year-old Alan Spence from Houghton-le-Spring in County Durham, not to mention the chance of a decent night out on the beer, a large number of fans travelled to the match. Argus reported that "there was a strong contingent of North-East supporters in the crowd", which was well above average.
Bloomfield Road, which in the twenty-first century has a limit of less than 10,000, had a near capacity crowd of 33,172 on the day. They saw the Seasiders equal their best ever league victory as, inspired by Stanley Matthews, they tore apart Sunderland, scoring in the first minute. Blackpool’s team also included England full back, and now BBC radio summariser Jimmy Armfield and ex-Manchester United forward Ernie Taylor, later to join Sunderland.
At half-time it was 4-0, with Hurley’s centre forward opponent Ray Charnley scoring twice. And, despite left winger Bill Perry being injured and virtually a spectator and Charnley off the pitch from the sixtieth minute, the home side scored another two to make it 6-0.
Then, with a minute to go, "Hurley in attempting to clear turned the ball against the underside of the bar and over the line" reported Argus, who commented that Hurley’s introduction to the defence had "far from bringing about an improvement" thrown it into confusion.
Although it was a few weeks before most people, even in the USSR, knew about it, the day before Hurley’s debut at Blackpool on October 4th 1957 the Soviet Union had successfully launched Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite. This hurtled into space and orbited the earth in little more than ninety minutes. Hurley, who celebrated his 21st birthday that day, would probably have found himself less confused had he been in space rather than in the middle of Sunderland’s defence.
The two teams lined up that day as follows:
Blackpool – Farm, Armfield, Garrett, J Kelly, Gratrix, H Kelly, Matthews, Taylor, Charnley, Durie, Perry.
Sunderland – Fraser, Hedley, McDonald, Anderson, Hurley, Elliott, Hannigan, Revie, Spence, O’Neill, Grainger.
Although Spence was to play only four more times for Sunderland, he went on to enjoy a substantial career in the lower leagues and by the time he retired he had rattled home 120 goals in close to three hundred league appearances.
Things could only get better. They did, but only marginally when the following week Sunderland went back to Lancashire and lost 6-0 at Burnley. In goal manager Alan Brown, returning to his previous club for the first time, was forced by injuries to play Ronnie Routledge in only his second game. Unlike Hurley, who was to go on and make hundreds more appearances for the Wearsiders, Routledge never played again, moving on to Bradford Park Avenue.
"At Burnley Charlie put his foot on the ball and tried to go round somebody, lost it and it was in the back of the net; people thought ‘Oh no, what have we bought here?’" recalls Stan Anderson.
And Hurley remembers his first game: "Goodness gracious, seven-nil. Someone said years later had I scored two own goals. I said I didn’t score any but I did make four! Because I was a footballing centre half I could only play one way. Alan Brown signed me because he was once a centre half. But he was a cruncher, so he must always deep down have wanted to be a footballing centre half because otherwise you would never sign a guy like me. So anyway it got a lot better as it was Burnley away and we lost six-nil!
"Charlie Summerville, from the Daily Mail, came up to me and said, ‘Charles, what are you going to do, you’ve been signed to improve the defence and it was seven-nil and six-nil’ and I said to him, ‘How many players improve so quickly? In about six games’ time we could get to a clean sheet’. Charlie loved me after that… seven and six made thirteen. It could have been very unlucky for me.
"I was also lucky enough to go to Sunderland in 1957. I didn’t like it when I first went there, plus the first time I went into a club you know and there was bingo on and the caller pulled out seventy-six and said ‘seven and six’ was Charlie worth it! I missed my family and loads of mates. I didn’t know at the start what would happen, I just thought I’d be another footballer for Sunderland football club who’d play a few years and then move on. I didn’t know I would still be remembered more than fifty years later for example. I didn’t know that I was going to be as good as I was."
Hurley’s arrival led to the departure of Ray Daniel, signed from Arsenal in June 1953 for the considerable sum of £27,500. Capped twenty-one times by Wales, he was highly thought of by the Roker Park crowd, not least for his willingness to go forward with the ball.
He made 136 league appearances for Sunderland, scoring six goals. A fee of £7,500 saw him return to Wales and Cardiff City. Billy Bingham, who when he left Sunderland in the summer of 1958 had already been capped thirty-three times by Northern Ireland, was disappointed to see Daniel leave.
Writing later in his book Soccer with the Stars, Bingham said that "Ray could still have given some useful service to Sunderland at a time when we needed all we could get. I couldn’t understand why he was now relegated to being the second team’s twelfth man, whose main duty was to carry the skip containing the team’s gear. He was the kind of player who needed kidding along not slapping down. However it was obvious that Big Charlie was a player for the future. Almost as good a ball-player as Daniel himself, he made fewer mistakes and was brilliant in the air, both in defence and attack."
Charlie Hurley made his home debut on Saturday October 19th 1957 against Preston North End. The match ended goalless but that did not stop him being criticised by Argus who reported that "the defensive side of his work was distinctly shaky at times."
The Roker crowd, however, were prepared to be patient. Writing in the 1964 Promotion Souvenir Brochure, Hurley recalled his home debut: "You can imagine how I felt in my Roker Park debut… and if ever supporters stood by a player at a time when he needed it most then this was it. I shall always be indebted to you for that."
Hurley, in fact, took a big gamble playing against Preston. Tom Finney was due to turn out at centre forward and Hurley admits years later that he was nowhere near fit.
"I’d picked up an injury at Burnley. Alan Brown didn’t want me to play but I said very firmly ‘I’m playing, I have been crap up to now’. You see I had something to prove. But it was a relief to hear Tom, an absolutely brilliant footballer, wasn’t playing."
According to Sunderland fanatic Brian Leng, who has followed the team for more than fifty years and who became a big fan of Hurley, "Charlie looked out of his depth for quite some time when he first came to the club."
Apart from Bingham, Hurley’s new teammates included Don Revie, bought from Manchester City in November 1956, Billy Elliott, signed from Burnley for £23,000 in August 1951 and who was capped five times by England, and a man who went on to make 402 league appearances for Sunderland, Stan Anderson. In goal, twice-capped for Scotland, was Australian-born Willie Fraser.
Sunderland were unlucky that a last-minute equaliser stopped them from winning at Sheffield Wednesday when George Aitken returned to the line-up alongside Hurley. In his after match report of the 3-3 draw John Bowman noted that "the biggest improvement of all came from Charlie Hurley. After a fluttery start, he really stood out, with his strong headers and smart passing." Hurley was on his way at Sunderland.
Supporters who travelled to Sheffield by train for the game would have left at 7.53am, arriving at Sheffield two hours and twenty-three minutes later at a cost of 17s and 6d [88p]. This would have represented a hefty outlay from the wages of, say, an assistant-cook where for a forty-six-hour week at the Sunderland Eye Infirmary the pay was £6 6s and 3d [£6.31]. The average wage was around £9. Hurley’s wages were £17 a week or double the average, a not inconsiderable sum, but nothing like the gap there is today between a Premier League player, the equivalent of the First Division in Hurley’s day, and those who follow them.
The players were at that time clearly right to be annoyed that despite large crowds they were failing to be properly rewarded. Perhaps as an indicator of changes to come, the Football Association decided in October to overturn the previous season’s bans against Sunderland directors Stanley Ritson and Laurie Evans for making illegal payments to the players.
Mind you, according to Hurley, some of the players could have done a little more to earn their pay, revealing perhaps why Ray Daniel had been made twelfth man for the reserves. "Ray Daniel was a lovely guy who dressed immaculately. But he’d come in on the morning and stand in front of the mirror and say ‘I don’t know whether to take off my overcoat for training today’. On Fridays, some of the players would just walk round the pitch with their suits on, but the Bomber sorted them out."
Hurley had to wait until his sixth game before tasting victory in Sunderland’s red and white stripes, a 3-2 win at Birmingham City with two goals from Revie and one from Bingham. Bryan Orritt hit the bar for Birmingham in the last few minutes; he was to get his revenge later in the season.
Making his debut for Sunderland that day was Ambrose Fogarty, who Hurley got to know rather well because he was sent to share a bed with his fellow Irishman at 33 Grindon Terrace in Sunderland.
As Hurley recalls: "The club put me up to lodge with Elsie Common and her husband Tom. Elsie was a lovely woman; Tom was a bit of a critic of mine. I was in a very small room, Amby Fogarty came and we were both sleeping in the same bed; thankfully it was at least a double one!"
Remember everyone, we've been running this each and every day this week, so come back tomorrow for more about the King. If you missed part one, just click HERE, HERE for part two, and HERE for part three.