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Meeting A Legend: Charlie Hurley (Part Two) - 'Why I Love Sunderland'

This coming Saturday, Sunderland supporters young and old celebrate the life and career of arguably Wearside's greatest living legend, Charlie Hurley, who turned eighty years old last month. With that in mind, Sunderland supporter Mark Harrison kindly allowed us access to his candid interview at Hurley's home back in 2011 where he spoke about his time at the club - today we bring you part two.


Interview By @Harrmn, Words By @Gav1879. Conducted in 2011, written in 2016.


Before football became what it is today - dominated by over-paid, pampered man-babies and corporate entities that prostitute the sport in order to commercialise it for their own gain - it was a sport for the working people, played by men just like me and you that had grown up playing and loving the game of professional football.

So for people like Charlie Hurley, who came from an era completely indistinguishable when compared to the game of football that we know in 2016, it must surely be somewhat mind-boggling and frustrating seeing just how easy today's players have it.

"I remember we used to have to clean our own boots! Today the players have someone to do that for them!" Can you imagine Didier Ndong mercilessly scrubbing his brand new pair of colourful Nike boots with an old toothbrush?

"I recall reading that Harry Redknapp said they had to widen the parking spaces just to accommodate the huge cars these young kids have today. We used to have to break the boots in and break toenails until they were months old. No amount of dubbing would help. The ball was heavier than today and the boots so hard, the ball rarely made the half way line from a goal kick. It was just a completely different era."

And Charlie is right - it's barely the same sport. Sure, we still use a round ball, have a referee and eleven men on each side, but the difference between then and now are night and day. Sunderland just gave Lamine Kone a contract that is worth ninety-thousand pounds a week - just one week's pay for the Ivorian defender probably would have covered Sunderland's wage bill for a good few years in Hurley's day. "I signed for SAFC when the maximum wage was still in place, but when it was lifted in 1961 I was one of was one of the first on close to £100 per week. As one of seven kids we had great respect for money. I got a £1 signing on bonus!"

Hurley played with and against some truly tremendous footballers - Stan Anderson, Jimmy Greaves, George Best - but none left more of a lasting impression than 'Ol' Big Head', Brian Clough.

It's often looked over but people forget that Brian Clough ended his playing career at Sunderland, and his relationship with the King was a special one. "Cloughie was a tremendous striker of the ball. I played both against Brian Clough and with him - he was a great player, a fantastic goal scorer, a clinical finisher. Everyone knows him for his personal confidence, he was very driven and full of self belief. He played for Middlesbrough and I remember talking to Alan Brown and I suggested I man mark him. We were that close we could have been sharing the same shorts. He never scored against us when I played but to be honest I was really pleased he signed for us as he was an amazing player. Clough was asked why he signed for Sunderland, and he said that it was because he wouldn't have to play against me again!"

Sadly, due to a career-ending injury in 1962, Brian Clough had a shorter career than his talents deserved - it's almost certain that he would have gone on to follow a similar path to the one that Hurley did as a Sunderland player, such was the ability that he possessed.

And though this weekend's game has been earmarked as an occasion to give King Charlie a spotlight for all he has done for Sunderland, it isn't the first time that the club have made a big deal out of the Irishman. Infact, Charlie recalls with fondness the time that he unveiled the Stadium Of Light coat of arms - he cut the ribbon. He dug up the centre spot from Roker Park and transferred it to the Stadium of Light, which he called 'a huge honour'. Here's hoping that this weekend's proceedings has a similarly lasting positive effect on him.

The conversation soon turned to just why Charlie loves Sunderland. I noted earlier that the game has moved on so much since Hurley's days as a player, and so too has the passion that the modern footballers have for representing our club and the region. The fact is, though, is that we crave their love, their willingness to buy into this area and what we are about. "Every time I am lucky enough to return it feels like coming home, the reception I get and the friendly welcome is amazing considering it has been fifty years or so. The fans make the place so special to play football, it’s just a shame that modern footballers can’t be distracted from the bright lights of London or Manchester to experience this unique part of the world and the passion from the terraces."

That's it, isn't it? If you really want to be loved, then love us. We'll love you back, and then some. Charlie Hurley isn't just seen as a hero and a legend by the Sunderland people because of his footballing ability. We love him because he came here and wasn't afraid to become one of us - he looked beyond the glitz and the glam and saw Sunderland and their supporters for what they are, and in turn he has been shown decades and decades of adulation from generations and generations of supporters, many of whom were never even fortunate enough to have seem him play.

And at the end of it all, that is what counts. Football binds this area, and the passion that we have for the game far exceeds any other thing we have to contest. Hardships, troubles and the stresses of life are all forgotten for those ninety minutes on a Saturday. The players have a far bigger part to play than they perhaps would know - having met the workers at Nissan, they'd have learned that basic human interaction with the people that pay to support you every week might actually be of benefit to them. "In my day the fans were no different to us, they were friends. We used to walk from the Roker Hotel to the ground, chatting all the way. I always stay at the Roker Hotel and today I still get recognised. Yes, we were mobbed wherever we would go, but it was fantastic. There was always sixty-thousand fans cheering and shouting. It was the most amazing feeling ever - nothing quite like it."

It has been a fifty-plus year love affair that will never die. Sunderland and Charlie Hurley, and the supporters, have an unbreakable bond that transcends football, and he'll be treated like the rock star that he is when he comes into town this Saturday and is introduced to the supporters on the pitch - and rightly so.

"I have been very lucky in my life, my beautiful wife, my children and some great memories, this was all started from signing for my beloved Sunderland AFC."


Join us tomorrow on Roker Report as Charlie gives us his greatest Sunderland XI!