Intended as the jewel in the crown of the Bank of England Club, Ford’s transfer was the last time a North East club would break the transfer record until 2016 Slaphead of the Year Quarter Finalist Alan Shearer’s arrival on Tyneside in 1996.
As a signing, Ford was not unlike Shearer. Flush with cash, Sunderland were looking to sign a prolific, line-leading centre forward capable of cementing the club’s place in the game’s upper echelons. Ford’s stay at Roker Park was significantly shorter than Shearer’s at St James’, but he sadly left Sunderland with exactly the same number of medals as Mary Poppins picked up at Newcastle: 0.
Brought to Roker to partner Clown Prince of Football and the club’s former record signing Len Shackleton, Ford arrived with a formidable record. Indeed, in his three and a half years at Villa Park since arriving from Swansea Town, Ford had notched an impressive 60 goals in 120 First Division games.
Without a trophy since 1937, Sunderland were investing unprecedented sums in ending their drought, bringing some of the most feted names in English football to the club. Ford’s career at Sunderland started in the best possible manner, the Welshman knocking in a hat-trick on his home debut to down Sheffield Wednesday, with another shot breaking the upright of the Sheffield Wednesday goal.
Ford’s physical prowess and prolific goalscoring record ought to have complemented the genius of Len Shackleton, yet a clash of personalities doomed the partnership almost from the start. Neither man could be described as a conciliatory character, and following a 4-0 victory over Chelsea in 1952 Ford claimed to the press that Shackleton refused to pass to him during games. Shackleton retorted that this failing was down to Ford’s lack of positional sense, claiming that the Welshman simply wasn’t able to make the most of his deliveries.
Eventually things came to a head when Ford refused to play alongside Shackleton, resulting in him being “rested” for the following game against Portsmouth. This led to Ford, who had been disappointed at the refusal of the club to sell him to Fiorentina during the 1952-53 season, handing in a transfer request. Despite these problems, Ford’s record at the club had been impressive, scoring 67 goals in 108 league games. The club refused to sell him at a loss, Cardiff City finally matching their £30,000 outlay to take him to Ninian Park in December 1953.
Ford’s final act at Sunderland was yet to come, however. His 1956 autobiography I Lead The Attack revealed that he had been in receipt of illegal payments whilst at Sunderland, a controversial announcement which, in combination with the infamous “Mr Smith” letter of January 1957 led to an FA investigation. Following these revelations, and with a ban from the FA, Ford retired from football in 1956. He returned to the game three months later with PSV Eindhoven, spending three years in Holland before his ban was listed. Ford ended his career at Newport County and Romford, having scored a remarkable 232 goals in 432 appearances.
As for the Bank of England club, the vast sums invested brought no tangible return, Sunderland failing to achieve more than a solitary fourth place finish between Ford’s arrival in October 1950 and the club’s relegation in disgrace in 1958.