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Roker Report Meets... 'Hard-man' Mick Harford - Sunderland born & bred, through & through

Humbledon-born Mick Harford was a player famed for having a ‘hard-man attitude’, a persona honed on the streets of Wearside and in the stands of Roker Park. Mick sat down with Roker Report to talk about his time playing for the club and his life growing up as a true Sunderland fanatic.

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RR: Hi Mick. You're Sunderland born and bred. Were you from a Sunderland-supporting household?

MH: I was a massive fan. I’m from Humbledon. My family were huge Sunderland supporters - me and my sister used to go all the time. The first time I ever went to London was in 1973 for the FA Cup Final, and I remember I went back (to London) the following year to see us beat Millwall 4-1!

Between the ages of about 15 and 17 I packed in football just to follow the Lads, I was that big of a fan. I would follow them all over the country; in all honesty, we didn’t have any money so we would hitch hike to see Sunderland if they were away, then try and jump on the supporters coaches on the way back!

It really hurts me to see where they are at the moment.

Mick Harford
On following SAFC as a teenager - “I just loved the club and followed them wherever they played.”

RR: You went to school at St. Cuthbert’s I believe. A few professionals came from your year group, didn’t they? Micky Hazard and Kevin Dillon to name a few.

MH: I went to St. Cuthberts, that’s right. I was more interested in football at school then academics!

Me, Kevin and Micky all played in the same team at school, they were both a year below me. We’re all still friends. I play golf with Micky and I still see Kevin around. All of us were developed in Sunderland.

We were all passionate about football and we were all Sunderland fans. I think it’s a tragedy the other two never got the chance to turn our for Sunderland. Micky especially, because he was one of the best players in England at the time - he was a super player when he was at Tottenham.

We had a brilliant teacher called Mr. McCorluck. I used to go home for dinners and he wanted me to be in school for them, so he’d tell me he’d drop me from the school team unless I stayed for school dinners. He was great, every opportunity we had he would coach us and encourage us to play football. He was an amazing man and did a lot for our careers, I’m sure Mick and Kevin would agree.

RR: Was it always your plan to be a footballer, and how did going to school in the North East help that?

MH: When I was 15-16 I’d play every Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning - then I’d play football in the street on the other days!

I left school at 15 and a half and went on to become a plumber, but I still played football regularly for Lambton Street Boys because I just loved playing. I thought my chance to play professionally had gone. I had a trial at Sunderland when I was seventeen for a week, but they didn’t take me on. I think they trained at Washington then. I felt I should have been given a chance in all honestly. I remember vividly Kevin Arnott telling me he thought I had a good chance (of getting a contract). These things happen in football though, that’s just how it is sometimes - thankfully I still went on to carve a good career for myself. It wasn’t meant to be, but you take it on the chin and it makes you stronger sometimes.

RR: You played for Newcastle in the early 80s after leaving Lincoln. How hard of a decision was that being from Sunderland?

MH: When you become a hardened professional, your fanaticism gets diluted. I always, always look for Sunderland’s results, but I’m not the fanatic I was as a youngster. I want to see them do well, I want them to win games and I hate the situation they are in at the moment but as a professional, you have to put that to one side.

The connection didn’t help me at Newcastle though, the fans didn’t take to me because I was Sunderland born and bred. I was only young and the fans gave me some stick. I didn’t play well at Newcastle in all honestly, I found it very difficult. To be fair to Arthur Cox (Newcastle’s manager) he was brilliant with me. I scored twice in my last game for them and he came in and told me he’d accepted a bid from Bristol City, he wanted me to go and thought it would be a good move for me because I was a good professional and I was still young, he believed in me but he just knew the fans weren’t going to accept me; it wasn’t working. In all fairness to him, he signed me later on in my career at Derby County - so he had faith in me.

Truth is, Lincoln needed the money and it’s an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. It was a good move for me because it taught me a lesson in the long run that I gained a lot from. I made a pact with myself and said I’d never be intimidated by the crowd ever again - and I wasn’t.

RR: I interviewed Kevin Ball a fortnight ago and he said you were the toughest opponent he's ever faced. What are your memories of facing him? Any other Sunderland players you enjoyed a battle with?

MH: I remember my games against Sunderland. Unfortunately for Sunderland, I used to score against them all the time! I remember scoring against them for Birmingham at Roker Park - I got a hat trick for Derby against them at the Baseball Ground! I had a knack of scoring goals against my boyhood team.

Bally was a proper footballer, a real competitor. Kevin Ball was what I’d call a man. He had the heart of a lion but he was also very underrated as a footballer. With Bally, you knew it was ninety minutes full pelt when you came up against him. I remember catching Paul Hardyman in a game once, I’ve met him loads of times since and we have a laugh about it - I caught him a beauty that day though. Bally kept out of my way that day (laughs).

I respect what Bally said about me, but I wouldn’t say I was tough - I would class myself as just brave. I’d stick my head in anywhere. I got tagged as tough, and if it helped my career and intimidated people that’s all good, but I’d just say I was tough.

WIMBLEDON V COVENTRY
Mick certainly took no prisoners, but had an annoying knack of scoring against us.

RR: You were the top scorer at Chelsea when a sudden move to Sunderland came about, how did it happen? Was it a surprise?

MH: My hero Ian Porterfield was the manager at the time, I was really enjoying my football and we had a really good team. I had ten to fifteen goals already, but I got suspended and also had time out with a calf injury mid-season. Anyway, I got back into the side but out of nowhere Ian got the sack. He was doing alright, so I was surprised to see it happen but they decided to go with Neil Webb instead. The first thing he said to me was “you’ll never play for Chelsea again”. I said “you fu**ing what? I’m top scorer” - he went on to tell me the chairman had made a decision on certain players and I thought “fair enough”, next thing you know I’m on the phone to Terry Butcher and on my way to Sunderland.

It was a dream come true to play for Sunderland, but it just came at the wrong time in my career. I was 32-33, I was in a really good team at Chelsea and went into a struggling team at Sunderland - not that it was anyone’s fault because I just didn’t perform well for Sunderland myself. I wish it had came at a different time, I wish I could have been at Sunderland during my prime, or when I was young. I wish I could have shown the fans the best of me.

Terry was a great lad, a terrific footballer, but the team just didn’t seem to perform under him. We had good players in Peter Davenport, Bally, Gary Owers, Micky Gray, Don Goodman etc. I’m not sure what it was, but it just didn’t seem to work.

RR: You made your Roker Park debut against Derby County, Shaun Cunnington won us the game with a late goal in the 87th minute. What are your memories of the old ground?

MH: I used to stand on the Fulwell End, right behind the goal and a few rows from the back. I then moved to the Roker End and stood under the floodlight on the dugout side when I was a little bit older - that was my spot. I was at the FA Cup quarter final against Manchester City which was one of the best games I’ve ever been to, in my entire career, let alone as a fan. The atmosphere of the night was fantastic. A real electric atmosphere and - most importantly - it was the right result.

Roker Park
Mick was one of us. Just like we did, he had a spot at Roker - the Roker End.

I first played at Roker Park for Lincoln reserves as a young boy so no one was there! It was a bit eerie to be honest, seeing it empty.

In terms of playing for the club though, as you know I’m a Sunderland fan and to have that crowd behind you, especially when they know you’re one of them and you’re from the area is just something else. It’s a great experience and it was great to play for them, even though it was short lived it was a fantastic, fantastic experience - 100%.

RR: You also managed to play in a North East derby. Although we lost 1-0 to a Scott Sellars goal, where does it rank in derby games you've played?

MH: It’s up there. In all fairness, I only played in it once but it’s still the biggest derby I’ve played in. I played in Chelsea-Tottenham, but I wouldn’t class that as a huge derby - it doesn’t have the pre-match build up and intensity that the Sunderland-Newcastle derby does.

I remember it was chucking it down with rain, we lost 1-0 and they were doing well. It was really disappointing to lose, but it was still the biggest derby I’ve been involved in. It’s as important as any other derby across England. It’s one of the biggest.

RR: Terry Butcher made you one of his first signings at the club, but it lasted only four months. Why do you think that was?

MH: It’s not something in the public domain but my son was in a road accident and was only three or four-years-old at that time, down south, and I had to leave to be there for him. The board and Terry Butcher were fantastic with me, but that was the only reason I left the club. I have a great deal of gratitude to the board of Sunderland at that time for allowing me to move to Coventry - it was only forty five minutes from my home and I had to be there for my son.

Terry was a great character though, he was good around the place and very organised. I liked him as a man and a manager.

RR: Do you wish your time at the club was longer? Do you have any regrets?

MH: I wish I’d had the chance to be at the club when I was younger. I was I’d had the opportunity after that trial. I was devastated when that happened. I don’t blame Jim (Adamson) for not signing me as a young ‘un, these things happen - but I wish I’d had the chance.

RR: What are your thoughts on Sunderland and the situation we find ourselves in now. What do you think the club need and who would you appoint as manager?

MH: I’m devastated. I hate to see the pictures on the TV with the stadium half full and the fans having to deal with what they are at the moment. Looking at those incredible stats - things like seeing they haven’t taken the lead in a home game during the calendar year - that sort of stuff. I hate it.

The club’s up for sale, everyone knows that and due to that people say no one will want to manage there, there’s too much turmoil and so on, but let me tell you - there’ll be some top class managers would will want that job. The stadium may be half full, the club might be up for sale but it’s a huge club and a massive challenge.

RR: Who would you give the job to?

MH: The fans are hurting at the moment. My choice would have to be someone with a connection to the club, the city and the fans. Someone who understands the club, but also where it’s at currently.

Short term, I think Peter Reid could have a big impact. He’ll push them, he’ll encourage them and he has a connection with the club and the fans. It’s not a good environment to work in right now, but the quicker the right man comes in and resolves it the better and I think that man needs to have a connection to Sunderland as a whole.