Tales From the Red & Whites is the second volume of the popular Sunderland book series written for Sunderland fans by Sunderland writers Lance Hardy, Graeme Anderson and Rob Mason.
The first volume was a collection of personal memoirs from writers that not only supported Sunderland, but had covered the club for a number of years.
Volume two, in the words of Graeme Anderson:
...tells the stories of eleven players, each fitting into their traditional position: goalkeeper, right-back, left-back etc, united only by variety and the fact they played for SAFC.
Some played a handful of games, some played hundreds, and between them, the players span more than 50 years of club history.
Co-Author Rob Mason sat down with ‘73 legend Vic Halom to discuss all things Sunderland - here are a few choice quotes and our thoughts on them.
That Porterfield Goal
Mason begins the chapter with a brilliant line that Halom was the ‘cult hero’s cult hero’. This, more than any other description that you could apply to Vic, sums up his time at Sunderland.
Aside from being the line-leader of the 1973 FA Cup-winning side, he was a hard-working, talented striker born on the run - experiences that truly shaped the person that he became, and the player that he was for Sunderland.
The section begins with the ‘73 Cup Final; however, Halom didn’t score in the final itself. He had a goal disallowed in the second half and came literally a second away from scoring Ian Porterfield’s opener himself:
As Billy Hughes’s corner floats in from the left-hand side, the Leeds defence are distracted by the figure of Dave Watson. Centre-forward Vic Halom is first to the ball and, having knocked it down, looks as if he’s favourite to reach it and score himself before Porterfield strikes.
Is that how Vic sees it?
‘Yes. I’d actually knocked it down for myself and when Porter hit it I struggled to get out of the way. The ball dropped, it came up off my shin and I was ready to volley it but Ian was there’.
‘Ian was closer and facing the right way so I had to get out of the way,’ recalls Vic, who was nothing short of a brilliant centre-forward for Sunderland.
Halom had scored against both Manchester City and Arsenal - the former a goal so good that Rodney Marsh once claimed it was the best that he had ever seen, such was the quality of the strike. It’s the first goal in the below video.
Halom was incredibly optimistic ahead of the final itself:
Our team was made up of good players. Take nothing away from them, they were top, top players. We were playing Leeds, who were top class. In order to combat that, the work-rate was unreal. We coped well and withstood it all, and then there was Monty and his heroics.
That defensive system was excellent and the more I watch that game the more I appreciate it.
For me up there I had a job to do against their defenders, so all I could do was try to get a bite in, so I spent most of the game running, just chasing things. That’s why I had cramp. I’d never had cramp in my life, but on that surface I did more running than ever and hardly touched the ball – but part of the team’s principles was work-rate, work-rate, work-rate.
It was staggering, really, and with a little bit of luck we could have won by a bigger margin.
It is clear that the players have understood not just the importance of the match itself - for that was plain to see - but the seismic connotations of their own fantastic performances. We have never seen a cup upset of the same ilk, and under current circumstances it is great to reminisce about such a magnificent moment in our club’s history.
Scouting for Sunderland
Vic worked as a scout at Sunderland for numerous years, starting under the disastrous ill-fated spell of Roberto De Fanti. Mason interestingly mentions that he provided Vic ‘an introduction’ to the Italian. Here’s what he had to say:
I met up with Roberto De Fanti in Sofia. By that time I had been scouting for Sam [Allardyce] at Bolton and Blackburn. I had recommended players to Sunderland.
I saw Costel Pantilimon playing when he was 15 years old and he had everything. I think it was a tournament in the Czech Republic and he was outstanding. I honestly don’t think that a lot of the people who are scouting are as good as ex-players at understanding what it takes to be a player. Numbers and stats only tell you so much. You have to show willingness, greed at times, aggression. The whole package needs to be there.
As well as Pantilimon I recommended a young Edin Džeko and Mario Mandžukić to Sunderland. If they’d been bought at the right price early on, these were world-class players for next to nothing. Later on in their careers their prices go up, and it upsets me no end when the club still has a policy in selling.
What I’ve still got, and take a lot of pleasure in, is a network of players and managers all across the Eastern bloc who still send me players that they recommend.
It is clear to see Vic truly understands what it takes to be successful at a club like Sunderland. It is obviously a shame those two deals for Džeko and Mandžukić couldn’t be completed and will be added to the list of “what if?” Sunderland transfers alongside stars such as Diego Forlan, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ruud van Nistelrooy and David Beckham.
Back in the Hungarian People’s Republic
Halom was able to build such an extensive scouting and recruitment network in Eastern Europe due to his past. His upbringing is a fascinating tale, and in fact he almost played for the Hungarian National side later on in his career.
He was, in 1948, the son of refugees displaced by the Second World War:
I was being carried by my mum when they came to England. My dad had escaped from Hungary and my mum had escaped from Germany .
My dad played football and he wasn’t bad. He was a left-back. He’d been playing for the Austrian police team in their area and had got a toe injury. He had to go to hospital, and that’s where he met my mum, who was a nurse.
They managed to get a passage over to England. In those days they were given the options of working on the land or down the pit. My dad went down the pit. Worked at Granville Colliery for a good while before the pits amalgamated and he became a shot-firer at Rawdon Colliery.
My first language was German. My dad was Hungarian and nobody other than Hungarians speak Hungarian. My mum spoke Russian because of her background. On her side, my grandad was an officer who was killed by the Red Army. They lived in Ukraine.
I’ve found out that it is very difficult to track down but it is something that I feel very strongly about. My mum, especially, warned me off and told me not to go into it. All I know was there was the White Army and the Red Army.
And, by ‘73, he was a hero amongst the Red and White Army. Halom was born into a family shaped by war, hardened by the pits and was brought up amidst modest socio-economic dictate.
It is clear Halom and Sunderland were a perfect fit. Although only signed in early 1973, he not only understood, but empathised with, the values of the club very early on.
Mason perfectly illustrates both the intricate simplicity and ordinary uniqueness of his story. It is one very few Sunderland fans could share, but can immediately resonate with; losing relatives in the war, a family who worked the pits and valued honesty and hard work above all else.
I am very excited to see the rest of the book. It goes without saying that it will be a must buy for any Sunderland fan, and the live event at the Stadium of Light in November will be a fantastic occasion too. It is wonderful to see Vic returning from his home in Bulgaria to live in Sunderland, still holding his adopted club so close to his heart;
Isn’t it so nice that somebody has remembered you?
‘...I think they appreciated that I wasn’t a poser. I would take you out if you were the opposition. It wouldn’t bother me at all, in fact, I’d wipe you out and when I’d done it I would smile’.
‘For lots of reasons, mainly family reasons, we felt it was now time to be back in England. You have to do the right thing. The choice was...in fact, it was never a choice, it was a foregone conclusion. My home in England is Sunderland.’