Sunderland v Reading isn’t generally a game to get the pulse racing, but when Sunderland faced the Royals in the 1973 FA Cup fourth round it brought with it an emotional first return to Roker Park of legendary centre half Charlie Hurley.
The Irishman had left the Northeast in the summer of 1969 to sign for Bolton, staying at Burnden Park for two seasons when he was released by the Trotters.
Hurley was keen to stay in football. So when Reading’s Jack Mansell was sacked on October 14th 1971, just months after the club had suffered relegation to the Fourth Division, Hurley, along with fifty-seven others, applied for the vacant post.
After deliberating into 1972, the Reading board decided it was between Charlie and ex-Manchester United centre half Bill Foulkes. What appears to have tipped the scales was Hurley’s natural charm.
I had three interviews. First one not too bad, second more serious. I then picked up a paper just before Christmas and it said Billy Foulkes was favourite to be appointed Reading manager, and that he was being interviewed on the Wednesday.
I’d received a letter to be interviewed for the third time on the Friday, so I was quite pleased. People always remember the one who goes last rather than the one who goes first.
I remember going for my interview and I paid for my lunch. I went into the toilet and Frank Waller, the Reading chairman, followed. He said it was a very difficult decision for them. They didn’t know who to go with – ‘you or Billy Foulkes’. I said, ‘If you want to pick the wrong one then pick Billy Foulkes’ and he laughed.
I think it got me the job. It was a real gamble. I got a call about the Sunday – it was pretty quick – saying ‘The job’s yours’. That was the start of a managerial career.
On the day of his appointment, Hurley said:
There is ample scope for development here. I am sure that I can do some good here. I am a great believer in discipline, hard work and the need for players and management to be professional.
It was reported by David Dibben in the Reading Evening Post that:
He had not been given a contract and will work on a ‘do or die’ basis. He has been given a salary of £5,000 plus. It is understood that Hurley’s time with less prosperous and successful clubs gave him the edge over Foulkes.
At the end of the 1971-72 season Reading finished in sixteenth place in Division Four. A failure to net regularly meant Reading were struggling in lower mid table at the beginning of 1973. Reading then beat Doncaster in the FA Cup third round to set up an emotional return for Hurley to Roker Park to play Sunderland.
Inspired by a decent away following and exhilarated by the reception Hurley received before the game, Reading stunned a Roker crowd of close to 34,000 by taking the lead when Les Chappell rose to meet a Gordon Cumming corner, before a Dennis Tueart effort ensured a replay. The man of the match was Steve Death, with David Dibben in the Reading Evening Post remarking that “in fifteen years of watching Reading it was easily the best goalkeeping performance I have ever seen.”
Extra class told at Elm Park but as Sunderland later beat Manchester City, Arsenal and Leeds to win the FA Cup, Reading had done remarkably well to force a draw in the first match.
I always said that if we beat Sunderland at Roker Park I would do a lap of honour. Now it would have been very emotional for me. I love Sunderland, but then I was manager of Reading. I used to tell my players, never thinking I was going to go up to Sunderland with a football team, ‘You don’t know what it’s like to be a hero – if we ever go to Roker Park just see those fans out there’.
And then we were drawn against Sunderland at Roker Park and there was a mass of fans all round the ground, chanting ‘Charlie, Charlie’ and it was amazing for the Reading players. The respect I got from them. They thought I was giving them a load of bully, but to realise what I was saying was true thrilled them.
In fact the reception I got was better than I thought it might be. The players went out to see what type of boots to wear and when they came back in they said ‘Look, Boss, you’ll have to go back out because the fans are going crazy’. So I went out and gave a wave to the fans. It was a great tonic to the players because I didn’t give much of a team talk. I said, ‘Now you’ve seen the sort of reception I’ve got. To get that type of reception you have to do a bit. The Roker fans don’t suffer fools gladly, you’ve got to have earned your stripes. Now I don’t want you to go out there without the biggest fight you’ve ever made, you’re representing me. Be sure that if you don’t fight you won’t play for me any more. That’s a fact. This is my patch’.
We gave a very good display in fact. Stephen Death the goalkeeper was magnificent. He was a great lad. Sunderland came down to Elm Park on the Wednesday. We had a full house. Sunderland had a good side: they had Tueart, little Bobby Kerr, Dave Watson and we knew we had our work cut out. We played very, very well for twenty minutes but Sunderland finished up winning 3-1. It was thoroughly deserved. I was very annoyed afterwards. It was said that Sunderland were 200-1 to win the cup and I didn’t have a fiver on me, a fiver...
The thing about that day was after the match in the directors’ room I was having a drink with Bob Stokoe. Both sets of directors were there and someone came upstairs and said ‘Look, Charlie, you are going to have to come downstairs because the whole of the offices are packed with fans chanting your name. You’ll be the only one to get them out without any trouble’.
I said, ‘No problem’, walked down, signed a few autographs, shook a few hands, kissed a few women – they were younger ones then, now I have to kiss the older ones – and I said ‘Come on, you’ll have to go now’ and they went outside. I went back upstairs into the boardroom and we all looked down at the road outside and there was a mass of fans just chanting ‘Charlie, Charlie’.
Hurley’s managerial experiences proved to be mixed. He was the only manager capable of getting the best out of the eccentric Robin Friday - later voted by Reading fans as the ‘Player of the Millennium’, and Hurley took the Royals to promotion at the end of the 1975-76 season.
With relegation seeming certain he was sacked in February 1977 and he never managed again. It was a sad end to a magnificent football career.
The original hardback copy of the authorised biography on Charlie Hurley by Mark Metcalf long since sold out but a soft back edition was published late last year.
Currently sales of the book on Amazon are suspended as the owner of the publishing company has just died. If you’d like a copy it can currently be ordered from Backpage in the Metro Centre.