RR: Warren, thanks for taking time out to chat to us. We always start with a nice easy one. From your time at the club, who would be in your SAFC XI?
WH: Tony Norman in goal, Kaysie at right back and Paul Hardyman on the left. My centre halves would be Benno and John McPhail. I’m going to go with some young guns in the midfield. Right to left - Davie Rush, Brian Atkinson, John Cornforth and Kieron Brady.
Then it has to be Gabbers up front - Marco that is, not Ricardo! There’s some decent choices that I could make after that but I’d go for Gatesy - I loved watching him play.
RR: You came from a Sunderland supporting family and were almost three years old when we won the cup in 1973. What are you memories of making your breakthrough at the club and your debut?
WH: I did come from a Sunderland supporting family. I remember the celebration as my Dad went to down with his mates in a mini bus. That was the start of my love of Sunderland!
My full debut was against Brighton... I think. I got a phone call from Denis Smith the night before the match asking if I was alright. He asked if I’d be out the night before, I replied "Yes, I’m fine". He continued to say one of the lads was injured and another player fell ill overnight, so it was me and Colin Pascoe up front. Just a bit of luck, really.
I didn’t really suffer from nerves though to be honest. If you look back at the games I was involved in they’re all big matches - I think that helped.
RR: You were a surprise inclusion in the play off team. What are your memories from that game? What did the players think when they were taken off the pitch?
WH: Hardyman kicked Budgey and got sent off and that left some space for me to come into the team - I think I got chosen for my energy and work rate.
That was the biggest match of my career. I had three huge games, two of them at Sunderland. The FA Cup Final is of course up there, but we lost and I hate losing.
That game against Newcastle... it was electric. I couldn’t hear Gordon Armstrong shouting ten yards away.
That was surreal (the Newcastle fans running on the pitch). I was in the changing room early - I saw the fans coming on the pitch and I thought "whoops, I’m off!" before the referee even blew the whistle to get us in.
We all just sat there though, smiling because we’d just got the second, but we were focused and knew that we couldn’t let it slip. What a phenomenal night.
RR: How do you sum up playing for your boyhood team in an FA Cup Final?
WH: Fulfilling a lifetime ambition - and disappointment.
I remember watching from the touchline, Jan Molby was flashing 40-yard passes all over the pitch. I was thinking "if I get on, I’ve got to close that right peg down". Of course I got on for the last fifteen minutes, he got the ball and I closed down his right peg - he switched it on to his left foot and pinged a 50 yard ball across the field! They were a good team, but we had our chances in the first half.
As a day - walking out for Sunderland at Wembley - it was amazing. The fans were, as always, amazing and of course the open top bus parade the next day was special.
RR: Your career at Sunderland sadly fizzled out after that. Why do you think that happened? Any regrets?
WH: Playing in that FA Cup Final was probably one of the worst things that happened to me in hindsight.
I grew up dreaming of playing in that game. I never dreamt of playing for England, lifting a championship - nothing like that, just playing in an FA Cup Final and I had managed to do that at 21. It took a lot of the hunger away that I had as a professional footballer.
I probably enjoyed the finer things in life more than I should have - a lot of the young boys did at that time. We used to play hard, train hard and party hard and it wasn’t easy to do that week in, week out! The season after the cup final I just lost an edge. I needed that kick up the backside of being released - I went from Wembley to bottom of the league at Berwick.
RR: You’re chief executive at Greenock Morton now. You're still young at 46 - no disrespect to Greenock Morton, but do you have ambitions to work on a bigger stage?
WH: I got a wake up call at Sunderland. I came north of the border and went back into my education. I spent a good few years learning business and that gave me the hunger I had lost back. I did this whilst I was still playing full time.
Sunderland and Greenock are my clubs. About six years ago I went to the Chairman here and said I thought we could help turn the club around with the youth development and community side of things and that’s where it all started.
I set up a charity - The Morton Foundation. We built that up from nothing and within three years we were named the best professional club in Scotland by the SFA. We’ve since got into a few different things. I got given an opportunity to take this role on and I love it!
I just want to concentrate on doing the best job I can for Morton, and if that takes me elsewhere then so be it.
RR: You were a team mate of Derek McInnes at Greenock - what were your thoughts on him turning Sunderland down last week when he was offered the manager's job?
WH: Yes, we still keep in touch as well. He’s a real, real positive person. I had no doubt Sunderland had approached the right man for the job. I think he would have provided stability and put a good stamp on the club and put them onto a more positive footing.
He probably asked where the club is planning to be at in six months, twelve months and so on and Martin Bain has been honest about it. That could have put him off.
The job he has done at Aberdeen is exceptional. His manner, the way he is with his players and the way the board speak of him - Aberdeen are a stable club at the moment. I’m sure Sunderland offered him a package that is way more than what he gets there but there’s a few things in the pipeline at Pittodrie; there’s a snowball rolling there.
I haven’t asked him but I think he feels he has unfinished business at Aberdeen, I think he thinks he can do more for them in Europe too. He realises he’s on to a good thing.
RR: How do you see this coming season panning out for Sunderland?
WH: I don’t see them bouncing straight back. There’s too much change that is going to happen. The club needs a huge, huge clear-out.
They need stability in the boardroom. I don’t think Sunderland will go down and will perhaps finish mid-table, but this will be when the support solidifies. Look at Rangers - they were at death's door. Look at them now, still growing but the ground is full and there’s a siege mentality and I think that is what Sunderland can take from relegation: togetherness.
If the fans see positive change from the top, it could lead to full houses and renewed positivity. I don’t think that we’ll see it this season though, there’s too much going on, but maybe in 12 months they can push for promotion.