Nick Sharkey was the last Sunderland player to notch five goals in a match, doing so against Norwich in March 1963. But there was a lot more to the Scotsman than just this one game.
On Boxing Day 1962 promotion chasing Sunderland lost 2-0 at home to Bury. Even worse was the injury to Brian Clough that ultimately finished his playing career - Clough had already scored 24 League goals up until Christmas and was on for at least 40 and possibly more by the season’s end. Sunderland’s troubles deepened by losing the return at Gigg Lane three days later where Nick Sharkey took Clough’s place in the team.
Sharkey was born in Helensburgh where he went first to school at St Joseph’s Primary and later at St Patrick’s High School in Dumbarton, where he played for the school team.
He was spotted by legendary soccer scout Charlie Ferguson from Dumbarton, who sent south a stream of promising footballers from Dunbartonshire schools for Sunderland manager Alan Brown’s nursery for budding young stars.
Other Dunbartonshire players signed by the Roker Park club at that time included Vale of Leven-born Bobby Kerr, who captained Sunderland to victory in the 1973 FA Cup final against Leeds United at Wembley Stadium.
Another was Alan Black from Alexandria, who started and finished his career with Dumbarton. Black was a team mate of Sharkey’s in the Dunbartonshire West schools select team. He played for Sunderland and Norwich City, winning the Second Division Championship with the Canaries in 1971-72.
Sharkey had made his debut against Scunthorpe United on 9 April 1960. His next game in the first team was almost exactly a year later when he played at Carrow Road on 3 April 1961, a match Sunderland lost 3-0. He scored his first League goal five days later to help his side beat Leyton Orient 1-0 away. He then scored two in a 3-1 defeat of Southampton at home and he also scored in Sunderland’s final game of the season, a 1-1 draw away to Liverpool.
Sharkey’s chances though of a regular first team place were to be much reduced when Clough arrived from Middlesbrough at the start of the 1961/62 season. In the event, Sharkey made just one first team appearance during the season in which Sunderland just failed to gain promotion.
Sharkey had played just a single game - against Portsmouth in the League Cup - so far in the 1962-63 season when he was given the tough task of replacing Clough.
The week after the defeat at Bury, Sunderland travelled back to Lancashire and Sharkey snapped up two goals in a fine Sunderland performance on a tricky surface that saw PNE beaten 4-1 in the FA Cup.
Poor weather meant that the next match wasn’t until five weeks later and following a fortuitous draw away to Non League side Gravesend and Northfleet, Sunderland won the replay 5-2, with Sharkey scoring one of the goals.
On Wednesday 20 March 1963, second-placed Sunderland faced mid table Norwich City at Roker Park before a crowd of 42,393. It was to be the game of Sharkey’s life as he scored five to equal Sunderland’s goalscoring record. His first half goals came on 35, 40 and 44 and at the break Sunderland led 3-0.
Sharkey smashed home his fourth just three minutes after Stan Anderson had made it 4-0 on 57 minutes. On 64 minutes Johnny Crossan made it 6-0 and after a late Jimmy Hill goal for the away side it was left to Sharley to complete the scoring on 86 minutes to make it Sunderland 7 Norwich City 1 at the final whistle and at which point Sharkey was cheered from the field by supporters.
The result was greeted with joy on the terraces and especially in the dressing room.
Stan Anderson claimed at the time:
This result meant we were certain of being in the top two after 30 games. This was greeted with ecstasy amongst the senior players as it meant that we were sure of a bonus of £900 each under our contractual agreement with the board at the start of the season. Poor Nick’s contract didn’t include such a bonus and he got nothing - or rather the match ball that was amongst one of his most prized possessions.
Despite Sharkey’s feat, manager Alan Brown decided to bring in Andy Kerr from Kilmarnock at the start of April and threw him straight into the side, as Anderson further explains:
It was by no means his fault but with Andy in the side we won only one of our next eight in which he scored twice.
Sharkey returned to the side for the final three matches of the season. His two against Luton Town away in a 3-0 win set Sunderland up for the final match of the season against third placed Chelsea. A draw would take Sunderland up but before a crowd of 47,918 it was the Pensioners who took both points when a cross hit Tommy Harmer’s ‘middle leg’ and sent the ball beyond Jimmy Montgomery. Chelsea subsequently beat Portsmouth 7-0 to gain promotion.
Sharkey did not feature in the first nine League matches of the 1963-64 season in which Kerr scored three. On his return to the side he scored two in a thrilling 3-3 draw at home to Cardiff City. He was to stay in the side for the rest of the season, hitting home 17 League goals and 3 in the FA Cup, as Sunderland gained promotion.
His also hit three in a famous friendly at Roker Park against Benfica in November 1963, The Portuguese side, winners of the European Cup in 1960/61 and 1961/62, included the fabulous Eusebio and his long range shooting thrilled the crowd. Nicknamed the Black Panther, Eusebio scored twice but his side were to be beaten 5-3.
This saw him finish smartly from fifteen yards out, snap up a rebound after Alberto da Costa Perera saved a fine shot from George Mulhall and then complete his hat-trick with a shot from the corner of the box that the ‘keeper should possibly have saved.
Sharkey was to score an impressive eighteen League goals in a struggling Sunderland side in Division One the following season. He scored four in fifteen League matches in 1965-66 before making just two appearances the following season. His final Sunderland match was a 2-2 draw at home to WBA on 8 October 1966. He’d scored 62 goals in just 117 appearances.
The Scot was transferred to Leicester City in 1966, but made just six appearances, scoring five goals. At Mansfield Town, Sharkey scored 17 goals in 69 games.
He completed his footballing career with Hartlepool United, moving there in 1970 and making a total of 60 appearances, with 12 goals to his credit.
Sharkey died in February 2015 at the age of 71. Jimmy Montgomery, in the wake of his death left a touching tribute:
I have great memories of playing with Nick since our youth days at the club.
He used to score goals for fun in training, ten or more at a time, and he was a great player for us.
Nick was a great man and we were friends for years as team-mates and we played golf together as well as attending events through the former players association.
He was a lovely man and will be sadly missed by everybody who knew him.
Nick Sharkey was survived by his wife, Joan, and his sons, Stephen and David.