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Roker Reminisces: Remembering Sunderland legends George Mulhall and ‘King’ Charlie Hurley

Following the sad news of George Mulhall’s death last week at the age of 81, Mark Metcalf looks back at his fantastic Sunderland career and his relationship with Charlie Hurley.

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The late George Mulhall’s last home game for Sunderland was against Wolves on 19 April 1969 when he was recalled to the side by manager Alan Brown in order to bolster an attack that had scored just once in the eight previous games. Just two points had been gathered in these matches and Sunderland had fallen from fourteenth to nineteenth in a League that then contained 22 sides. Just three matches remained of the season.

Also recalled that day to the starting eleven was centre-half Charlie Hurley, and the match against Wolves also proved to be his final home match for Sunderland. The men had played many games together and in Charlie Hurley’s authorised biography “The Greatest Centre Half the World has Ever Seen,” Mulhall features regularly.

Outside left Mulhall was signed from Aberdeen by Second Division Sunderland at the start of the 1962-63 season. He cost £23,000 and at that considerable fee Sunderland fans were hoping Mulhall would be able to provide even more chances for Brian Clough.

Mulhall later said of his move south:

I couldn’t have picked a better place to go than Sunderland, but my first morning provided a shock. Charlie Ferguson had brought us down in his car. It was 11.30 at night and I had been asleep. We got booked into the hotel and when I woke up in the morning all I could hear was this noise.

I honestly thought I was on a ship.

I looked out of the window and all I could see was the sea battering against the walls. The hotel [the Roker Hotel] was right on the seafront.

I didn’t even realise Sunderland was on the sea. I saw all the beach and I thought that’s great. I had a fantastic time at Sunderland, no complaints at all. Roker Park could be frightening though. It was all standing of course.

We were getting 40,000, unbelievable the noise, the Roker end, oh dear, incredible.

Mulhall’s move saw his wages jump from £22 a week to £38.

Mulhall made a fine home debut against Luton Town, with Clough scoring two in a 3-1 victory. Settling in for Mulhall was helped by the large number of fellow Scotsmen at the club. Throughout the 1960s the first team usually had three or four Scots in the side, not that everyone approved. The dissenters included the team manager of the successful Fulwell Christian and Youth Society, who saw six of his players from the previous season go for trials with Newcastle United.

Using language which some may describe as not exactly Christian, Reg Watson said:

It seems that you have to be Irish or Scottish to get into Roker Park these days.

George Mulhall
Aberdeen FC

Mulhall was joined at Roker Park in November 1962 by Irishman Johnny Crossan an inside-forward. Crossan was returning to play in Britain, after a life ban for taking a payment while he was still officially an amateur had been overturned. The suspension had forced him to earn his living on the European continent, where he had played for Standard Liege in the previous season’s European Cup semi-final against the mighty Real Madrid which the Belgians lost 6-0 on aggregate.

The hope was that he would form a partnership with Mulhall that would terrorise the right side of opposing teams. The fee of £27,000 took manager Alan Brown’s spending in just over a year on his inside right, centre forward, and inside and outside left to £138,000.

Hurley scored his third goal of the season against Preston North End on 17 November 1962 as Sunderland again won at home, making it nineteen points out of twenty. The goal came when “Hurley met a cross from Mulhall and from the inside right position hit a tremendous right foot drive which glanced off a defender on the way into the net,” reported Argus.

The Irish centre half then scored for the third season in four at Carrow Road. His goal was Sunderland’s first in a game in which they scored twice in the last eleven minutes to win 3-2 because a by now terrified home defence were so intent on preventing the big centre half reaching the ball that they left gaps for Jimmy McNab and Johnny Crossan to head home two George Mulhall free kicks.

“King” Charlie Hurley
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There was a Boxing Day special at Elland Road, where Sunderland were backed by 10,000 travelling supporters in a crowd of 41,167 and they were delighted when Sunderland snatched the lead after Hurley’s long free kick was dropped by Gary Sprake to allow Mulhall to slam it home.

The size of the crowd was something of a disappointment. Leeds had decided to make the match all-ticket and restrict numbers to 50,000. It backfired on them because it meant many Sunderland fans without a ticket did not bother to travel, even though there were 10,000 who did.

The Leeds programme extended “a very warm welcome indeed to Sunderland and all the good folk of Wearside and County Durham” but there was an indication that the hooliganism that was to plague and later almost destroy English football was becoming a problem because the programme editor found it necessary to appeal to fans of both clubs to “check any throwing of anything, any running on the pitch and too fierce arguments.”

Off the pitch, the Sunderland team had taken to visiting Wetheralls, the first nightclub in the north-east, after Hurley had found out about it.

Oh yes. Wetheralls was a very pokey little place. My wife and I have always loved going out; we love socialising. We always dig out these places, and I found out about this one. It was a membership place so I got all the players free memberships because we were very popular.

The club became very successful. After the Everton match in the FA Cup in 1964 I remember the manager phoned my house to see if we were going in on the night. They’d been inundated by calls from members asking if the players were coming in and he said if we did then there’d be a meal and free champagne. So all the lads went — we had dinner, champagne all night. Tom Jones was on, the place was packed and we were all sitting together, signing autographs. It wasn’t fans and players, we were all part of the same club. The ’60s were a good time to be around and the players at Sunderland got on well with each other. We also had Crossan and Mulhall at the time, who were a great comedy duo!

On Boxing Day 1962, Clough suffered what proved to be the injury that finished his career. George Mulhall was an ardent admirer of Clough because:

...his goals record speaks for itself, but he was very, very arrogant. He could upset people like nobody I’ve ever met. On the pitch if he was in a good position and you didn’t give him the ball he’d tell you about it. Hurley and Clough on the pitch were similar.

They both hated losing. They both wanted to win any game they played. Hurley was, of course, the club captain and it was his job to make sure that every player didn’t like losing. He was a good captain.

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Sunderland was to gain promotion at the end of 1963-64 but then suffered a blow when manager Alan Brown quit to manage Sheffield Wednesday. Relegation looked likely when the Owls beat Brown’s old team 2-0 at Hillsborough on 13 February. Sunderland dropped into the relegation zone but five victories in the following six games dragged caretaker boss George Hardwick’s side towards safety. On 16 April 1965, Mulhall was out injured. It was the first league match he had missed since making his debut - a run of 114 matches. During the 1964-65 season, Mulhall scored nine times in his 41 League appearances.

In the 1965-66 season, Mulhall scored eight times in 35 League appearances. Two of those goals came in a 2-0 victory against Leeds at home. This brought extra pleasure for Mulhall as he regarded the Leeds right back Paul Reaney as, along with Manchester United’s Tony Dunne, his toughest opponent.

One of Dunne’s colleagues was George Best and Mulhall was a massive fan of the United outside right:

I thought he was superb, and one of the greatest things about him was he would chase back and tackle. Skillwise he would drop the shoulder and go past you. He was in a good team, mind, with good facilities as well.

To me George Best and Denis Law were the two best players going forward in the 1960s. Jimmy Greaves’s goalscoring record was incredible but I am not so sure he was as good away as at home. I’d like to see his record to compare.

The old story with him at the time was to give him a good whack and see what he was made of.

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In the 1966-67 season, Mulhall scored 12 League goals, two of which came in games against Newcastle United and both of which were won 3-0. At St James’ Park on 29 October 1966, Sunderland, with Jim Baxter sublime, took the Magpies apart to record their first away win in the League in over a year.

If anything the goals from the three Scots, Martin, O’Hare and Mulhall, were poor reward for a one-sided match that left Sunderland fans in the massive 57,643 crowd — up 41,000 on Newcastle’s previous home match against Manchester City – in ecstasy as their team won 3-0. Despite the four points gained off the Magpies, Sunderland struggled and Ian McColl, who had taken charge at manager at the start of the 1965-66 season, saw his side finish in seventeenth place.

With Sunderland lying just outside the relegation zone in January 1968, McColl was sacked after an FA Cup defeat against Second Division side Norwich City.

According to Mulhall:

Ian McColl wasn’t strong enough and because of the Rangers tie-up, he had his arm around Jim Baxter most of the time and Jim had his cousin with him, George Kinnell.

Jim used to say ‘bags’ to him when we were going anywhere and George would rush to get Jim’s bag to take on the bus.

Alan Brown
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The new man who took over as Sunderland manager was the returning Alan Brown and Mulhall scored in a 3-1 victory at home to Stoke City.

Victories by 2-0 over Wolves and then Arsenal eased the pressure and in the latter match, Hurley scored his final goal for Sunderland, typically a header. It came from a Mulhall corner in the sixty-second minute. It took his total to twenty-six league and cup goals.

Says Len Ashurst:

The fans loved Hurley for his heading and his goal record was excellent. During his time at Sunderland every team had wingers in their side. We had Harry Hooper and George Mulhall and they generally took the corners. They looked for the big man, who usually stood on the edge of the box and made a run diagonally to the twelve-yard area. That’s how Charlie got virtually all of his goals. He was brilliant at it.

The fate of the League title lay in north-east hands. Sunderland’s final match of the season took them over the Pennines to play Manchester United. Matt Busby’s side were lying second to Joe Mercer’s team across the city. To win the league United had to do better in their game than City, who were playing at Newcastle United.

It was generally accepted that Manchester United would have little problem in beating Sunderland, which would leave City needing to win at St James’ Park to clinch the title. Sunderland had different ideas and in the fourteenth minute they took the lead when Bruce Stuckey drove the ball to the near post where Colin Suggett cracked it into the net on the half-volley. George Mulhall then scored a perfect header from a Suggett cross to put Sunderland further ahead and, despite a goal from George Best, Sunderland won the match fairly comfortably. It was an all-round team display that it could be argued was the best away from home by any Sunderland team Hurley played in during his career.

Mulhall in his later years as Halifax Town manager
Photo by Barrington Coombs/EMPICS via Getty Images

George Mulhall remembers:

We played exceptionally well and it was one of the finest Sunderland games I played in. We had played some good games in the Second Division and also in the FA Cup but the quality of opposition on that day – Best, Charlton, Crerand, marvellous players.

I scored the winner with a header; I got up and headed it back across the goal right into the corner. The players used to call me ‘Chandelier’ for my heading abilities, or at least some of them. That was a really good header, that one.

Sunderland’s dominance was not reflected in the Match of the Day coverage and the Guardian newspaper was not the only paper to criticise the BBC’s forty-five minute highlighted coverage of it, remarking:

It is said that the camera cannot lie — but the skillful sub-editing of the television film conveyed a totally misleading impression of what actually happened — on the day Sunderland were far and away the better side.

It turned out that a victory for Manchester United would not have been enough as City won 4-3 at Newcastle and in front of large numbers of their own supporters hoisted aloft the League Championship. United did at least have the consolation of seeing their team knock out Real Madrid in the Bernabeu four days later on the way to European Cup success against Benfica at Wembley.

George Mulhall, Halifax Town director of football (Photo by David Rawcliffe/EMPICS via Getty Images)

The 1968-69 season was to be Muhall’s last at Sunderland and he scored his final goal for the club in a 4-1 defeat at Old Trafford in January 1969. He was dropped from the side in early March and he was soon joined on the sidelines by Hurley.

When Sunderland lined up against Wolves in April 1969 victory was vital if relegation was to be avoided. Brown recalled both Mulhall and Hurley to the side.

Dennis Tueart and Bobby Kerr helped quell doubts about Sunderland staying up when Wolves were beaten 2-0. Mulhall and Hurley then both played their final first team matches at Turf Moor against Burnley.

Sunderland won the match 2-1, so Hurley and Mulhall signed off with a win. The four points gained against Wolves and Burnley was exactly the number of points that Sunderland finished above relegated Leicester City.

On 17 May 1969 it was announced that Hurley, along with George Mulhall and Ralph Brand, were to be released on free transfers. Also given their notices were three members of the backroom staff Arthur Wright, Jack Jones and Bill Scott.

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Mulhall admits that:

I was maybe a bit annoyed when I got released. Brown had gone away and then come back. We all played a lot of games but the free transfer I got worked out really well for me, although Sunderland did get relegated the following season. I went to South Africa to play in Cape Town for two years. It was great — we visited all the major cities.

We did that in England, mind — that’s one of the joys of being a professional player. At Sunderland we also had some good times after the games as well. You could write a good book about those I can tell you, but I’m not going to!

Mulhall, who played three times for Scotland, made 284 first time starts and 5 appearances as a substitute for Sunderland. He scored 66 goals, a great goals per game ratio for a winger.

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