Sunderland legend Stan Anderson passed away today at the age of 85. He was a former captain of Sunderland, Newcastle and Middlesbrough and made 447 appearances for the club in first-class competitions - the fourth highest of any man to pull on the red and white shirt since the club was formed in the 19th century.
He was a central midfielder or right half by trade and, born in Horden, came from a working-class background and a family that knew what it meant to work hard for a living - the sort of attitude that was encapsulated in his playing style and the way he carried himself off the pitch.
He was an idol to so many youngsters on Wearside who made the intrepid journey each week to Roker Park in order to watch him and countless others play for Sunderland - and it was as a small boy that Anderson grew to fall in love with the game.
His hero growing up was another Sunderland legend, Horatio ‘Raich’ Carter and, as Anderson explains, it was the Hendon-born FA Cup winner that inspired him most during his formative years as a football supporter:
When I was a kid, we had a big Turin bowl, it looked like the Cup and in 1937 my dad said I picked it up and ran into the back yard, lifted the Turin and was a celebrating as if I was Raich Carter.
Who would have thought, me playing for Sunderland and taking over from Raich at Boro.
My brother was a staunch Sunderland fan and he used to take me on his shoulders to watch the lads play, he put me on the railings so I could watch Raich, Eddie Burbanks, Len Duns and Bobby Gurney.
Anderson famously captained and represented all three of the big clubs in the North East, and found his way to Middlesbrough in the mid-sixties due to the appeal of working under the wing of Carter - but it was very much a case of “you should never meet your heroes” as Anderson found him to be less attentive in his management style as he might have liked:
I joined Middleborough late on in my career and this was to work for the great Raich Carter, the team were struggling but I went there thinking I would learn from one of the greatest players and everyone was in awe of the man. It never went to plan though as he rarely looked over his newspaper and never took training.
And though Anderson might have found himself in awe of the manager, his teammates felt the same way about playing with him - and even upped their performance levels on the training pitch as a result:
His office was full of pictures of his successes and he made sure you knew what he had achieved, but when I asked what he wanted from me he just said ‘I’m a bit busy, do what you want to do’.
My first training session was on a Friday and we were doing Chelsea laps and running around for hours - I asked Gordon Jones (the club captain) was this normal as I had never worked so hard... he said, “no that was for your benefit, we all wanted to impress you Stan!”
It was interesting, then, that Stan went on to replace Carter as Middlesbrough manager and remained in charge at Ayresome Park for seven years.
Anderson was a born winner, and he hated losing - none more so than in cup games where, in his opinion, he felt Sunderland underwhelmed often:
Some of the cup runs during my time were a source of frustration. In 1956 we played Birmingham and Man City the year before, we should have beat Birmingham, we were the better side and it just never worked out for us.
The City game in 1955 should never have happened, I felt it was a joke...
It was absolutely bucketing down and we were in the dressing rooms and had been told the game was not going ahead, but I think because of the amount of fans that had travelled the referee told us we would delay kick off to see if the weather changed. It didn’t, but the referee started the match and shared if it did not improve at half time he would abandoned the game. So we all expected it to be cancelled at any time.
There were pools of water, the grass turned to mud and the football was non-existent. Only the line survived the mud path with players sliding all over and passes stopping within 2 yards due to the conditions. We came out for the second half and the weather did not let up. Shackleton turned to me and said it was a joke, he asked the referee what was happening and he just said to play on a bit more. We had a couple of chances, one a Purdon shot from a Shackleton corner but then they broke and Hayes is down the wing, crosses and Roy Clarke scores with 15 minutes to go.
There was no way the referee could stop the game now and we were knocked out.
Roy Paul was laughing his head off when he came in as he also thought it would be called off before the kick-off.
Anderson recalled fond memories of a man he held in the highest regard - his Sunderland teammate Billy Elliott, who played 212 games for the Lads between 1953 and 1959.
Elliott was a known hard-man and, according to Anderson, wouldn’t think twice about squaring up to 20-stone blokes in the pub just because he wanted to test himself against them!
As Stan recalls, Billy was a bit of a menace on the pitch - back in the days when it was much easier for players to get away with committing cynical challenges:
On one memorable occasion we played Newcastle. They had beaten us twice that season and this was a cup game replay we were not expected to win. Bill Holden was playing centre forward and he scored before half time - I don’t know why it happened, but I am standing hand on hips waiting for an injured player to get up and Jimmy Scholar is standing five yards away, wagging his finger at me and mouthing off that he was going to get me.
Billy Elliott - a teammate of mine and the hardest bloke I’ve ever known - asks me what’s he is saying. Billy notices the knee bandage and says “leave him to me, push him inside and I’ll do the rest”. Well the ball goes between me and Billy and he takes the ball, the man and his bandage out in a fierce tackle. Jimmy never got to get me as he threatened.
I remember another game, against Sheffield Wednesday. The ball was played into Albert Quixall at chest height and Billy came in from left back and scissor kicked him across the neck - he could have killed the lad. Billy is all apologising to the ref and he never even took his name. Quixall was white as a sheet and I don’t think he touched the ball again.
Leaving Sunderland was difficult for Stan to take. He’d spent a significant portion of his career with the club and had committed everything he had to the cause, so when he was effectively pushed out of the picture by then manager Alan Brown, it left him stunned:
I spent 14 years at Sunderland and yes there was shock when I left.
I had been captain of the club, Martin Harvey came in and we lost a couple of matches and I went to Alan Brown and said, I have missed three matches, I am not playing so want to play in the reserves. He said ‘no’ and did not give me a logical reason. I was left with clear message that I was not going to play and even travelled as a reserve to Plymouth, but in a time when tactical substitutions were not part of the game.
I felt that Brown wanted me out so I said I was to ask for a transfer, and although he rejected it he was also duty bound to share with the board so I put in writing and he said he would tell them.
Sid Collins, of the board, gave me a call and asked me to go to his house, we sat down and chatted and he laughed that you can’t leave the club’, and I explained. He replied that the manager would go before me.
Brown then came to see me the next night and he told me a club had made an offer and the manager was outside waiting to see me. In walks Joe Harvey, a golfing friend and I knew who he was. I said no way, I would be pilloried. Joe assured me of the captaincy and a starting place. I was adamant but Joe asked me to go and see the directors. Eric Taylor, an England selector told me he really wanted me at NUFC. I spoke to my wife, the choice is I come to NUFC and play or I stay at SAFC for my family and friends but watch the games like them. I felt I had no choice and so despite upsetting my family I joined NUFC.
Stan Anderson was, is and will always be a Sunderland legend. Rest in peace, my friend.