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Stan Anderson, Captain of the North: Leaving Sunderland for Newcastle & playing for England

Roker Report writer Mark Metcalf assisted the late, great Stan Anderson with the production of his autobiography ‘Captain of the North’ in 2010.

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Stan Anderson holds a unique position in north-east football as the only man to have captained all three of the region’s big clubs, Sunderland, Newcastle United and Middlesbrough.

He made 447 appearances for Sunderland - the second highest as an outfield player, just behind Len Ashurst - over twelve years (1951 - 1963) before leading Newcastle back into the First Division in 1964-65. He later became player-coach at Middlesbrough, before taking over as manager and returning Boro to the Second Division, but after a series of near misses in the attempt to reach Division One he quit as manager in 1973 after seven years.

His career continued with spells in charge at AEK Athens, QPR (briefly), Doncaster Rovers and, finally, Bolton Wanderers.

In 2010 I assisted Stan, who was born around two miles from where I was born, to write his autobiography CAPTAIN OF THE NORTH, and from it I have selected three pieces to share with you today.

The first is about Stan’s debut against Portsmouth in 1952, the second is his second international game against Scotland in 1962, and finally his transfer to Newcastle United. The article ends with the comments in 2010 of another Sunderland and Newcastle player in Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson. The book is still available on Amazon and at the ALS shop.

The Start of an Era

Even when the 1952–53 season started and I was more than happy with my form I still didn’t consider I was a serious prospect for the first team. Sunderland had a wealth of experienced halfbacks to call on in Willie Watson, Arthur Wright and George Aitken. Also, the club were not known for launching young players at that time. They didn’t have a youth policy. I think they found out about me only because I’d played for England schools.

The only youngster who struck it rich was Harry Kirtley. Bill Murray thought the world of him. He was two or three seasons ahead of me and he was a powerful runner with an accurate pass and a knack of scoring goals.

Harry was in the ‘big’ team when I made my debut against Portsmouth at Roker Park in the First Division on October 4 1952. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed at the thought of playing before more than 40,000.

I had an inkling I would be in the team against Portsmouth because Willie Watson had been selected as the travelling reserve for England against Northern Ireland and George Aitken was injured. Nothing was said to me, but when I looked at the team-sheet there was my name at number 4. Murray hadn’t said anything but later he told me that I would be in for one game only.

I could hardly wait to get back to Horden and let my parents know the news, which took time to sink in.

The teams were:

Sunderland: Threadgold, Stelling, Hedley, Anderson, Hall, A Wright, T Wright, Kirtley, Ford, Shackleton, Toseland.

Portsmouth: Butler, Stephen, Thompson, Scoular, Flewin, Pickett, Harris, Gordon, Reid, Phillips, Dale.

I was in the same team as my heroes. I was playing with the great Len Shackleton and against players like Jimmy Scoular and Peter Harris. It didn’t seem possible. I’d started training with players like Shack and Trevor Ford, but I hadn’t had much to do with them. I was in awe of Shack – he was a class act; you thought he could make the ball talk – and in those days youngsters didn’t speak to their elders unless they spoke to you. Later I got to know him well but at the start there wasn’t much interaction between the players. The dressing room wasn’t split – apart from some feeling between Shack and Trevor Ford – but we tended to keep to our own age groups. For instance we didn’t discuss tactics. I knew Harry Kirtley and stuck with him.

I stripped next to Fred Hall and, gulping, held out my hand: ‘Stan Anderson.’

‘I know who you are, son,’ said our centre-half.

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He only ever called me ‘son’ and I think he looked upon me that way. Certainly he was like a second father to me. Most of them, sitting around the dressing room that day, looked as old as my dad and when Fred, who must have been fifteen stone, took his shirt off he had a big gut. I wondered how he could play football like that. He could and he found time to look after me as well, guiding me through games.

Against Portsmouth we scored first with a penalty from Trevor Ford after five minutes. Although we were top of the league at the time it was only the twelfth goal we’d scored in ten matches – that might not be unusual today, when some top teams can’t even average a goal a game, but in 1952 two goals a game was commonplace. Crowds expected to see goals and as a result the entertainment was greater than it is today. No club in the First Division had scored fewer goals than Sunderland; in fact only two teams in all four leagues had scored fewer. And Trevor Ford had scored five of the dozen.

I’d first seen Trevor play for Wales against England at Roker Park shortly after his big money move from Aston Villa two years before. He scored twice, but two goals from Tottenham’s Eddie Baily and efforts from Wilf Mannion and Newcastle’s Jackie Milburn were enough to secure a 4-2 win. I was one of those packed together in the Roker End and had great fun as the huge crowd swayed from side to side.

Trevor Ford averaged more than a goal every game for his country, with twenty-three in thirty-eight games (making him equal with Ivor Allchurch as the top scorer) and exceeded that with seventy goals in 117 appearances for Sunderland.

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Portsmouth had won the League Championship in consecutive seasons as the end of the 1940s. This Pompey team had a great halfback line of Scoular, Jack Froggatt and Jimmy Dickinson, but only Scoular was playing on the day I made my debut. The absence of two key players was mitigated by a recall for the stylish Reg Flewin at centre-half. Flewin, an England wartime international, had captained Portsmouth in their championship-winning seasons so was no mean deputy. But he went off after half an hour.

Disappointingly, Portsmouth, even with ten men, managed to equalise when Fred Hall diverted a speculative shot from Jimmy Scoular past Harry Threadgold soon after half-time.

Len Phillips, a future England wing-half, was at inside forward and he certainly taught me a few things that day. Phillips was not particularly nippy, and looking back I’d say he was an average First Division player with above-average distribution.

Yet he had good control. He showed me just how good when I went into my first tackle. The next moment I was sitting on my backside and Phillips was surging through the middle. Fortunately the danger was averted but, determined to make amends, I again lunged at him the next time he collected the ball. The result was the same as he left me trailing in his wake.

I had always been a firm believer in ‘getting stuck in’ and the value of sliding tackles. Running back, I spotted the left back Jack Hedley in a tussle with the Portsmouth right winger Peter Harris. It dawned on me that he was not throwing himself straight at the ball. He was holding off, ‘kidding’ the winger so that the rest of the defence – Stan Anderson in particular – could get back into position.

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Jack had not touched the ball but nonetheless he had wrecked the attacking movement. Sliding tackles at this level I soon learned were to be kept as a desperate last-ditch method of trying to foil an opponent. If you were beaten you were out of the game and your defence was one man short.

For my money Jack Hedley was one of the greatest and most underrated players in the game. I would class him as the best of Sunderland’s buys during the period when they became known as the ‘Bank of England’ club, signing the likes of Ray Daniel, Len Shackleton, Billy Bingham and Don Revie.

Jack was plagued with injuries. He got arthritis in a knee and I reckoned this stopped him playing for England. But to me he was unbeatable in his positional play and his fantastic ability to jockey an opponent into mistakes.

Jack helped me a lot in my early years and I am convinced that, had he been a little more flashy, he would have played for England, especially as he was equally comfortable at right or left back.

Despite this difficult start I was able to recover my confidence and was pleased to be able to get control of the ball and pass it to Tommy Wright on the wing or Harry Kirtley at inside right. But it was the other Wright, Arthur (no relation to Tommy), who showed me what passing was – he was controlling the ball and using his wonderful left foot to ping it to his namesake Tommy at outside right. When he did it the first time I thought ‘you lucky so and so’, but after he’d done it five or six times I knew there was no luck involved.

At the end I made a mental note to practise so I could do the same, only in my case from right half to the outside left. It took me some time, with more than a few mistakes on the training ground and pitch, before it came off, but eventually I mastered the technique and it was a ball I used effectively in the subsequent matches I appeared in for Sunderland, Newcastle, Middlesbrough and England.

I was pleased to see that the press said I had done reasonably well and although I was back in the reserves the following weekend I felt that, as long as I kept training hard and showed form in the reserves, I would get another opportunity.

Scotland v England in 1962

I was aware that England’s next game was just ten days away and what a game – Scotland at Hampden in the Home International Championship, the oldest international rivalry in football. I was hoping to play, but had to wait for three days to receive official confirmation, even though the newspapers reported I had been picked. This meant I was missing when Sunderland played at Kenilworth Road, my replacement Martin Harvey scoring one of the goals in a vital 2-1 win.

Two changes were made to the team from the game against Austria: Bryan Douglas replaced John Connelly at outside right and Bobby Smith took over from Crawford. Bryan was a very easy lad to get on with. I knew that he could play both on the wing and at inside forward but I felt he was slightly more effective as a winger. He was very clever with the ball, could dribble past the full-back and could centre or cross extremely accurately.

The teams were:

Scotland: Bill Brown (Spurs), Alex Hamilton (Dundee), Eric Caldow (Rangers), Paddy Crerand (Celtic), Billy McNeill (Celtic), Jim Baxter (Rangers), Alex Scott (Rangers), John White (Spurs), Ian St John (Liverpool), Denis Law (Torino), David Wilson (Rangers).

England: Ron Springett (Sheffield Wednesday), Jimmy Armfield (Blackpool), Ray Wilson (Huddersfield), Stan Anderson (Sunderland), Peter Swan (Sheffield Wednesday), Ron Flowers (Wolves), Bryan Douglas (Blackburn), Jimmy Greaves (Spurs), Bobby Smith (Spurs), Johnny Haynes (Fulham), Bobby Charlton (Man Utd).

I was always interested in what programme notes said about me and in this case it was: ‘Gave an impressive exhibition against Austria at Wembley last week and it was not surprising that the England selectors “capped” him again for today’s match. A far-seeing, industrious middleman, assertive and with a telling shot. Such is his stamina that he seems able to keep going in attack and defence without halting in his stride. His colleagues will find his power having an impact on how the game will veer this afternoon, while we may have cause to fear his judgement as he dashes through seeking a chance to have a shot at goal.’

The Scotland match was the biggest of my long career. England were up against a side packed with talent. I felt they should have done better in the ’60s than they did. Sadly John White was killed by lightning in 1964, but he and Caldow, McNeill, Crerand, Baxter, St John and Law were very good players. Yet they failed to qualify for the 1962 World Cup (although perhaps in view of how their group opponents Czechoslovakia went on to do in Chile that was no disgrace) and I feel the pressure applied on them by their fanatical support might have hampered their performances.

I had been slightly injured during the home league game with Southampton in between the England matches. It was my thigh and I needed a couple of days of treatment using a heat lamp and massages to bring out the bruising. I was able to train by the Wednesday but missed the round of golf with other players at Troon the following day. I was fit enough on match day but would not have liked to have been hit on my thigh, that’s for sure.

There were more than 130,000 in Hampden Park. Unlike many players I can think of, crowds, big or small, never got to me, and I was lucky in that I didn’t get too nervous before even the biggest of matches. I think this is why I was often chosen as captain. I was so laid back that Peter Swan, of Sheffield Wednesday and England, the man who was imprisoned for betting on matches, gave me the ironic nickname of ‘Jet’ because I walked around as if I’d got all day.

But I was affected by tension this day. We went out first and the booing and hissing was deafening; it shook the living daylights out of you. And what a noise when Scotland came out; the sky seemed to move, never mind the stadium. It was terrifying and to make matters worse there didn’t seem to be a single person in the crowd supporting England. Mind you, even if there had been it would have been best to have kept quiet.

Backed by such support, and determined to reverse the previous season’s 9-3 Wembley hammering, Scotland pushed forward and when they scored after thirteen minutes Hampden Park went absolutely berserk. David Wilson was the scorer and from our point of view it was a poor goal. We failed to clear a corner and when it came back into the box the Rangers outside left was unmarked and he struck the ball past Ron Springett, me, Jimmy Armfield and Peter Swan all close to the goal line. The roar was terrifying; I could see players on our side shouting at each other out of disappointment but you could not hear what they were yelling.

There was little doubt that at half-time the Scots were full value for their lead but in the second half we were much more in the game. Bobby Smith was able to unsettle their defence, Johnny Haynes, making his fiftieth international appearance, saw much more of the ball and Jimmy Greaves’s runs were promising to pay off.

Although we didn’t exactly silence the crowd we could at least communicate with each other. With our confidence increasing I felt we might get an equaliser and I am convinced we did when with fifteen minutes left Johnny Haynes unleashed a powerful drive that beat Bill Brown in the Scots goal. The ball rebounded from the crossbar and, standing on the edge of the penalty area, I could see it had clearly crossed the goal line before bouncing out. One-one, great. Yet the referee, Holland’s Leo Horn, did not give it. We were going mental. Haynes, the captain, ran over to argue on our behalf but Horn was not going to change his mind and we were left bitterly disappointed.

It knocked the stuffing out of us and it was no great surprise when Scotland got a second with just two minutes left. Peter Swan made a late challenge on Denis Law and the resulting penalty was stroked home by the Scots captain and left back Eric Caldow.

At the end the crowd was even crazier and the Scottish lads did a lap of honour. Most of the England players couldn’t wait to get off but I watched the Scotland side enjoy the applause as I couldn’t help but be fixated by such enthusiasm from the crowd.

But I was bitterly disappointed by the result, especially as I knew, and as photographs in the following day’s papers confirmed, we had scored a goal. I felt I hadn’t played too badly. One of my roles had been to try and keep Denis Law quiet and I felt reasonably pleased that in many respects I had achieved that. I was also heartened by reports which said I had been one of the better England players. I had not disgraced myself, that’s for sure.

But the fact was that Scotland had beaten us and the selectors were bound to be both upset and not a little angry. It was England’s biggest game of the season, and no Englishman likes losing to Scotland.

So I wasn’t too surprised to find that I was left out for the next international, at home to Switzerland. Bobby Robson was again selected at number four, while up front Smith was dropped and England experimented by moving Bobby Charlton from left wing to play alongside Gerry Hitchens. We won 3-1.

Bobby Robson was one of my main rivals for an England place. He’d made his debut against France in November 1957 and became a regular after the 1958 Sweden World Cup following his move from Fulham to West Bromwich Albion.

He tended to play a little bit further forward than me and was a good passer of the ball, rarely wasting it. He was also very fit and could be relied on to last the full ninety minutes. He had developed a playing relationship with the England captain Johnny Haynes at Fulham and the selectors were obviously keen to see that maintained in the national team.

As he was born not far from me in Sacriston, County Durham, we always got on very well. He was a Newcastle fan but didn’t go on too much about it.

I was not surprised he went on to become a top-class manager. In 1959 Walter Winterbottom had persuaded him to take an FA coaching course at Lilleshall and when you were in Bobby’s company he would talk football, football and football. He was keenly aware of the tactical changes in the world game that were taking far too long to come to Britain, and he would engage the other players in conversations about them. He and Don Howe, who went on to coach England and manage West Brom and Arsenal, were always chatting away. Bobby knew the strengths and weaknesses of every player at each club in England and Scotland.

Because Walter Winterbottom tended to say little before a match, Bobby would talk to the other players about how best to tackle the opponents. He was an organiser was Bobby. Only Alf Ramsey has got the national team to the last four of the World Cup. We were unlucky to lose on penalties to West Germany in 1990 in Italy. It was a very sad day when Bobby died.

Moving on to St James’ Park in 1963

Two days later I was sitting at home at about 10pm, watching television, when there was a knock on the front door. I was amazed to find Alan Brown asking to come in. It was late, and he wasn’t exactly great company at the best of times so I couldn’t help thinking that what he wanted had better be good. It even crossed my mind, although only very briefly, that he might be there to apologise for his behaviour. It soon became clear that wasn’t going to happen.

He sat down and started talking about football in general but as it was obvious that wasn’t the reason for his visit I asked him why he’d decided to call round at my house not long before I was due to go to bed.

‘We’ve received an offer for you and have accepted it,’ was his reply.

So much for what had been said by Syd Collings. Now it was up to me. I hadn’t even been given the courtesy of being told which club was involved before they’d accepted their offer.

What if it was some side halfway down Division Three – or worse, Newcastle? I couldn’t accept either of those possibilities. I wanted to continue playing in Division Two at least and as a Sunderland fan I couldn’t go to St James’ Park.

Yet when I asked which club it was Brown was deliberately evasive. I couldn’t understand how this man, normally so blunt and often rude, wouldn’t answer the obvious question. What on earth was it all about, I thought, as he waffled on endlessly about what a good servant I had been for Sunderland and how they’d be unhappy to see me move.

Had he forgotten that it was me who asked for a transfer? I needed to move because I wanted to play first-team football. After about an hour he said finally that the manager of the club wanting to sign me was sitting outside in the car!

‘You what? You’ve left him outside for an hour? What the hell for?’ was all I could think to say, and my anxiety wasn’t soothed when I suggested he should go and get him and Brown told me that whoever it was wouldn’t mind. I was speechless at this behaviour but that was nothing as to what was to follow – which was the biggest shock of my life.

I had absolutely no idea who would come through my front door with Alan Brown but when it was Newcastle manager Joe Harvey I was totally flabbergasted. At first I thought this was some sort of joke, but Alan Brown didn’t have a sense of humour.

I’d known Joe from having played golf with him, Bobby Mitchell, Bob Stokoe and Ronnie Simpson and had always got on well with him; but this was different. It took some time but I calmed myself down and we must have spoken for an hour or so. It was all very amicable as he told me he felt I could help knit together a young Newcastle team as part of his drive to help them regain their place in Division One.

Yet in the back of my mind all I was thinking was ‘No way am I going there, no way am I going there, no way, no way, never, never, never and never again’; and when they both left nothing had been agreed.

The following day, when I called at Roker Park to see Brown he was forthright, making it clear that my Sunderland career was over and that I should leave as quickly as possible. The club had accepted the offer and the quicker things were resolved the better.

I needed to sort a few things out and while doing that Alan Brown robbed me of a fair amount of money. I asked him if I would still be given a testimonial at the end of the season. I knew the gate would be reduced by any Newcastle connection but I felt I had earned it. ‘Yes,’ he told me. Also I was entitled to a second five-year service payment which amounted to £750. Would I get this if I had the testimonial, I asked? Brown said he didn’t know but would phone the League secretary Alan Hardaker. Later Brown told me I could have one or the other – the £750 or the testimonial. It left me in a quandary, but I thought I’d stick with having the match; it would mean one last game at Roker Park and with Sunderland likely to get promoted I might do well on the back of their success.

A year later I found out there was no need to make such a decision. Alan Hardaker told me Brown had never phoned him and that I was entitled to the long-service money even if I had had a testimonial. I never got the money. Len Ashurst has said that Brownie was an honest bastard. One of those words was correct.

Faced with little real option other than to transfer from red and white stripes to black and white ones I left Roker Park for the last time as a Sunderland player, putting behind me more than eleven years in the first team and close to 450 first-team appearances.

Funnily enough, as I left to go and meet Joe Harvey, one of the fans who could often be seen standing around outside the main entrance at Roker Park, no doubt in an attempt to cheer me up, said, ‘Hi Stan, you’ll be back in the side shortly.’ It brought a smile to my lips as by the end of the day I was a Newcastle player. I have to say it proved the best move of my life. I enjoyed two fabulous years there and I still keep in touch with many of the players.

A few months later, in March 1964, I had the ‘pleasure’ of playing against Sunderland at St James’ Park as captain of Newcastle United. Before the match I told Joe Harvey that if he wanted to leave me out it was fine by me. He said he didn’t know what I was on about. When I said it could be embarrassing he simply laughed off the idea and told me I was playing.

Bryan Robson

Living just round the corner from Roker Park, I first started to watch Sunderland just as Stan was beginning to establish himself in the first team. In an era when Len Shackleton was the crowd’s favourite, I was more drawn, because of his great passing ability, to the young, dark haired wing half. I particularly recall the FA Cup game against Arsenal in 1961 when Stan scored two goals and largely ran the show. Like a lot of young lads I would wait to collect autographs and Stan was always happy to sign.

I hadn’t played a first-team match at Newcastle when Stan arrived but I can recall that he quickly made an impression in the practice games by showing what a good player he was. Eventually I ended up playing alongside him. I was wearing number seven and he was playing right midfield and he was always advising me about how to improve my game, including the need to constantly work hard.

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