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Denver Hume: The latest promising young left back off the Sunderland production line

With Denver Hume impressing this season in League One, David Holloway takes a look at our long line of youth products who occupied the same position for Sunderland over the years.

Oxford United v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Leila Coker/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

All fans love a home-grown player - “one of their own”, or so goes the cliche - and over the last 40 odd years our first team has benefitted from having several home-grown in the position of left-back.

I am not sure that there has been any other position in the team with the same number of players who have been promoted from the youth team to the first team and going on to fill that position for some time.

Denver Hume is now the latest in a long distinguished line with the 22-year-old having established himself over the last year or so. Hume has always been a player with promise - a player earmarked for the first team from a young age.

Sunderland v Peterborough United - Sky Bet League One
Denver Hume in action against Peterborough United
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

There were some doubts as to whether his defensive skills and physical strength would be sufficient to cope with first team football as a succession of injuries early in his career slowed development somewhat.

However, his performances so far this season and several last season - albeit still showing inconsistencies - have been encouraging. Without wishing to tempt fate, he has also proven to be durable in the last twelve months going some way to dispel those early fears over his robustness. So, can he follow in the footsteps of several excellent servants who have progressed into the team in a similar way? Let’s take a look at just a few of them...

Joe Bolton

The first left back in my time was Joe Bolton.

Born in Birtley, he was rock hard with a great left foot. A youth team graduate, he made his debut in 1972. Bolton would have been our left back in the cup winning team if not for the recruitment of the experienced Ron Guthrie to help some of the younger players along.

By the mid to late 70’s, however, visiting right wingers would be in literal terror of Bolton launching them into one of the paddocks after a typical 1970’s style challenge. Joe starred in two excellent promotion teams and played over 300 games before being moved on to Middlesbrough for good money when funds at the club were tight.

Soccer - Football League Division Two - Sunderland Photocall
Joe Bolton
Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

Nick Pickering

The next local lad to fill the left back slot was Nick Pickering. Pickering’s early career was spent in midfield, but his running power made him an ideal left wing back in Alan Durban’s young team.

Pickering was an excellent player, winning one England cap and making over 200 appearances for Sunderland before a successful top flight career with Coventry City - where he would win an FA Cup win - and then later with Derby County.

Soccer - Football League Division One - West Bromwich Albion v Sunderland
Nick Pickering
Photo by Peter Robinson/EMPICS via Getty Images

Michael Gray

We then had a ten-year wait until probably the best home grown left back of the lot established himself. Michael Gray along with Craig Russell and Martin Smith starred in the Sunderland youth team at the beginning of the 1990s.

Gray would make his debut in 1992, after which he would spend the first few years of his career switching between full-back and a wide midfield player. But in 1997 when Martin Scott’s injury problems caught up with him, he moved to left back and was up there with the best in the country for the next five seasons.

His partnerships with Allan Johnston, Stefan Schwarz and Julio Arca on that left-hand side were a delight to watch. His energy and fitness made him the ideal modern-day full back.

Off field antics and a perceived arrogance perhaps taint the memory for some, but not for me - Mickey Gray was a great player for Sunderland, winning three England caps (it should have been many more) and making over 400 appearances for the lads giving him almost legendary status.

Michael Gray
Michael Gray

George McCartney

George McCartney was Gray’s successor at left back, the Northern Irishman rising through the youth and reserve team ranks to make the Premier League.

George was never in Gray’s class, nor did he have Bolton’s physique or Pickering’s running power, but for a while in his first spell with us he forged an excellent partnership with Julio Arca in Mick McCarthy’s promotion team before leaving for West Ham.

McCartney would return to Sunderland just two years later for big money, but an ill-fated injury ravaged second spell meant he would add less than fifty appearances to his Sunderland total of 203 appearances across the two spells.

Darlington v Sunderland
George McCartney
Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

The Future

Those home-grown left backs have contributed well over 1,000 appearances in just under 50 years - very broadly - around 50% of all games played.

So, could Denver Hume rise to the levels of his predecessors?

He is playing in League One of course, not the top flight like his predecessors. He does however have the raw talent to develop and this must give him half a chance of growing into someone who we could see for years to come and hopefully at a much higher level – let’s hope he follows in the footsteps of those who went before him.

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