Today marks the birth of the man who is unlikely to ever be dislodged as the club’s all-time leading record goalscorer - Bobby Gurney. It was on this date 113 years ago that Gurney, the son of a Silksworth Colliery miner, was born in Stewart Street.
His humble upbringing offset his passion for football, and after starting his senior career in non-league with Bishop Auckland, he was spotted by Charlie Buchan and promptly signed to play for his boyhood team - the club he would spend his entire professional career playing for, turning out for the lads over EIGHTEEN YEARS between 1926 and 1944.
He was handed his Sunderland first-team debut by manager Bob Kyle in a game against West Ham United at Upton Park on the 3rd of April, 1926. He played alongside another legendary Sunderland forward, Scotsman Dave Halliday, and he scored Sunderland’s equaliser in the 19th minute to get himself off the mark on his first appearance. Sadly, West Ham went on to win the game, but that was the day that a glorious relationship began between Gurney and the club.
He ended his first season with 4 goals from six games, a more than respectable total for an 18-year-old making his first steps into ‘proper’ football. Sunderland finished third, hoping to kick on from there and challenge again in the following season for the league title.
Sadly, Gurney would be made to wait to win silverware for Sunderland - some ten years later, in fact, when the Lads achieved success by winning the Division One title by eight clear points (this was at a time when you only got two points for a win).
Gurney topped the scoring charts in that championship winning season alongside the captain, Raich Carter, with both men finishing with 31 goals - entertaining stuff, you can imagine!
Gurney’s men then followed that league success up the following year by winning Sunderland’s first-ever FA Cup final - a 3-1 victory over Preston North End at the old Wembley Stadium, with Gurney scoring the first of our goals.
He continued playing sparingly for the club - mostly in friendlies and cup games - right throughout the second world war, eventually playing for the last time in a game at Roker Park in the League War Cup against Hartlepool United. Sunderland’s team that day was mostly made up of guest players from other clubs, and it was a shame that Gurney’s Roker swansong was in front of a small crowd in a largely unimportant tie.
Gurney retired as Sunderland’s greatest ever goalscorer, a league winner and an FA Cup hero. Having been born on Wearside, few other men can say they ever did more for their club than Bobby did for The Lads.
Earlier this summer, a giant mural of Gurney was painted in Silksworth by artist Frank Styles to commemorate the fantastic career he had as a Sunderland player, and to ensure that his legacy lives on.
Speaking to RokerReport.com, the man behind the mural, Gav Willis, explained why he felt inspired to create something brilliant for Bobby in Silky:
The idea for the mural is a new one, but the idea for something to commemorate Bobby isn’t. It was hatched by a friend and me around 20 years ago. There was an exhibition in Silksworth about famous people from the area and there were some things there for Bobby.
His championship winning medals were there and his FA Cup winning medal was on display too. It got us thinking that ‘yeah we knew the guy, but we bet that there are a lot of Sunderland fans that haven’t.’
So we talked about lobbying the club, to talk about getting some sort of memorial to him. We did that, but all we got back was that the club had named a bar after him. It’s all well and good but it could be better. We decided what we wanted to do, but of course life happens and other things come up.
It was during the lockdown period where I was working from home and someone had said about the display at Donkins, so that’s when I got in touch with Frank Styles. We managed to get in touch and that’s where the idea for the mural came from.
Fortunately, the Golden Fleece pub had just changed ownership. I got a message from the new owners asking me if someone would want to talk to them about putting the mural on the side of the pub. So that was great! I went over and spoke to them, and this was back at the beginning of April. It’s all finished now, we just need to raise the rest of the funding.
We knew that the pub would be undergoing renovations both inside and out, and this included the wall on the side of the pub. We thought due to the size, the location and visibility, it would be perfect.
I only live a matter of yards away from the pub, I’m a Silksworth lad. My dad, who passed away 20 years ago, was old enough to go and see him play and saw him around the village. To see it, was quite emotional. It’s a fitting tribute to the man, better than just naming a bar after him. After all, he was teetotal, so it didn’t really work!
It’s been so lovely to see it take shape. Another brilliant thing for me was that Rob Mason, the club historian, contacted me out of the blue, to say that he had the contact number of Bobby’s daughter and granddaughter who live in Hull. We arranged a phone call and his granddaughter was overwhelmed. She said it was lovely to see someone doing something to honour her granddad. After all, he’s our leading goalscorer of all time and he’s never really been honoured. To see that happen was great for the family.
She also said that when she saw the pictures of her granddad on the wall, it made her feel emotional. For me, there was no better testament from the family. Everyone who is important to Bobby and the project have been behind me all the way. I feel very proud that we have pulled it off, it’s a tribute in my mind to my dad; Bobby was his favourite player of all time. It’s so satisfying.
Nowadays, we don’t have a lot to shout about in terms of our football club at the moment, and we haven’t for some time. To show the younger generation of fans that this is the kind of player we used to have and this is how good we were, to show them this would be to educate them.
To know where we want to go, we need to know where we’ve been. In terms of a legacy, it’s not just for the people of Silksworth, it’s for the city and the people of Sunderland who hopefully, when lockdown eases, will come and see the mural.
I knew he was born near to myself, in a place called Stewart Street, and in the 1950s part of the street was demolished. I worked out how far away the mural is from where Bobby was actually born, we think it’s about 55 yards away. By luck rather than judgement, it’s worked out perfectly. It’s not about me or the pub, it’s about Bobby.
Fantastic words - here’s to a true Sunderland legend.
Happy birthday, Bobby!