I first saw Bobby play for our youth team in the home leg of the FA youth cup final in 1966. Even though we were beaten over two legs by a pretty impressive Arsenal team, Bobby’s nippy wing play and non-stop performance caught the eye... I was being groomed as a speedy right-winger myself at the time and was told to watch Bobby go about his business.
That was a canny team Bobby played in, with Derek Forster in goal, Colin Suggett, Billy Hughes and the best player on the park that day Colin Todd.
It did not take long for some of these lads to break in to the first team, and the 66/67 season saw most of them make their debut and/or feature regularly on the bench.
I saw Bobby make his senior debut on the last day of 1966, scoring the only goal against Man City in a 1-0 win in front of almost 29,000 fans at Roker. What a start for the Little General. Many fans like me were sure we had another gem on our books.
A leg break in a reserve game was to present Bobby with a formidable obstacle to overcome having just made an impact in the first team. Having grafted hard and made his way back, the same leg was broken again by “Norman bites yer legs Hunter” on 11 March 67. That leg break and the Leeds team attitude was to lead to a long period of rancour between the two teams and sets of supporters (arguably Bobby would have the last laugh in 73).
Bobby lost 18 months of football as he made his way back from a second fracture. At this time, a second fracture might have ended the career of most men.
Bobby Kerr would go on to make 413 appearances for Sunderland, with a further 14 from the bench. His appearance statistics are even more impressive when you consider he never played less than 40 appearances a season from 71/72 to 75/76.
Kerr’s role in the 1973 Cup Final winning team has, I believe, been well documented. His performance in the final in subduing the legendary Eddie Gray with his long time full back partner Tricky Dicky Malone is now the stuff of folklore.
We probably have all enjoyed the celebrations on the pitch at the end of the game in 73. My Father told me a story that at the celebrations afterwards, the Alan Price Set provided the music, and Bobby Kerr’s dancing as he ensured everyone’s glass was charged was allegedly a sight to behold.
I also heard a story that even today Bobby Kerr will not wear jeans because they were banned by Alan Brown, a manager whose discipline was legendary. Bobby was also told by Brown that as part of his rehab from his 2nd leg break he would have to cut the grass. If he was feeling hard done to, he put it to one side when he saw Brown in the middle of a big patch of nettles, pulling them out with his bare hands.
1973 was of course marvellous to watch. Having been at every round of the 73 cup run bar the final, I can absolutely vouch for Bobby Kerr’s vital role in these games.
For me though his best football for Sunderland was in season 75/76. He was outstanding in a team that at times played some fantastic football. His relationship with Dick Malone down the right flank was almost telepathic. He gelled so well with Tony Towers that I firmly believe he was a major factor in Towers international recognition. His understanding with Bryan Pop Robson led to many an assist, and of course his long time relationship with Billy Hughes, with whom he had come up through the Sunderland ranks with allowed them to read each other's game to great effect.
The PFA team of 75/76 included Montgomery, Towers and the little general Bobby Kerr.
So for me some of the best football I have seen at Roker was the 75/76 season, with the “little general” right at the heart of it. You might break my leg twice, but you will never break my spirit. Box to box – 90 minutes and some, hard and committed tackler, good crosser as well as clever reader of the game.
Happy Birthday Bobby Kerr - the kettle is always on bonny lad if you are passing the door!