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Shaun Elliott: The story of how he was spotted by Sunderland

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Sunderland-supporting postman David Tulip played a key role in Shaun Elliott’s transition from playing under-18s football to becoming a Sunderland stalwart for over a decade.

Shaun Elliott Photo by David Cannon/Allsport/Getty Images

Postman David Tulip was relaxing at home after an early shift when an unexpected phone call interrupted his late afternoon snooze.

The junior football coach couldn’t believe his ears. It was a scout from Newcastle United, and he wanted to discuss a player at the heart of the U18 team he coached at Haydon Bridge in Northumberland.

Shaun Elliott had been a stand-out player for some time. After an unsuccessful trial with the Magpies, the defender was on the verge of signing for Sunderland, the club he and his family supported.

David recalled:

Joe Harvey was the Newcastle manager at the time. The scout claimed he was in the manager’s office, and said I was welcome to speak to him if I wanted to.

They’d heard Shaun was joining Sunderland and asked me if I could persuade him to sign for them instead. It was a shock because they’d previously shown no interest after the trial he’d had with them.

David Tulip with his son, Joseph

David informed Shaun and his family, but the teenager had already made up his mind. And the rest is history, for Elliott went on to become one of the most decorated players in Sunderland’s post-war history, clocking up well over 300 appearances in over a decade at Roker Park.

A cultured performer, Elliott formed one half of a highly-successful central defensive partnership alongside Jeff Clarke, and was a key member of the promotion side of 1979/80.

An England B international, Elliott captained Sunderland and was devastated to miss out on the League Cup final of 1985 due to suspension.

Soccer - League Division One - Manchester United v Sunderland - Old Trafford - Manchester - 1982
Elliott (right) slides in to tackle Remi Moses and Garry Birtles.
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

‘’Shaun’s success in the professional game was no surprise to me,’’ said David. ‘’I had seen what he could do and had every confidence in him.

‘’He played a junior league representative game at Corbridge with his arm in a sling and was still the best player on the field. He was a class act and was also a really good lad.’’

Himself a lifelong Sunderland supporter, David, now 85, has fond memories of watching his former charge from the stands at Roker Park.

Haydon Bridge Football Club received a modest fee for Elliott, who had impressed Sunderland’s chief scout Charlie Ferguson in a number of games for the junior side.

David still has handwritten letters from Ferguson, who he said had been full of praise for the junior set-up at Haydon Bridge.

He added:

I wrote to Sunderland after the Newcastle trial didn’t work out. They sent Charlie Ferguson out to watch our games and everything worked out well in the end.

Our Haydon Bridge junior team didn’t win anything of note, but we had some very good players. I think more of them could have made it. A lot of players in junior and local football don’t get the chance because they never get spotted, or they might not catch the eye on the day a scout is at the match.

We had David and Ernie Edwards who were very talented. Shaun’s brother Paul Elliott was a good player, especially if you got him fired up.

Shaun Elliott joined Sunderland, initially as an apprentice, in January 1974, before later turning professional. David wrote to Sunderland again in 1976 to inform them about other promising youngsters, but despite receiving another encouraging letter from Ferguson, nothing came to fruition second time around.

Elliott moved to Norwich in 1986, but his two seasons at Carrow Road were restricted due to injury. Spells at Blackpool and Colchester followed before returning North to turn out for Gateshead, Bishop Auckland, Whitley Bay and Durham City.

Despite suffering strokes in recent years, David Tulip is still a season ticket holder at Sunderland and has a wheelchair seat in the East Stand, where he is joined by son Joseph.