The news of another probable season in League 1, as well as the apparent restrictions on our ability to spend on salaries to comply with wage cap proposals and a requirement to accommodate at least eight home grown players in the squad got me thinking about what it might take to be a club that “grows its own” players….hopefully good and great players.
However my head ended up a bit nipped with this, so I started recalling better times when Sunderland were a team that developed its own and gave youth a chance.
I saw my first Sunderland game in 1965. By 1966 and for the next five years or so, I was taken regularly from my Morpeth home not only to first team games, but youth games too.
This was a rich period of success for Sunderland’s youth team and success in bringing players through to the first team. Undoubtedly Alan Brown as manager for a 2nd spell, from 1968 to 1972 had something to do with this (he had previously managed from 1957 to 1964). He was always keen to give youth a chance.
Young players not surprisingly appeared to be attracted toward this style of management/culture.
1966 and all that – in this year, we not only saw world cup football at Roker Park, but Sunderland Youth team battled through to the Youth Cup Final before losing 5-3 on aggregate to an Arsenal team containing Pat Rice and Sammy Nelson.
Sunderland’s team contained Derek Forster the youngest ever goalie to play in the old first division at 15 years and 185 days. Forster had already gained 5 England Schoolboy caps in 1965. Colin Suggett, Billy Hughes and Bobby Kerr also played in that team alongside the mercurial Colin Todd.
1967 and try again – Birmingham City were beaten 2-0 on aggregate by Sunderland in the Youth Cup Final. The Latchford brothers Bob and Dave were in a strong and big Birmingham team. Sunderland still had Forster, Suggett and Hughes to call upon. They also had Keith Coleman who was to go on to play 54 times for the first team between 1971 & 1973 (before being transferred to West Ham and played in their European Cup Winners cup final team in 1976) and who might count himself unlucky not to have played in the 1973 cup final team.
Also in the team that day was Brian Chambers who could also have been a contender for the 1973 cup final team having played and been listed as sub in the earlier rounds.
1969 and here we go again – West Brom were beaten 6-3 on aggregate despite having the likes of Asa Hartford, Len Cantello and big Jim Holton in their team (Holton played 19 times for us in 1976 having signed from Manchester United). Keith Coleman was still eligible to play for the team and amongst others we had Richie Pitt and Bobby Park who were to share a testimonial at Roker Park in 1975 against AZ 69 (Alkmarr).
Park had been forced to retire from the game at the age of 23 having broken his leg for a second time. He too along with Pitt might have been a contender for the 1973 Cup winning team. Also in the youth team was Mick McGiven who was to make over 127 appearances for Sunderland between 1969 and 1973, scoring a not bad total of 12 goals.
I have often been asked, who was the best youth player I saw, to come through from that era. There are some cracking players named above, but without doubt ‘Toddo’ was the best youth to first team player I ever saw.
He oozed class and pace, read the game so well and even as a youth always looked like he had the goods to be a great player.
Fast Forward from 1969 and over the next ten year period we start to see the likes of Joe Bolton, Jackie Ashurst, Mickey Henderson, Tim Gilbert, Gary Rowell, Kevin Arnott, Shaun Elliott, Gordon Chisholm coming through in to the first team from the youth system.
Now, what would it take for Sunderland to become as good at bringing good young players of this calibre through to the first team again?