In March 1987, Lawrie McMenemy’s reign as Sunderland manager (or, to be more precise, managing director) was dying a slow death.
On the field, the team was sitting in 15th place, and while four wins in eight games had steadied the ship somewhat after a disastrous run of one win in twelve (punctuated by a full-strength side going down 2-1 in a friendly against Bishop Auckland to celebrate the famous non-league club’s centenary), we were meandering aimlessly, devoid of hope.
Off the field, supporters were growing increasingly frustrated at the seeming malaise engulfing the club. Results aside, the Murray versus Barry Batey boardroom battle was in full swing – Batey desperate for control, and Murray desperate to keep hold – despite suggesting liquidators may be called in at the season’s end.
This naturally brought the financial reality of employing the highest-paid manager in British football – and his serious underperformance – under increased scrutiny. Even the price of his company car – a Mercedes costing £8000 per year was highlighted as a sign of excess on top of his reputed £150,000 salary.
“The model he has now is a smaller one than the model which we agreed to when he first signed his contract,” reassured Murray.
Joe Royle’s Oldham come to town
And this unrest provided the backdrop to a home fixture against Oldham Athletic. And, despite the Rokermen sitting in 15th position – McMenemy clearly had his sights set on the upper echelons of the Today League (the national newspaper’s sponsorship of all four divisions lasting only 12 months). A promotion place, he said, wasn’t out of the question; a win would set up a run of three away games nicely, and we could make a late surge up the table.
Taking his place in the team that lined up on that Saturday afternoon, 21 March 1987, in front of 10,250 included 20-year-old reserve team right back, Mark Outterside.
Injuries to Scottish international George Burley and the versatile Reuben Agboola saw the Hexham-born Outterside included in the first XI after graduating to the reserve team from the youth team a couple of years earlier. He had been due to make his first-team bow at home to Derby the month before, however a hamstring injury had ruled him out on that occasion.
“He’s a natural right back,” McMenemy told The Journal’s Jeff Brown before the game. “You always hope local lads will come through because it encourages others to join the club.”
Taking to the first-team pitch... for one time only
Lining up in a 4-4-2 formation, with Iain Hesford behind him, and skipper Gary Bennett, Steve Hetzke and Frank Gray to his left, Outterside played, according to the match report, with ‘confidence and spirit’.
They were qualities in short supply.
Trailing 1-0 to a first half effort from Denis Irwin, a bobbling second half shot from Tommy Wright, the future Middlesbrough winger (and son of the former Sunderland player of the same name) ‘wrong-footed’ Outterside at the near post, to secure a rather miserable 2-0 victory for Joe Royle’s men.
If it’d been the days of the dubious goals committee, it may well have gone down as Outterside (og). Kindly, Wright got the credit.
It was an Oldham team that featured a number of younger players who’d go on to be big names – Andy Goram, Andy Linighan, and Mike Milligan, as well as Irwin and Wright themselves, supplemented by the likes of Roger Palmer, were particularly impressive. But that was a moot point.
It was another defeat, and the mood which greeted the second goal for the visitors was one of apathy rather than anger. Although it had turned to anger by the full-time whistle, with hundreds of fans gathering outside Roker’s Main Stand entrance to call for the removal of McMenemy.
Clearly, the chances of a late surge up the table weren’t considered to be too high after all.
Lessons to be learnt
Of course, we all know how the 86-87 season panned out. McMenemy stayed in charge for another four games – which brought only one more point – before being replaced by Bob Stokoe who oversaw the death nails being hammered firmly into our coffin.
And, as for Mark Outterside, that was it, too. He departed the club on a free transfer at the end of the season and headed for Feethams, where he was first-choice full-back for Darlington during the 1987-88 season, as they finished 13th in division four.
That was his last season of professional football.
Throughout the 1990s he was a familiar name on the northern league circuit, with spells at Blyth Spartans, Newcastle Blue Star, Whitley Bay, Hebburn and Consett. While he laced up his boots on a Saturday, during the week Outterside was, by now, a primary school teacher – a job he still does today, as headteacher at Westerhope Primary School in Newcastle.