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On This Day: 4 August 1987 - Denis Smith bemused by lack of funds to improve Sunderland’s side

ON THIS DAY 1987: No money available to Sunderland’s manager to build a squad capable of mounting a Third Division promotion campaign? Well I never...

On this day in 1987, new Sunderland manager Denis Smith was voicing frustration at the lack of money available to build a squad capable of mounting a challenge for promotion.

Smith, who’d previously only managed York City – and didn’t hold back from sharing his forthright opinions with the press – told The Journal’s Jeff Brown:

By the standards I’ve been used to I’ve got a reasonable amount to spend, but by Sunderland’s standards I’ve got hardly anything.

Denis was never backwards in coming forwards.

By this point, Smith had been able to bring in former Arsenal full-back John Kay from Wimbledon, and John MacPhail from Bristol City; Kay for £18,000, MacPhail on a free. And, aside from the addition of on-loan goalkeeper Steve Hardwick, that was the extent of the pre-season transfer business he was able to conduct.

Eric Gates
Pictured here in 1989, Eric Gates was given a new lease of life by Denis Smith.
Photo by Tom Jenkins/Getty Images

The early-season sale of midfielder Mark Proctor to Sheffield Wednesday for £275,000 provided some much-needed income, £80,000 was spent a few weeks later to bring Marco Gabbiadini to the club.

The financial constraints Smith and assistant Viv Busby worked under throughout his time at Roker, but particularly during his early days, underlines just what an impressive job their pair did. To galvanise a group of experienced players – including Eric Gates, Frank Gray, Reuben Agboola, Iain Hesford, Gary Bennett and Keith Bertschin – who’d been relegated under McMenemy the season before, is a remarkable achievement.

Promotion out of Division Three certainly isn’t a straightforward task – as we’ve witnessed over the past couple of seasons – however, after taking a couple of months to find their feet, Smith’s team made it look a relatively easy one.