After catching the eye at his hometown club Derry City during the mid-1950s, Johnny Crossan was hot property.
Sunderland were one of the clubs reputedly interested in bringing him to England, and a big money transfer seemed to be on the cards – but when that didn’t materialise, he instead switched to Coleraine in 1958.
It was a move that was to have drastic repercussions for the diminutive inside forward and meant that at one point his career looked to be over.
When it seemed like Coleraine were about to quickly cash in and sell Crossan, his former side were incensed at missing out on a potential transfer fee. So incensed, in fact, that they were willing to incriminate themselves and reported Crossan to the Irish League for receiving payments as an amateur player.
As a result, in January 1959 the league handed both clubs small fines for making the payments but saved the main punishment for Crossan himself, who was given a life-time ban from football.
Following an appeal the decision was relaxed slightly, allowing Crossan to move to mainland Europe and ply his trade at Sparta Rotterdam and then Standard Liege, excelling at both and earning a call up to the Northern Ireland international side for whom he became a regular.
His form in European Cup games meant he continued to be tracked by several English clubs, and in August 1962 Sunderland Chairman Syd Collings wrote to the Irish League asking them to reconsider their stance and allow Crossan to play in Britain.
While awaiting a decision from the league, talks with the player and his parent club continued, with Sunderland completing a double over Liege during this period after two friendlies were arranged between the sides. With Crossan making his Roker Park bow, albeit still as an opponent at this point, Sunderland won the first of these games 4-1 and then came out 2-1 winners in the return – although a minor knee injury meant Crossan sat that one out.
The Sunderland leg was played in September 1962 and in the same month Irish League officials met, with sources suggesting they were close to deciding Crossan’s future.
Discussions continued behind the scenes and the following month they lifted the ban, paving the way for a contract and £26,700 fee to finally be sealed. Making his Sunderland debut exactly a month after the game in Liege, Crossan quickly showed supporters that he was worth the wait.
He only missed four games following his introduction midway through the 1962-63 season.
Sunderland reached the semi-finals of the League Cup and narrowly missed out on promotion, but with the Ulsterman able to both score and create goals he was a major part of manager Alan Brown’s side. That proved to be the case the following year, when the ever-present Crossan scored the winning goal against Charlton Athletic that secured a place back in Division One.
The squad that won promotion in 1963-64 is still revered to this day. Top scorer that campaign with 22 league goals, plus another 5 in the FA Cup, Crossan was an instrumental part of its success, and yet for all the effort put into his arrival he was soon moved on by new manager George Hardwick, who sold him to Manchester City.
Leaving in January 1965, Crossan was only at Sunderland for a little over two years. In that time he had scored at Wembley for his national side and become a firm favourite at Roker, but was evidently not part of Hardwick’s plans.
A promotion winner again with City, whom he captained, and then Middlesbrough’s record signing in 1967, Crossan did enjoy further success in England before returning to Belgium later in his career.
It was the opposite journey that we mark today though, when on this date in 1962 the Johnny Crossan transfer saga was finally wrapped up and he became a Sunderland player at last.