My Dad ‘liked’ football, but, especially in his later years, he held a bit of disdain for what it had become. When he was younger I think he was more passionate about the game and Sunderland Association Football Club. That along with cricket were his sporting loves.
In conversations with my Dad about football and Sunderland, any that discussed the current day were met with a tut and a roll of the eyes where I think he made it looked like he was engaged, but in reality it didn’t spark any enthusiasm.
Subject matter from the past was generally focused on specific games that he attended, which were good tales but only three things made him sit up to the point you could visibly see the energy levels build and enthusiasm flow. These were, in no particular order, Monty’s double save in 1973, Len Shackleton (especially the time he saw him flick a coin into his top pocket in person) and Charlie Hurley.
When it came to Charlie, he would struggle to find the words to describe him. It ended up being a description of the crowds reaction more than what Charlie Hurley actually did for Sunderland on the pitch. It was described in what the feeling was to see him play. It’s funny looking back at those conversations now, my Dad passed away just over two years ago and I now wish I’d brought it up more.
Born in Cork, Hurley and his family moved to Essex when he was less than a year old in 1937, and as he began to develop into his teenage years he would sign for Millwall to start his football career, turning down West Ham prior to this.
After making his debut at the age of 17 in 1953, the next four years Hurley’s reputation grew to the extent that he was coveted by the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea, along with Alan Brown at Sunderland. But according to the player himself, we were at a disadvantage in the negotiations as the Sunderland Echo reported:
I do not intend to leave my home in London. I am playing for a first team and I am on first team money. I am quite satisfied and I have already told the club that if I must be transferred then it’s got to be to another London club. Why should I move? I am happy at Millwall.
Finances were tight at the Den however, and with a little help of having the highest bid of £18,000, plus an agreement to play in a friendly to raise more income, together with the charm of manager Alan Brown, Hurley signed on the dotted line on the 27th September 1957 to sign for a club he freely admitted he couldn’t pinpoint on a map.
Hurley would make his Sunderland debut on 5th October 1957 at Blackpool, as Alan Brown was pinning his hopes on the new signing to improve his sides fortunes as we struggled at the wrong end of the table. It didn’t, and we went down 7-0, despite a Stanley Matthews inspired Blackpool being down to ten-men for over a third of the game.
At the end of the Republic of Ireland international’s first season at Roker, Sunderland were relegated for the first time in the club’s history, but Alan Brown had no doubts of the talent of his young centre half:
Mark my words, this boy Hurley is going to be the greatest centre half of them all.
As we struggled to return to the top tier, Hurley was becoming a club legend, where his performances impressed the likes of Arsenal once again who were pondering a £20,000 offer for the defender. It was also his exploits at the other end of the pitch that brought acclaim to Hurley, when at the beginning of the 1960s he began to advance up the pitch when we were awarded a corner.
To see a central defender move into the oppositions penalty area ahead of a corner in the modern game is something that doesn’t attract a huge amount of surprise, but back in 1960 this was a novel idea, which originally came from one of his Sunderland colleagues:
I was always good in the air. It was Stan Anderson’s idea. So I went up for a corner and although I didn’t score it caused a lot of problems. The fact that I attacked the ball meant I got an awful lot of goals because we had some good crossers of the ball.
In 1963-64, after a couple of incredibly near-misses, Sunderland were promoted back to the top flight, along with Hurley’s former Roker team-mate Don Revie who had won the Second Division title as manager of Leeds United. Hurley’s form was so good at the back for Sunderland that year that he was runner-up to Bobby Moore for the FWA Footballer of the Year.
On his 31st birthday, on this day in 1967, Hurley was awarded a testimonial after spending ten years at Roker Park. The stars of the day were only happy to help out the Sunderland centre half, with the likes of Martin Peters, Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst turning out for a ‘Charlie Hurley International XI’ to take on a Sunderland side at Roker Park.
There was also an ‘old timers’ game that followed the main event, including the likes of Johnny Mapson, Bobby Gurney and Jackie Milburn. But despite the entertainment on offer the attendance was surprisingly low at 19,629 as the Journal described:
Fewer than 20,000 fans turned out to thank Charlie Hurley last night for his 10 years of service to Sunderland. And if the attendance was a poor reflection on the Sunderland supporters, the mixture of football served up by stars of the past and present for the 19,629 that did go to Roker Park, was anything but poor.
The game between Sunderland and the International XI, who were managed by Tommy Docherty, ended 5-5 and the ‘old timers’ game saw Jackie Milburn score from the halfway line.
Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night though, was when Charlie Hurley thanked the fans for attending and told them he’d been given the nod by manager Ian McColl to start his first game for Sunderland in seven months the following weekend.
Today is Charlie Hurley’s 85th birthday, and all at Roker Report wish him all the best and hopes the great man has a great day.
Sunderland: Montgomery, Irwin, Ashurst, Todd, Hurley, Baxter, Herd, Suggett, Martin, Kinnell, Hughes
International XI: Bonetti (Chelsea), McCreadie (Chelsea), McNab (Preston), Peters (West Ham), Mobley (Sheffield Wednesday), Moore (West Ham), Hurst (West Ham), Cooke (Chelsea), Osgood (Chelsea), McCalliog (Sheffield Wednesday), Hinton (Derby County)