Very few people alive today will remember watching Johnny Cochrane’s Sunderland team of the 1920s and 1930s, but the names of the players he assembled into one of the most successful teams of the era are still spoken of today - Bobby Gurney, Raich Carter, Dave Halliday, Jimmy Connor. English League Champions, FA Cup winners, holders of the Charity Shield; his side won it all.
When Scotsman Cochrane died 60 years ago today, he left a legacy of success that no Sunderland manager has come close to matching since. He also represents a tradition of managers and players coming from north of the River Tweed to combine Caledonian spirit with local talent and shape the history of our football club.
Cochrane was born in Paisley near Glasgow and was firstly a player and then manager of his hometown club, St Mirren FC, from 1916 to 1928, the high-point being in 1925-26 when he guided them to fourth place in the League and won the Scottish Cup. He took them to Catalunya to inaugurate Barcelona’s new stadium in 1922.
His record as Sunderland manager is immense. He took charge of exactly 500 competitive games over 11 years, winning 212 of them on his way to securing 1935-36 First Division title - our sixth, and, famously, our first ever FA Cup in 1937.
The “Little Magician” brought fellow Scots Tommy McInally and Adam McLean, both from Celtic, as well as Dave Halliday, Sandy McNab, Patsy Gallagher, Jimmy Connor, to play alongside the likes of local legends Bobby Gurney and introduced youngsters like Raich Carter into the mix. The result of years of building this squad was Sunderland’s first league title in over 20 years, followed the season after by the iconic win at Wembley over Preston North End. Indeed, this was a collection of footballers who were only rivalled at the time by the great Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal.
When “Wee Johnny” retired in 1939, his squad was taken forward by one of his own, Bill Murray, who returned to Wearside after two years playing up at St Mirren. But the battle against fascism in Europe was to deny Murray the opportunity to retain the best of this side - and no matter how much money was thrown at rebuilding in the 1950s, we would never again regain our status as one of the true elite clubs in English and world football. Murray would sadly pass away five days before Cochrane in December 1961.
John Cochrane’s death was marked with a small column in the Newcastle Journal that referred to him as a “dapper little Scot who was secretary-manager of Sunderland FC during the club’s golden pre-war era”, but I couldn’t find much more of a tribute in national press clippings for a man who transformed our club and brought great success to tens of thousands of fans on Wearside.