On this day 38 years ago, Sunderland began a relationship with a player who went on to make 270 appearances for the club over three spells spanning 14 years.
Wirral-born Bracewell left home at 15-years-old to join Stoke City as a £15-a-week apprentice, and it didn’t take long for the midfielder to be involved in the first team when he made his debut at Anfield as a 17-year-old.
Even though he was still cleaning Garth Crooks’ boots at the time he made enough of an impression in the 1-0 defeat to become a regular starter, as Alan Durban’s Stoke were attempting to fight off relegation.
As Bracewell continued to impress at the Victoria Ground and became one the hottest properties in English football, he was also building relationships with the likes of Howard Kendall and Denis Smith who having seen him at close quarters would make sure they bought him at their respective clubs during their management careers.
In 1981 Alan Durban swapped the Potteries for the North-East when he was persuaded by then chairman Sir Tom Cowie to take on the job at Roker Park.
Two years later Bracewell’s contract was up at Stoke City and despite interest from Wolves and Everton at the time, the lure of teaming up with Alan Durban was enough to convince the 21-year-old to sign for Sunderland in a deal worth £250,000.
Paul was not blessed with the greatest ability, but he has a will to win.
The 1983-84 season saw a young Bracewell join the likes of Leighton James, Shaun Elliott, Nick Pickering and Barry Venison as part of a young side Alan Durban was building at the club and went on to make 44 appearances for the club that year.
But despite the obvious potential of the squad being built at Roker under Durban, it was decided that after a defeat at Old Trafford in late February against Ron Atkinson’s Manchester United side, with the club sitting four places outside of the Division One drop zone in 16th, the manager would be relieved of his duties.
The news appeared to come as a shock to the players as much as it did the fans as Bracewell commented on the Roker Rapport Podcast:
It was a surprise to everybody, to the players and the supporters as well because I think they were seeing signs of Alan (Durban) building a young team that were ambitious. There was a nice blend of youth and experience. Times were looking good and I was disappointed Alan left.
There was then a shift at the club when former Sunderland player Len Ashurst took over as manager and as the new manager had different ideas, rather than seeing our player of the year Bracewell as potentially someone to build a side around, he was viewed as someone who could raise valuable funds to bring in new players to implement the new managers style.
Sunderland finished up 13th in the Canon League Division One at the end of the season, and eventually Bracewell would sign for Everton, who had finished 7th and had also just beaten Watford in the FA Cup final to lift the trophy, for £250,000, linking him with his former teammate Howard Kendall who took him to Goodison.
In his first season on Merseyside, Bracewell formed a formidable partnership with Peter Reid in the middle of the park as he made almost 60 appearances as Everton won the Charity Shield on his debut, which was followed by the First Division title and the UEFA Cup Winners Cup. They quadruple was only denied due to defeat in the FA Cup final by Liverpool in a final full of emotion following soon after the Hillsborough disaster.
England caps also followed that season and at only 22-years-old was one of the biggest talents in the game. Unfortunately an injury sustained at St James’ Park on New Year’s Day 1986 would mean that potential wasn’t to be fulfilled, but he still played a major role in two Sunderland promotion campaigns to the top flight - the first under Denis Smith in 1990, and the second with Peter Reid as manager in 1996.
Despite his admission he probably only ever had 50% movement in his ankle that caused his injury problems in 1986 that kept him out of the game for almost two and a half years, and despite the fact he never passed a medical for the rest of his career, he was still one the classiest midfielders I’ve seen in the flesh to have pulled on the red and white stripes.