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Soccer - League Division Two - Charlton Athletic v Sunderland - The Valley

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Sunderland AFC’s greatest ever strikers: Part One

A long walk in the rain got Kelvin thinking about some of our best forwards, not just the ones he’s seen play, but the forwards he wished he’d seen but has only heard and read about.

Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

The rain that was belting down on my “march with Kyril’s army” walk between Ushaw Moor and Esh Winning was not helping my mood regarding our striker situation, especially as the news filtered through that Wyke had signed for Wigan!

I got to thinking about some of our best forwards, not just the ones I have seen play, but the forwards I wish I had seen but have only heard and read about.

I suppose I should try and clarify what I mean by “our best forwards”. I love a striker that scores all kinds of goals, “squaffy” rebounds off the toosh, as well as 35yard screamers. I delight in watching a “deadly duo” but would have to say apart from a couple of notable exceptions, I have mostly seen us terrorised by these! I like a striker who creates as well as scores. I am not asking for much in my striker’s am I?

I have been watching Sunderland since 1966, so maybe I should divide my thoughts into the strikers I have read and heard about, and then the first of those that I saw with my own eyes. Then, in parts two and three, I’ll look back at those more of us remember seeing live.

David Halliday

I wonder if like me you had even heard of Halliday? The Forgotten Legend by Iain McCartney is a good read if you want more detail. Halliday had astounding goal-scoring statistics for every club he played for. The Scot’s Sunderland career lasted from 1925 to 1930. He was top goal scorer in all four seasons that he played for us and his best haul of 43 league goals in 42 games in 1928/29 is still a record to date. Halliday scored 162 goals in 175 appearances for Sunderland, and he scored all of these goals as a top flight player. Apart from his exceptional scoring record for Sunderland, it is worth noting the assists and all-round team play that the media of his time credit him with.

Dave Halliday went on to play briefly for Arsenal and then Man City, where he again broke goal-scoring records. His record as the fastest man to 100 top flight goals still stands, and he is one of only two men to be outright top scorer in the English and Scottish top divisions.

He was an eloquent and intelligent talker about the game and it is no surprise that he would go on to successfully manage Leicester to the second division championship, and Aberdeen - who had never won a major trophy - to cup and league success.

Remarkably, his goal-scoring feats did not lead to international success, and whilst Hughie Gallagher and James McCrory were both scoring goals for fun at the time, his better record suggests a mystery as to why no international caps?

Halliday remains the only forward whoever scored at least 35 top flight league goals four years running, and he did this as a Sunderland player. What would we give for that kind of firepower today to lift us out of this dire league and onwards?

Bobby Gurney

I was surprised to realise Gurney played alongside Dave Halliday for four seasons as an inside forward. Gurney is Sunderland’s record goalscorer with 228 goals in 388 appearances in all competitions. In the present-day era where some players and their agents show little to no loyalty and continue to bite the hand that feeds them, Bobby Gurney’s playing career extended over 21 years with Sunderland, after which he joined the club training staff. I would welcome a bit of that kind of remarkable service and loyalty in today’s squad, as well as the goals!

Brian Clough

Clough made 74 appearances for the Lads, scoring 63 goals. He was one of the goal-scoring legends I used to hear older supporters extoll when I first started going to Roker. He has a career tally of 267 goals in 269 appearances in all competitions for Middlesbrough and Sunderland.

What intrigued me about Clough was he appeared to have been a scorer of all kinds of goals despite an apparent lack of searing pace. It seems churlish to mention that all of these were scored in the old second division... so I won’t!

The greatest manager we never had - I wish I had seen him play.

Soccer - League Division Two - Chelsea v Sunderland - Stamford Bridge Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

Johnny Crossan & Nick Sharkey

When I first started watching Sunderland, this “deadly duo” were much lamented and an intriguing topic of my imagination as a young Lads fan. I never saw them play together, though I did see Sharkey play and score at Roker in a 4-2 reverse to West Ham in 1966. This was just before his transfer to Leicester City (where the Foxes were hoping to pair him with the great Dereck Dougan).

Sharkey & Crossan scored 47 goals between them in our first promotion season of 1963/64. Led by the legend that is Charlie Hurley, this was a team that battled hard and scored goals all over the pitch. Crossan scored 27 goals and Sharkey 20 that season, but the cause was further enabled by Herd (16), Mulhall (10), Usher (6), and Hurley himself weighing in with seven goals, to make us a team that was always likely to score as well as being hard to beat.

Sharkey would top the goalscoring charts for Sunderland in 1964/65 with 21 goals on our return to the top division. The duo, though, were broken up as Crossan left the club for Man City halfway through that season with 6 goals in 15 appearances.

Crossan went on to become the captain of Joe Mercer & Malcolm Allison’s promotion-winning City side in 1966 and was reported to still be turning out for Foyle Harps in Derry in 1980 aged 42.

Prior to signing for Sunderland in 1962, he had been banned for life by the Irish League for allegedly accepting payment as an amateur. Like Trevor Ford before him, another prolific Sunderland striker, he took himself off to Europe where he played for Sparta Rotterdam and Standard Liege before Sunderland snapped him up upon the lifting of his life ban.

His career and game must have been enhanced by this enforced period abroad, he played European Cup football and in a European Cup semi-final against Real Madrid, marking their legend Alfredo Di Stefano.

For the record, Crossan made a total of 99 appearances for Sunderland scoring 48 goals from his inside left position between Oct 1962 and January 1965.

Sharkey made his debut for Sunderland as a 16-year-old in 1960, having been a record goalscorer in the junior ranks for the Lads. He scored a total of 62 goals in 117 appearances between 1960 and 1966, and his average of a goal every other game was matched by high work rate and team play. He jointly holds the record for the most goals scored in a league match, when he rattled in 5 against Norwich City at Roker in 1962/63, sharing this record with Bobby Gurney and Charlie Buchan. One of our Scottish contingent, he settled in Sunderland and finished his career playing for South Shields.

Nick Sharkey of Sunderland
Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

If Halliday, Gurney, Clough, Crossan, and Sharkey had taken my mind off the dilemma of Sunderland’s striker situation for a brief period, musing over the strikers I had seen play with my own eyes not only took my mind off the drenching I was getting on my walk.

It almost led to a mountain rescue call out, as I lost myself in halcyon memories of what was, and might have been, for Sunderland and our great strikers!


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