Malcolm Crosby will forever have a place in Sunderland AFC history. A local boy and Lads fan, born on this day 67 years ago and raised in South Shields, he had a decent playing career in the 1970s and ‘80s in the lower divisions of English football, firstly at Aldershot and then York City, where he played with two men who would shape his destiny at Roker Park: a veteran Denis Smith and a young John Byrne.
When Smith took the job as manager at Bootham Crescent, Crosby joined his coaching staff and the two mates’ careers became inextricably intertwined. Crosby then took his family out to Kuwait where he worked as a coach at several teams in the Gulf state, before getting the call from his old teammate and boss offering him a role with the Sunderland youth team in 1988.
The money was good in the middle east, but the draw of the north east and his boyhood club was too much and he accepted, but in order to make up for the drop in income family ran the club’s hostel for young players on Roker seafront and he developed a fantastic relationship with the talent coming through the ranks.
Smith’s time on Wearside was a success, with two promotions in three seasons seeing Sunderland rise from our lowest ebb (up to then) in Division 3 back to the top flight. However, relegation from Division 1 in 1990/91 on the last day of the season, followed by a sluggish start to the next campaign, saw Smith depart after Christmas 1991.
Crosby was initially reluctant to take the reigns from his old mate when offered the Caretaker Manager job by Chairman Bob Murray. However, Smith encouraged him to accept and, when he did, the scene was set for one of the the most extraordinary FA Cup runs in modern football history.
Hundreds of articles, tens of thousands of words and hours of podcast reminiscence have been dedicated to those glorious few months as Port Vale and Oxford were dispatched in rounds three and four, West Ham in the fifth round after a replay, the epic night at Roker against Chelsea, the nerves of the Semi Final at Hillsborough, and the pride and disappointment we felt in defeat to Liverpool at Wembley in the Final.
Whilst the Cup run was dominating, Crosby just about managed to keep Sunderland in Division Two despite a quite ridiculous build-up in fixtures towards the end of the campaign. Murray offered Crosby the manager’s job permanently, but only on a one-year deal and after stuttering start to the following league season, he was sacked and replaced by former England centre-back Terry Butcher.
For Sunderland fans of a certain age, Malcolm Crosby will always have a very special place in our hearts. He and that fantastic team of John Byrne, Paul Bracewell, Tony Norman, Peter Davenport, Gary Owers and Gordon Armstrong, gave us a dream and put us back on the footballing map. Happy Birthday, Malcolm!