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On This Day (15 Sept 1987): Sunderland boss Denis Smith eyes moves for David Platt & Steve Bull!

The future England duo were in Smith’s sights as he sought striking reinforcements.

Platt in his Villa days being chased down by Toby’s da
| Photo by Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images

Sunderland’s start to our first season in Division Three had gotten off to a respectable start. Three wins and three draws from the first six league games had placed Denis Smith’s among the early pace-setters, and the manager was keen to strengthen the squad to maintain the promotion push.

Only defenders John Kay and John MacPhail had been added to the squad during the summer, and adding more goals to the team was at the top of the manager’s priority list.

Two players were coming under close scrutiny – Crewe Alexandra attacker David Platt and Wolves striker Steve Bull. Both were plying their trade in the division below Sunderland, and their goalscoring exploits were catching the eyes of clubs across the country. 21-year-old Platt had scored 23 the season before, while Bull had notched 19 in all competitions as Wolves missed out on promotion thanks to a play-off defeat to Aldershot.

It was Platt whom Smith was keener on – he’d made a personal trip to watch the former Manchester United youngster score in Crewe’s 4-1 Littlewoods Cup defeat to Shrewsbury the week before, while Sunderland scout Peter Wyndham had been dispatched to Molineux to watch Crewe take on Wolves the following weekend. Platt scored two and Bull got one at the other end, as the game ended 2-2.

Of course, a move for neither eventuated. Marco Gabbiadini arrived at Roker Park a couple of weeks later to solve Smith’s striking dilemma.

David Platt was bought by First Division Aston Villa in the February for £200,000. Villa came close to claiming the league title under Graham Taylor in 1989-90, and Platt earned a call up to the England team – starring at Italia 90.

Meanwhile, Wolves, who’d suffered three successive relations in 1984-86, won the Division Four championship – thanks to Steve Bull scoring a remarkable 52 goals in all competitions – and followed it up with a second successive promotion the following season, too (during which Bull scored 50! At the end of the 1988-89 season Bull was called up to the England squad, earning his first cap in the summer’s Rous Cup game against Scotland (he scored, of course) and also being part of the squad that competed in the following year’s World Cup.

Steve Bull of Wolverhampton Wanderers
Bull scored a remarkable 102 goals in two seasons at Wolves – earning him an England call up

Also mentioned in the newspapers on this day in 1987 was Smith’s search for a new goalkeeper. Iain Hesford had had a torrid time at the club since joining and had missed the start of the season through illness. A bout of chickenpox had sidelined the big keeper, and on loan Steve Hardwick had performed well in his absence.

Hardwick, however, had decided to go back to Oxford.

Smith explained:

We have been unbeaten in six matches and Hardwick had done his job, so in a situation like that you don’t disrupt the team.

Now that Steve has decided to go back to Oxford, Iain has his chance again. The fans pay their money and are entitled to their opinion, but I have an opinion too and I’ll do what is best for this club.

From my own personal point of view, I don’t see anything wrong with Hesford as a goalkeeper. The lad’s confidence has suffered, but I believe if he had been in goal all season we would still be in the same position in the table.

He’d a professional and different people react to different situations. It’s not pleasant being under the microscope, but it happens to other goalkeepers and is happening to Peter Shilton at the moment and his position in the England team.

If Iain conceded a goal like the second one Shilton let in against West Germany last week – direct from a corner – he would probably be hung here.

But anyone playing in the North East is going to be under the microscope. People have got the accept that, but the rewards are great if you are successful.


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