Tony Norman is easily one of my favourite ever players.
He featured in the first-ever match I saw, was influential in many subsequent high profile games during the early half of the 1990s and as a budding young goalkeeper myself, was somebody I desperately wanted to emulate.
As I’ve got older it has become clear that he was one of life’s good guys too, and on the day he turns 64 it is a pleasure to look back on the Sunderland career of one of the club’s most reliable stoppers.
Of course, I am not the only one that loves Norman. Following his arrival on Wearside in late 1988 for what was a club record £450,000 in a part cash part player exchange deal with Hull City, he immediately established himself both as Sunderland’s number one and a popular member of the side.
He kept a clean sheet on his debut and managed another seven shutouts before the end of 1988-89, and whilst he suffered a broken arm during the early stages of the following campaign it still culminated in success.
Promotion back into Division One in 1990 came as the result of a Football League ruling due to the indiscretions of Play-Off final opponents Swindon Town, but fans often muse about how different things may have been had Norman not put in one of surely the greatest individual performances seen by a Sunderland goalkeeper during the game.
Beaten only once and by a deflected shot at that, he produced a string of inspired saves to keep Denis Smith’s side in the contest. Had the losing margin been greater, some argue that it may have been harder to justify the League’s decision.
He had been in excellent form prior to reaching Wembley, most notably during the Play-Off semi final against Newcastle United. The second leg called for steady heads and that was what he gave; as well as being a brilliant shot stopper, Norman was a calming influence that usually controlled his box well and displayed good handling. He was superb too during the 1990-91 season, and although Sunderland were relegated following a brave battle against the drop their keeper, who only missed one game all campaign, proved he was clearly good enough to have played in the top-flight for longer.
Many felt that Norman’s performances warranted further international recognition too, but despite sustained form and several call ups he was unable to add to his total of five Wales caps during his time at Sunderland. There was to be another game under the Twin Towers however, and the run to the 1992 FA Cup final was thanks in large part to his amazing reflexes over the rounds and one save in particular against West Ham United two days after his 34th birthday.
The arrival of Alec Chamberlain in 1993 saw Norman lose his usual starting spot, although he had regained it prior to his release in 1995 and was still able to tuRn in virtuoso match winning displays when on his day he was simply unbeatable. He returned to Roker Park the following year as part of the Huddersfield Town side that lost to two late Michael Bridges goals and he came back to the area again after retirement to be a police officer and later a coach, including a spell as Head Goalkeeping coach at Sunderland’s academy.
A heart condition meant he had to retire from the force in 2003, yet two years later he was able to undertake a highly publicised coast-to-coast charity walk - proving he was still extremely hard to beat. I never did manage to become a top-class goalkeeper but I’m still full of admiration for what Norman has achieved; many happy returns Tony!
Mancot, 24 February 1958
Sunderland 4 (Gates 33, Ord 44, Armstrong 61, Pascoe 75)
Football League Division Two Roker Park 31 December 1988
Final SAFC appearance:
Sunderland 2 (Smith 16, Gray 90)
West Bromwich Albion 2 (Hunt 47, Agnew 87)
Football League Division One Roker Park 7 May 1995
Total appearances for SAFC: