After joining on loan from Nottingham Forest Mark Proctor was put straight into Sunderland’s starting XI and made his first appearance for the club on this day in 1983. The game ended in a 1-1 draw with Swansea City and whilst the match failed to set the pulses racing the new boy would go on to spend the next four years at Roker Park, often being one of the most consistent players at the club.
After what was described in the newspapers as a quiet first half, Proctor was involved in the build-up to Gary Rowell’s late equaliser. Boss Alan Durban spoke after the game to state that he would be looking for more from his latest recruit in the coming weeks, and sure enough, by the time Proctor’s loan was up Sunderland were keen to turn it into a permanent deal.
The Middlesbrough-born midfielder was an assured performer who looked comfortable in possession and when passing the ball. He started the next four games that he was available for, but with money tight, Proctor had to return to the City Ground and it was not until the end of the season that a fee of around £115,000 was agreed with Brian Clough.
Back on Wearside for 1983-84, he featured in all but one match and scored against Watford and Arsenal, as well as in the League Cup against Cambridge United. He remained a first team regular following the arrival of Durban’s replacement Len Ashurst, but a problem picked up against Newcastle United on New Years' Day 1985 proved to be a hammer blow for all concerned. On a day marred by shameful levels of racism emanating from the home crowd Proctor’s injury merely rubbed salt into the wounds, and without his guile, the club slipped to relegation.
His absence meant he also had to sit out the latter stages of the run to the Milk Cup final that season and it was almost a year before Proctor was fit enough to play for the first team again. By that point, Lawrie McMenemy was now in charge, but Sunderland’s had continued to falter, and it said a lot about their performances that despite playing in less than half the games during 1985-86 Proctor was still named Player of the Year.
His seven goals during the run-in helped pull the side away from trouble, and whilst 1986-87 did end in a dismal first relegation to the third tier Proctor had been one of the few players to do himself any justice; although a lot was made of his somewhat cruel and costly penalty misses in the final league game and subsequent Play-Off second leg with Gillingham, he had always brought a level of composure to the side and did manage to score twice in the first leg so could hardly be described as not doing his bit.
Clearly still capable of playing at a higher level and very much a sellable asset, Proctor moved to First Division Sheffield Wednesday early the following season. Sold for over twice the amount he was bought for, he had continued to do a professional job in the opening weeks of latest new manager Denis Smith’s tenure and helped start building the foundation upon which promotion was won after his transfer.
In former England U21 international Mark Proctor, Sunderland had a quality operator in midfield. It has been 17 years since the club last played on the 19th of March and that run will end today when the Lads take on Lincoln City, knowing that if somebody can have a similar impact in that department as the man that made his bow on this day in 1983 they will stand an excellent chance of victory.
Middlesbrough, 30 January 1961
Sunderland 1 (Rowell 83)
Swansea City 1 (Marustik 51)
Football League Division One Roker Park 19 March 1983
Final SAFC appearance:
Sunderland 4 (Armstrong 63, MacPhail 65, 87, Atkinson 87)
Mansfield Town 1 (Stringfellow 39)
Football League Division Three Roker Park 31 August 1987
Total appearances/goals for SAFC:
136 (+ 2 as sub)/23