There was a definite north-east flavour to the England B side that played against Spain B at Roker Park on this day in 1980.
Headed up by Ipswich Town boss and County Durham native Bobby Robson, his team included local lads Alan Kennedy, Bryan Robson and self-confessed Sunderland supporter David Armstrong, but the main attraction for the Wearside crowd was fan favourite Shaun Elliott.
Most supporters felt that Elliott’s consistently good performances were worthy of recognition and it was a view felt by Bobby Robson himself, although he admitted that Sunderland being in Division Two could be an issue going forward.
Nonetheless, after stating his wish that the club would indeed be promoted, he told the media that any player that impressed would be in with a chance of further international call ups regardless of status.
The team seemed to take the message on board, and despite some injury worries in the build-up they produced some excellent football against their Spanish counterparts.
Future Sunderland players Peter Barnes and Terry Butcher both had to drop out of the squad, and whilst the latter absentee meant a change of role for Elliott the unfamiliar side that did take to the field still managed to find a rhythm from the off.
Elliott had been operating in midfield that season but slotted in at centre back alongside Russell Osman, and with a solid base behind them, England were able to push hard.
Bryan Robson had an early goal chalked off following a tight offside call and Gary Birtles was thwarted several times by an in form visiting goalkeeper Augustin, but in the closing stages an Osman header from an Alan Devonshire free-kick was enough to secure a deserved win.
Bobby Robson was pleased with what he saw and when asked about Elliott was fulsome in his praise:
Shaun did very well indeed. He was strong, good aerial wise, [has] a good left foot and now needs more games at international level. He adapated to his job very well and was definitely one of the successes of the evening.
As well as having those words ringing in his ears, Elliott also had a pain in his jaw to contend with after he was punched in the face by an opponent late on.
He had been on the end of a nasty tackle earlier on in the match too, but neither incident was enough to make him miss Sunderland’s subsequent fixture at Notts County and all things told the night was a success for the club; it was the first ‘B’ fixture staged on Wearside since 1954 and having cancelled a reserve team game that was scheduled for earlier in the week the pitch was said to be in superb condition.
Playing at the same time were the two senior sides, with Ron Greenwood’s England winning 2-0 in Barcelona, and whilst Elliott never did get a full cap for Greenwood he did play twice more for the B side and would team up alongside Kennedy on Wearside again when the Liverpool legend joined his home-town club later in the decade.
Wednesday 26 March 1980
England B 1 (Osman 81)
Spain B 0
England B: Corrigan; Anderson, Osman, Elliott, Kennedy; Devonshire, Sunderland, Robson, Armstrong; Mariner, Birtles.
Roker Park, attendance 14, 807