Don Kitchenbrand had signed from Rangers, where he had scored 24 goals in 25 games to help them to the title in 55/56. He had hidden his Catholic faith when he signed for the Scottish giants and later mused that he might have been killed had supporters found out.
Having lost his place in the Rangers team, new Sunderland manager Alan Brown saw him as just the kind of player to rescue the 1957/58 season and signed him for £15,000.
Kitchenbrand arrived at a club reeling from the illegal payment scandal that came to a head in the summer of 1957 and saw the club face record fines, as well as having a number of players sanctioned and directors banned from the game.
New manager Brown had inherited what on paper looked a half-decent squad - Don Revie and Colin Grainger (the singing winger) were internationals, as was Billy Bingham. Billy Elliott and Charlie Cannonball Fleming and the mercurial Len Shackleton were also in the squad. Eire international Charlie Hurley had been signed to bolster the defence and Stan Anderson a young local half back was cementing his place in the team and attracting England selectors. However, the season had been a disaster and the team were mired in the relegation struggle.
Don Kitchenbrand was not the first South African centre forward to play for Sunderland. Ted Purdon had signed in our chequebook era and scored 42 goals in 96 appearances between January 1954 and March 1957. Purdon was a blonde-haired, good looking cultured forward. Well built and robust he also possessed a deft touch and was a creator as well as scorer of goals. If Sunderland had thought they were getting a forward in Purdon’s mould they would soon be proved wrong.
Kitchenbrand was nicknamed “Rhino” due to his style of play. He was well built and hard with it! He was rarely found wanting in effort and had speed and strength in abundance. To many Sunderland fans at the time, he seemed to represent the fall in style and quality that the club had experienced. His goal statistics tell a different story.
He scored on his debut and managed 6 goals in 10 games that season. It was not enough to save Sunderland from their first-ever relegation though, with Newcastle and Portsmouth on the same 32 points and Leicester City (managed by former Roker goal machine Dave Halliday) on 33 points, some of the heavy defeats suffered earlier in the season came back to haunt us and we were relegated along with Sheffield Wednesday.
Season 1958/59 saw Kitchenbrand head our goal scoring chart with 21 goals, it was to be his best return for Sunderland. Performances though were inconsistent as manager Brown attempted to replace and blend in young players alongside experienced players in his mould. Brown was a disciplinarian who espoused hard work and good behaviour on and off the pitch. Kitchenbrand would have appeared to meet all the criteria for a Brown-type of player. The manager also liked technical skill and ability, not necessarily the first characteristics that came to mind when one thought of “Rhino”. Season 58/59 was a disappointment as Sunderland finished 15th and had been nowhere near the promotion places for ¾ of the season.
Going into season 59/60 a new young breed of forward were populating the squad. Sharkey, Fogarty and Lawther took over the goal-scoring mantle and Rhino played only 3 games scoring his last goal for us in the 3-1 defeat at Stoke. His last game came in an abject 0-0 draw at Roker against Brighton. He never played again that season and returned to South Africa, signing for Durban FC in May 1960.
Kitchenbrand returned to Scotland where he scored 5 goals in 9 games for Forfar Athletic in 62/63 season and a further 2 goals for Keith in 5 games in 1963. His goals to game ratio of 62 goals in 97 games in the UK is very good. His robust and energetic style of play endeared him to many, though perhaps not the total football, school of soccer science fraternity. He was capped once by his country against Scotland in 1956.
Retired to an elderly person’s complex in the Gauteng province of South Africa, he will be 89 years old on his next birthday.