In 1972 I was one of just short of nine thousand fans at Roker to see 17-year-old Joe Bolton make the first of his 309 appearances for Sunderland.
Sunderland had flirted with promotion without ever really mounting a viable campaign.
Keith Coleman (who later went on to play for West Ham in the European Cup Winners Cup Final in 1976) had held down the left-back slot for most of the season, but manager Alan Brown decided to “rest” him for this midweek game and draft in Bolton, who had signed professional forms on his 17th birthday earlier that year in February.
Bolton took his chance in the 5-0 victory, holding down his place for the remainder of the season and the first two games of our memorable 72/73 season.
Coleman then regained his place and Joe found himself back in the reserves.
Manager Brown was replaced by Bob Stokoe going into December 1972 - and unfortunately, one of his first acts was to buy another left-back Ron Guthrie from neighbours Newcastle.
Joe might have found himself even further down the pecking order, but his tough tackling whole-hearted performances had been noticed. Joe made 9 starts and an additional 3 as sub that season.
He played both FA Cup ties against Notts County, but Guthrie was Stokoe’s first-choice left-back in 72/73 and for the rest of the FA Cup campaign.
If you watch your FA Cup final video, any time they pan to the bench you will see a young Joe kicking every ball behind Stokoe and Cox.
Joe established himself in the 73/74 season and went on to become something of a legend to supporters of a 70’s vintage. Renowned for his tough tackling and a related ability to dump his opponent on the red ash track, there was much more to his game than this.
He was like an express train on his charges forward. He possessed a fair touch and deceptive passing ability. He would have done well in today's game as a “pressing” player. I loved to see him harrying his opponents in their own half of the field into errors and losing possession.
He was occasionally played in midfield, but it was at left-back that most of us would remember him. He appeared fearless of the reputations of our opponents - if anything it seemed to inspire him, as Souness and Chiedozie would testify.
One of my favourite memories of Joe Bolton was in the last game of 77/78 season against Charlton at Roker. He had already scored two goals upon the award of a penalty. The crowd bayed his name to take it and complete his hat-trick. The roar that greeted him stepping up for the spot-kick was only surpassed by the roar that met his attempt (that ball may still be travelling yet) as he blasted it high and handsome! Often seen with a grin on his face, he had a smile the size of Wearmouth as he trotted back to his left-back berth.
Though I did not realise it at the time, having witnessed Joe’s first game, I witnessed his last for Sunderland. In a momentous game at Anfield on May 2nd in the 80/81 season, Stan Cummins sent the Roker travelling hordes home happy with the only goal of the game. Joe played a very effective part in that victory, but nonetheless was transferred for £200,000 to Middlesbrough in July 1981, much to my astonishment.
Joe Bolton went on to play for Middlesbrough and then helped Sheffield Utd, managed by his former colleague Ian Porterfield, out of the 3rd Division in 1983. In 1986 injury ended his career at the relatively young age of 31.
He made 309 (+ 10 as a substitute) appearances for Sunderland between 1972 and 1981, scoring 12 goals and was sent off three times. His performances in the promotion-winning team of 1976 were particularly memorable and he was voted Sunderland’s first-ever Player of the Year in 1977.
For the record, his debut game saw a 5-0 victory against Watford as Sunderland chased Watney Cup qualification, with goals from Watson (2), McGiven, Pitt and Porterfield.
The starting 11: Montgomery, Malone, Bolton, Horswill, Pitt, McGiven, Kerr, Watson, Lathan, Tueart, Chambers (Porterfield ‘63’).