Jimmy McNab was a Scottish left half – the left of a midfield three – who made his debut for Sunderland as an 18-year-old in a 1-0 defeat at home to Ipswich on 20 September 1958 during our first ever season outside the English top flight. He was a regular at Roker Park for almost the next decade, making a total of 323 appearances, during which he scored 18 goals before his final game away against Blackpool in 1967.
The highlight of his time at the club is undoubtedly his role in Sunderland’s promotion back to Division 1 in 1964, when he made 37 appearances and scored three goals as we took second spot behind Leeds United.
Charlie Hurley rated his erstwhile teammate amongst the best he played with, telling Roker Report back in 2016 that “Mac the knife was a defensive-minded player, a great tackler and a pleasure to play alongside - truly dependable at all times.”
Despite his long service, Jimmy hadn’t received the customary testimonial match after moving on Preston North End and then Stockport County. He had returned to the north east, however, and made this part of the world his home.
In 1999, Sunderland finally afforded him the benefit game that he so richly deserved, and a crowd of 6,585 attended what was the Stadium of Light’s first-ever testimonial. The crowd, though small, were in for a Tuesday evening’s entertainment that included six goals, featured a total 37 players, and a bizarre incident with Eric Gates and the referee Alan Wilkie.
The Jimmy McNab All-Stars starting XI featured some absolutely class names; Chris Turner in goal, a defence of John Kay, Nick Pickering, Gary Owers and Gary Bennett. Lee Howey, Chris Waddle, Peter Reid and Craig Russell in midfield and the G-force upfront. The bench included FA Cup winner Richie Pitt and Middlesbrough boss Bryan Robson.
Sunderland’s starting lineup had all the hallmarks of having been dreamed up on a drunken night out, possibly one celebrating our automatic promotion to the Premier League as Division One champions two days earlier.
Niall Quinn reprised his heroics from the Bradford City game earlier in the year by going in goal for the first 52 minutes. Kevin Phillips played in defence, while our usual keepers, Tommy Sorensen and Andy Marriott, took their places upfront.
Gavin McCann scored first for the Lads, and Allan Johnston, coming off the bench for Marriott on 20 minutes, scored a penalty to make it 2-0.
Then the game got even weirder with Eric Gates stealing the referee’s red and yellow cards and impersonating an official, before Gordon Armstrong took his place!
After that, the game was all about the return of Marco Gabbiadini, who grabbed himself a hattrick to give Jimmy’s All-Stars a 3-2 lead going into the closing stages.
As the evening drew to a close, what’s described by The Stat Cat as a dubious penalty decision provided the opportunity for McNab – who had been “managing” the team to his point – to make an appearance on the pitch himself and, aged 59, slot home the fourth to crown his big day off in glorious style.
Jimmy died seven years later in June 2006, aged only 66, and is buried at Ryhope cemetery. He will be fondly remembered by those who knew him, those who played with him, and those who watched him play.