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Kieron Brady - Sunderland

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On This Day (22 June 1989): Ord & Brady shine as SAFC’s youth team bow out of Yugoslav tournament

Sunderland’s youngsters witnessed the “dark arts” of football for the first time as they took on sides from across the former Yugoslav federation in Croatia.

Photo by Mark Leech/Getty Images

These days, a group of young lads heading off from the north east to Croatia in the summer probably means a week of boat parties and debauchery, but back in 1989 Sunderland’s youngsters visited the Adriatic coast to take part in one of Europe’s oldest and most famous youth tournaments, the Kvarnerska Rivijera International.

The northern Croatan city of Rijeka, its club HNK Rijeka, and the surrounding areas had been welcoming sides from across what was then Yugoslavia, Europe, and the rest of the world to a 16-team invitational competition every May and June since 1953. Leeds United had twice won the competition, in 1971 and 1983, and in the summer of 1989 Sunderland were making their second of three consecutive appearances.

The competition took place as Communist regimes across Europe began to crumble. The multi-national federation of Yugoslavia, which had always been distinct from the other Soviet-dominated republics and more open to the West, was coming under strain with it’s several of its constituent parts pressing for more autonomy while the Serbian majority sought to retain Belgrade’s control over the periphery. The death of Tito nine years earlier had set off centrifugal forces that would turn into a series of brutal civil wars in the 1990s and into the 2000s.

The opening ceremony of the 1983 tournament, which was won by Leeds United

Nevertheless, the Kvarnesrska Rivijera was a haven of sporting togetherness and our boys faced sides from across the Yugoslav republics in the group stage, Denis Smith, interviewed in the Chronicle on this day 33 years ago, reported that Murton’s finest Richard Ord and Glaswegian teenage sensation Kieron Brady had been the team’s stand out players.

Sunderland were coached by Smith’s successor, Malcolm Crosby, and began by beating local team Croatian NK Rudar Labin 1-0, with a goal from team captain Ord. However, we then suffered a 3-1 loss to FK Vardar from the Macedonian capital of Skopje - who, according to Brady, “scored with every shot they had” - with the Irishman on the scoresheet for the Lads.

The final game was against the Serbian big guns of Partizan Belgrade. The year before we had beaten Partizan 4-3, with Marco and Riccardo Gabbiadini getting goals. This time Sunderland won 2-1, with Brady and Derek Bramwell scoring.

It was a second big win against one of the famous names in European football, but unfortunately, it was not enough to provide us with passage through to the next round as we were eliminated.

When I asked Brady about his recollections of the trip he told me that it’s one he remembers very fondly:

That particular tournament was highly reputable in the former Yugoslavia. Happy memory, as I was told Italian scouts were watching me in the aftermath of the first game.

The other memory was it was the first time I, and assume other players, had really witnessed the dark arts, from diving, exaggeration, man marking in a very physical and cynical way.

Ironically, we again played Partizan Belgrade a year later in the tournament in Sunderland when we lost in the final to Barcelona and again I was man marked in the Partizan game.

Many fans of a certain age will remember the Sunderland International Football Tournament, played first at Ryhope and then at Silksworth Sports Complex, as being an important part of a footballing summer in the city in the 1990s.

The Kvarnerska Rivijera continued throughout the Balkan wars but was cancelled in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s yet to return, but hopefully it will be resurrected in the near future as many future international footballers have passed through over almost 70 years.

I often think it would be great if the club and the council could get our international tournament up and running once more and put our city back at the heart of European football; perhaps we could invite HNK Rijeka and Partizan Belgrade too.


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