During what should’ve been a thrilling and exciting time at Sunderland AFC, a typically turbulent situation had occurred, dissipating the happiness the fans were feeling upon promotion back to the top flight.
After being promoted, the 1964/1965 campaign was rocked by the shock news of manager Alan Brown’s departure. This unexpected turn of events occurred due to Brown’s unhappiness at being refused the opportunity to buy the clubhouse.
Brown’s exit offered him the chance to join Sheffield Wednesday whilst we were left in limbo, with Charlie Hurley said to have taken on a leading role within the club.
On this day, famed former England international George Hardwick took over as our caretaker manager. He was joining a team who were in danger of relegation, a mere three points from the bottom of the table and that had lost all eight away games up to this point.
Hardwick’s name was a household one, given his success as the first post-war England captain along with his spell at Middlesbrough, and he acknowledged the scale of the job he’d taken on.
I take over this task with my eyes wide open and no fear of any occupational ulcer.
His first game in charge was successful, when a much-changed team hammered Everton 4-0, with the goals coming from George Herd, Nick Sharkey, George Mulhall and Harry Hood.
According to reports before this game, Hardwick had ‘dropped a bombshell’ by making so many changes, with his biggest call seemingly being the decision to overlook Johnny Crossan in favour of Sharkey, who scored eighteen goals in thirty two games.
Hardwick’s job was a difficult one, with key players missing and the likes of Jimmy Montgomery injured.
That being said, these injuries offered opportunities to players who made their debuts, with lads such as Derek Forster, John O’Hare, Gary Moore and Mel Slack all experiencing first team football for the first time during this era.
Hardwick eventually guided the club to Division One survival, finishing the season in fifteenth place with thirty seven points and average crowds of 40,000 at Roker Park.
Upon the completion of the season, Hardwick lost his job when promises made to him about the managerial job were written off. As he departed, he praised the players he’d worked with and expressed his disappointment at losing his job.
Naturally I’m disappointed because we have a great set of lads and a wonderful crowd.
I have no hard feelings against the club and I hope they hit the top, which is where they deserve to be.
The departure of Hardwick and the subsequent arrival of Ian McColl as manager appeared not to have the desired effect during the following season.
McColl’s signings and managerial approach seemed to upset the spirit of the side, as we dropped to nineteenth and barely stayed up.