Keith Coleman signed professional forms for Sunderland in June 1968, having starred in the youth team of 1967/68 alongside the likes of Dennis Tueart, John Lathan, Richie Pitt, Bobby Park, Mick McGiven, and Brian Chambers in what was a golden decade of young players coming through to first team football at Sunderland.
He was captain of the youth team in 1968/69 when the core of the previous season’s team captured the FA youth cup in a remarkable two-legged affair, that saw them lose the away leg by three goals to nil but win the home tie by six goals to nil, which included a Paddy Lowrey hattrick.
An ability to play on either side of defence did not go unnoticed, though he played most of his games for Sunderland at left back.
I was in the ground on 11th of September 1971 when the young full back made his debut at Roker Park in a 1-0 victory.
Nine “home-grown” players played that day and Coleman looked tidy and more than comfortable as I recall.
He would go on to play thirty-six games in all competitions that season as Sunderland went close to promotion losing only nine games that season in the league.
Having established himself as Alan Brown’s first choice left-back, season 1972/73 saw a disastrous start to the campaign with Sunderland embroiled in the relegation dogfight. Brown was sacked following a dour 0-0 home draw with Fulham and the manager's post was eventually taken up by Bob Stokoe.
I have often wondered what might have happened if a three week break in games due to a flu epidemic at the club had not cut right across Stokoe’s first few weeks in charge.
Coleman only played three games for Stokoe before the manager succumb to the virus and with no Sunderland games being played, by the time Stokoe returned to his desk and games resumed three weeks later, the manager had done a deal for experienced Newcastle left back Ron Guthrie.
Having seen his debut, though I did not realise it at the time I witnessed Keith Coleman’s last game for Sunderland, a nil-nil draw in a much-improved all-round team performance at Roker Park against Preston North End. He made eighteen appearances for Sunderland that season but was not in Stokoe’s plans who having bought Guthrie and installed him as first choice, preferred another bright up-and-coming youngster Joe Bolton as backup.
Coleman was transferred to West Ham United in September 1973 and he played in West Ham’s European Cup Winners cup final team in 1976. He went on to play 122 games in all competitions for the Hammers up to May 1977 when he transferred to Belgium and KV Mechelen. He returned to the northeast in July 1979 signing for Darlington for whom he played twenty-five games up to August 1980. After this he completed his FA coaching badge and did some scouting for Sheffield Wednesday.
As one of a raft of young players to come through to the first team in the Alan Brown era, his fifty-four appearances in all competitions for the club is worthy of note. Had the flu not intervened I feel he could have easily been part of the 1973 cup final squad.
Happy birthday Keith Coleman.