A legend of both Sunderland AFC and football in general, Charlie Buchan sadly passed away on this day in 1960. A much-loved character on and off the pitch, he was a natural sportsman and a true gentleman, and whilst his death was mourned on Wearside and beyond, he had left behind a strong legacy that is still felt within the game several generations later.
Buchan had been suffering with an ongoing heart complaint and died whilst on holiday with his wife Ellen near Monte Carlo.
The couple were residing at Millbrooke Court on Keswick Road in Putney at the time, and it was later confirmed that she was to be the beneficiary of his will, which totalled around £17,000.
It was a large estate for a former footballer to be leaving, but then Buchan had already pursued several other professional and personal interests when still in action before continuing to grow his business and broadcasting concerns once he’d hung up his boots.
As a player, he had been an England international and after arriving at Roker Park in 1911 went on to win the league. He also featured in the club’s first-ever English (FA) Cup final, sits 8th in the list of most appearances made and remains Sunderland’s record league goalscorer, but there was so much more to him than the basic facts and stats.
He spent some of his time on Wearside teaching at Cowan Terrace School close to where the now partly demolished Civic Centre was later built, and during the First World War he was awarded the Military Medal having served with the Sherwood Foresters and then the Grenadier Guards.
During peace time he wrote articles for local newspapers but perhaps his best-known side interest was his sports outfitters in Blandford Street. Opened in partnership with local cricketeer Amos Lowings, the store was set up in 1920 and it was whilst behind the counter five year later that Buchan was first approached by Arsenal’s Herbert Chapman about a move back his native London.
He continued to visit the town after the transfer to keep his eye on operations, and by 1928 players at Sunderland, Arsenal and Newcastle United were all said to be using the ‘Buchan’ football boot, variations of which were called ‘Wearsider’ and ‘Skora’.
Lowings, who later worked out of Frederick Street having gone solo, provided the kit worn by the Lads in the 1937 FA Cup final whilst the premises of his original venture with Buchan is now occupied by the well-loved local business Müller Swiss Bakery. It was no surprise that the striker had gone down this route, being as he was a bit of an all-rounder. Having represented Durham in minor counties cricket he was also known to be a handy golfer.
Fellow England cap Warney Cresswell was also a keen player having first picked up a set of clubs on Buchan’s recommendation and the pair were close friends. Buchan’s move to Arsenal unsettled Cresswell so much that he too asked for a transfer away from Sunderland and would end up at Everton – winning a championship medal in 1928 and finishing the title-winning campaign with a fixture against his old pal who was about to retire that day.
As way of a goodbye gift, Buchan was presented with a briefcase and writing set by the Gunners.
A year before that Buchan had been captain when Arsenal reached the FA Cup final against Arsenal, and during the run he was often interviewed on local radio.
Those early appearances helped smooth the way for a hugely influential career in the media where he became a respected print journalist and recognisable voice over the airwaves.
Working for the BBC as a regular presenter and summariser, he also acted as a golf and football correspondent in the national press. This led to him becoming an editor and in the 1950s his own eponymous ‘Football Monthly’ become the top selling football magazine in the world, which in turn gave him a taste for publishing and resulted in him also heading up Melody Maker amongst other successful titles.
Spearheading the type of sports coverage that is commonplace now, Buchan helped set the standard that outlets still try to meet. He was involved with the creation of the Football Writers Association and the Association of Golf Writers and was fully deserving of his posthumous entry into the Football Hall of Fame 50 years after his death. His eloquent words opened up a new audience but the Sunderland fans that had watched him play always held a special place for Buchan in their hearts too.
A popular character and undoubted club great, we will end with the comments of former chairman Bill Ditchburn, who paid the perfect tribute the evening after Buchan’s passing;
He was the greatest player I ever saw. He was a gentleman footballer in every respect, a master of the ball with his head and either foot. He was an idol of the crowd and it was a sad day for the club and its supporters when he was transferred to Arsenal.
Born: Plumstead, 22 September 1891
Tottenham Hotspur 1 (Minter 32’)
Sunderland 1 (Low 30’)
Football League Division One, White Hart Lane 1 April 1911
Final SAFC appearance:
Sunderland 1 (Grimshaw 65’)
Burnley 1 (Beel 17’)
Football League Division One, Roker Park 2 May 1925
Total appearances/goals for SAFC: