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Sunderland Manager Len Ashurst 1985 League Cup Final

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On This Day (12 July 1984): Choking on my cornflakes after hearing Sunderland transfer links!

Opening the back page of the Journal over my breakfast cereal almost necessitated a trip to A&E on this day 12th of July 1984!

Photo by Allsport/Getty Images/Hulton Archive

In big bold black print, Martin Howey told us that European Cup and First Division Championship winners Peter Withe and Dennis Mortimer were being lined up by the recently installed Sunderland manager Lennie Ashurst in an audacious bid to bring better times to the Black Cats.

These two were part of a Villa team that had thrilled most of the country in winning the league in 1980-81 and then the European Cup in 1981-82. For many die-hard fans of “less fashionable” clubs, Villa’s success augured well, if they could do it why couldn’t we?

Mortimer was an all-action midfielder with a great engine as well as a leader on the pitch. Withe had scored goals everywhere he had been, including up the road at St James for a spell. His robust and skilful centre forward play would go down very well with the Roker faithful thankyou very much!

Peter Withe - England v Scotland Photo by Mark Leech/Getty Images

The thought of a midfield with Proctor, Bracewell and Mortimer pulling the strings, and a forward line with Nick Pickering and Leighton James providing the ammunition for Withe, was a mouth-watering prospect (once I had flushed the cornflakes!).

With Chris Turner in our goal and Barry Venison, Gary Rowell, Chisholm, Atkins, Elliott, Munro, and a good centre half in local lad Rob Hindmarch, this would present a formidable squad for the 1984/85 season.

The fly in the ointment was that Villa had just sacked their manager Tony Barton and chairperson Doug Ellis was reluctant to sanction any moves until they had a new man at the helm.

John Toshack the Sporting Lisbon manager had already offered £100,000 for Withe, whose pedigree was high following his twenty-one goals for Villa the previous season.

Both players were 32 years of age, but Sunderland chairperson Tom Cowie had declared “good money is available in the form of wages for quality players”, no-one could argue despite their age that these two were not quality players.

0 Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

Despite the assurances from Cowie, Martin Howey was clearly not convinced and mused that “their wages of £45,000 a year might be a stumbling block”.

I might have been a bit less excited if I had known that Cowie had infamously denied the funds to buy a centre forward from Ashurst’s previous club Newport County, declaring that it was “too much money for a fourth division striker.” The rest as they say was history as John Aldridge went on to forge a magnificent career in the game!

With a divided dressing room and unhappy players, Ashurst had his hands full. Neither player came to Sunderland, as Mortimer stayed at Villa for another season before transferring to Brighton. Peter Withe stayed at Villa for one more season also and collected a big payday on his contract, before transferring to Sheffield United.

Tucked away underneath the Mortimer/Withe headline, was some information about another signing, whose fee would be decided by an independent tribunal.

It hardly shook the Richter scale at the time, but the £65,000 with a further £20,000 after twenty performances for the first team that Sunderland paid Cardiff City for a relatively unknown centre half would prove to be an astute Ashurst signing, as Gary Bennett joined the club...

I wonder what happened to him?


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