Earlier in the year, Nissan struck a deal with the government to build a car plant in the UK, with a site at Sunderland Airfield subsequently earmarked for development after some competitive pitching by a number of local councils – and a few months later, Len Ashurt’s side kicked off its pre-season campaign with a friendly against the Japanese car giant’s football club.
Nissan FC, one of Japan’s top clubs, came to town on a mission to build relationships with the good people of Sunderland as the company strove to embed itself in the community and promote itself to the potential workforce, too.
The club was formed in 1972, and travelled to England with a squad containing seven full internationals, including the Brazilian Ademar Marinho. As well as the fixture against our first team, a game against our reserves was to follow, before the Japanese headed to Holland and Germany for games against FC Utrect and Union Solingen.
For Sunderland, it was a period of change. Ashurst had taken over from Alan Durban in the March, and while he’d managed to keep the club in the top flight, it hadn’t been a convincing job.
Still, pre-season always brings some degree of optimism, and despite Ashurst missing out on primary target Gary Bannister, there were strong rumours of Liverpool’s Dave Hodgson’s imminent arrival, and subsequently, there was an air of positivity on Wearside.
The club had already made three new signings in the form of Gary Bennett, Clive Walker and Rodger Wylde, however, the trio hadn’t received the necessary clearance to line up for the club in this game, while reserve keeper Mark Prudhoe was ruled out through injury, as was 22-year-old winger John Cooke, to whom Ashurst had hoped to hand ‘a chance to resurrect his Sunderland career’.
Another player who was missing from the fixture was skipper Ian Atkins, who was attending his sister’s wedding, however, there was a new face was in the lineup in the form of triallist Steve Berry, who’d been released on a free transfer by second-tier Portsmouth.
Youngsters Paul Lemon and David Corner were also included in the starting XI for the game, while keeper Cameron Duncan, defender Paul O’Hagan and midfielder Rob Burgess were also in the squad.
Admission prices were reduced to £2 for adults and £1 for OAPs and kids, however, a crowd of just 2779 turned up to witness what was a pretty entertaining game.
Sunderland had only returned to pre-season training three days earlier and the rustiness showed in the early stages, with Marinho shooting just wide after good work from Kimura and Kaneda.
That was merely a warning however, as moments later Nissan took the lead. Triallist Berry gave the ball away and Kimura dribbled past Shaun Elliott and Chris Turner and lifted his drive in the roof of the Roker End net from a tight angle.
The visitors almost doubled their lead shortly after, with Marinho shooting just wide of Turner’s goal.
The lads got back on even terms just before half time, with a soft penalty awarded by local ref George Tyson. Tanaka was adjudged to have fouled Mark Proctor as he burst into the box, and Colin West dispatched the spot kick with the minimum of fuss.
Shortly after half time, Kimura hit the angle of post and bar with a free kick, before West tapped home after Nick Pickering headed down Proctor’s cross.
A couple of moments later, however, it was level pegging again, with Hashirantani calmly putting the ball home following a goalmouth scramble.
The Japanese side were really taking the game to Sunderland, and but for a professional foul by Shaun Elliott, Kimura would have been clean through just after the hour. In those days, a professional foul was a booking at most, and Elliott ‘took one for the team’.
Kimura threatened Turner from another free kick, and it looked like Nissan could come out on top, before Sunderland took hold of the game in the final 20 minutes. West got his hat trick with a header from Proctor’s cross, while young sub John Moore headed home from another cross from Proctor.
Barry Venison sealed victory for the lads in the 83rd minute after good work by Paul Atkinson, and Sunderland eventually emerged comfortable winners.
The meagre crowd had been entertained, relationships had been built, and the lads had a good 90 minutes of action in their legs ahead of what was hoped would be a pretty decent season...
* As an aside, Nissan FC, which of course, was owned by Nissan, changed its name to Yokohama Marinos in 1992 as it took its place in the newly formed J League. Today, Nissan still owns 80% of the club – with the City Football Group holding the rest of the shareholding.
Sunderland 5-2 Nissan FC
Sunderland: Turner, Venison, Pickering (Armstrong), Elliott, Chisholm, Corner, Lemon (Moore). Proctor, West, Berry, Atkinson.
Nissan: Sakata, Ikeda, Suglyama, Koshida, Tanaka, Shimazu, Kaneda, Marinho, Hashiratani, Kimura, Takama.
Sunderland: West (pen) 43, 55, 73, Moore 78, Venison 83.
NIssan FC: Kimura 19’ Hashiratani 57’