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On This Day (July 5th 1987): Rumours resurface over Mark Proctor’s Sunderland future

Mark Proctor had been given a whopping new contract by Lawrie McMenemy at the start of the 1986/87 season - but as we slid horribly into Division Three, the vultures were circling over Sunderland’s prized asset...

With Lawrie McMenemy long gone and new manager Dennis Smith in place charged with the task of getting us out of division three at the first attempt, the last thing he would have wanted was suitors circling his best players…. OR WAS IT!

Just as he had done in the previous close season first division Sheffield Wednesday manager (and future Sunderland manager) Howard Wilkinson attempted to prise Mark Proctor away from Sunderland.

Wilkinson was offering players plus cash, with the experienced midfielder Gary Shelton and forward Carl Shutt (who had scored a credible sixteen goals in thirty-seven appearances for the Owls) offered up as inducement for Proctor.

I can remember alarm bells ringing in my head as Dennis Smith was quoted as saying “every player at this club is available if the right offer is made”!

With players such as Eric Gates, Gary Bennett and Frank Gray already attracting attention, and a young Gordon Armstrong getting noticed too, the last thing I thought we needed was a manager appearing to open the door to offers for our better players.

Soccer - League Division One - West Ham United v Sunderland - Upton Park Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

In reality I should not have worried myself, Smith played a canny game with his most saleable asset and when he did eventually leave in September of the 1987/88 season, it was for a fee of £270,000 and this money was put to very good use, enabling the purchase of Marco Gabbiadini for £80,000 from York City and probably Colin Pascoe from Swansea City later on in this season for £70,000.

Wilkinson wanted to re-unite ex Boro team-mates Proctor and David Armstrong (whom he had purchased from Southampton, and he eventually got his man at a price!

Armstrong had applied for the vacant Sunderland managers post prior to Smith’s appointment and could have been re-united at Roker Park that season if things had turned out differently.

Smith had promised Proctor that if a club from a higher division came in for him, he would not stand in his way... at the right price!

A portrait of Dennis Smith the manager of Sunderland

Proctor’s departure created an opportunity for Steve Doyle, whose form had suffered under the previous McMenemy regime. Doyle would prove a very handy operator in our midfield as we had to battle our way out of division three.

As for Proctor, when he did eventually leave, it was with a glowing tribute from assistant manager Viv Busby (not a man noted for faint praise), who said:

We did not want to lose a player of his quality, he is a model professional, but needs must.

It’s all about the future of Sunderland football club.

I did not appreciate at the time, the fee of £270,000 was the third highest fee we had ever received for a player, Chris Turner (1985) and Dennis Tueart (1974) were each sold for £275,000!


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