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On This Day (23rd August 1986): “Canny player, wrong time!” - Dave Buchanan signs for Sunderland

Right player but at the wrong time - Dave Buchanan signed for Sunderland after a strange footballing journey in his career to date.

Talking prior to the season opener at Huddersfield, managing director Lawrie McMenemy was sort of talking up his new forward recruit from the Northern League.

McMenemy was quoted in the local press as saying, “We have taken a battering over the last year but the club has a chance to regain its good name in football... we are short of experience up front and I am still looking to improve the squad.”

Our new recruit from Blyth Spartans must have wondered what he was stepping into, given the Boss’s glowing reference!

Dave Buchanan made a slightly better fist of it with the press, declaring “I have been lucky to get another chance, but I won’t be over-awed by the occasion. My future won’t hinge on just one game, so I will try to go out and enjoy it.”

Buchanan went on to thank his Uncle Charlie, who had mentioned his name to a club official and a few hours later he was invited to turn out for Sunderland reserves at Peterlee. The performances for the reserves of the slightly built ex-Leicester City player led to an offer of a contract and a place in the starting eleven for the opening fixture of the 1986/87 season.

Buchanan had been banging in the goals, assists and performances in the Northern League following his release from Leicester to the extent he had been capped twice at semi-professional level for England in 1986. These caps would add to the one he earned in 1979 playing for the England Youth team.

He had started his career at Filbert Street as an apprentice in 1978 and was offered a professional contract in 1979. He made a goal-scoring debut for the Foxes on the 1st of January 1979 against Oldham Athletic and became Leicester’s youngest-ever debutant (at the time) at sixteen years of age.

He was not the only debutant that day, as Gary Lineker made his first outing for his beloved Leicester. Having shared that experience with Lineker, it would be fair to say the trajectory of their careers did not take too long to move in different directions.

Buchanan made thirty-three appearances for Leicester scoring seven goals from primarily a left-wing position. He was loaned to Northampton Town in 1982 but was released by Leicester before signing for Peterborough for the start of the 1983/84 season.

Sixteen games and four goals followed, before he dropped out of league football, playing for North Shields and Blyth Spartans between 1983 and 1986. His Uncle Charlie’s intervention had opened a door and way back into the professional game and he took the opportunity initially, determined not to waste a second chance.

His pre-season performances won him a place in the starting line-up for the new season as Sunderland went on to win a hard-fought Leeds Road contest two-nil with goals from Gray and Swindlehurst, as well as a very promising performance from the debutant.

Huddersfield were managed by Sunderland-born Mick Buxton who would go on to coach and manage Sunderland. Also, in Huddersfield’s lineup that day was Joey Jones who went on to play with distinction at Liverpool and Mick Doyle who would sign for the Lads not long after this fixture.

Buchanan looked bright and lively at the start of the 1986/87 season and there was a lot of goodwill amongst the Roker crowd for the local lad as he made a cracking start with five goals in eleven live-wire games. Five wins and four draws in those first eleven games served only to raise expectations to a degree.

What followed was some of the worst football and mismanagement that many of us had witnessed with the team lacking in leadership and direction and McMenemy looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights. With many of the more illustrious players in the squad lacking in confidence, it was no surprise that Buchanan’s performances waned. By the end of December, he looked bereft of confidence as well as goals/assists and by the end of this terrible season he was being used primarily from the bench. Nonetheless, he did make twenty-four appearances as well as nine from the bench scoring eleven goals in all competitions that season.

We were relegated through the playoffs and the third division beckoned for the very first time in our history, it all seemed so far away and unlikely that late August day at Leeds Road.

The following season Buchanan did not fit into new manager Denis Smith’s plans and he was loaned out to York City for seven games scoring two goals, before being released in early 1988. Following an unsuccessful trial with Middlesborough, he played briefly in Norway before finishing his playing career in the Northern league playing for Newcastle Blue Star, Bedlington, Whitley Bay, and Blyth Spartans again.

Upon retiring from playing, he went on to establish a successful Health and Fitness business with gyms in Jesmond and Whitley Bay, and was rumoured to have been seen on the cricket square from time to time.

It all started so well for Dave Buchanan at Sunderland, he looked like the local kid turned good when he first came into the team and I do feel he was one that got away from us, (having seen many of his games for the Lads). Had he come into a settled team with functioning management who knows what might have been?

August 23rd1986

Venue – Leeds Road, Huddersfield

Huddersfield Town 0 – 2 Sunderland (Swindlehurst, Gray).

Huddersfield - Cox, Brown, Bray, Webster, Jones, Wilson, Cork, Doyle, Cowling, Cooper, Winter. (Sub - Trevell).

Sunderland – Hesford, Burley, Corner, Bennett, Gray, Lemon, Armstrong, Proctor, Buchanan, Swindlehurst, Gates. (Sub - Kennedy).


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