The sixties weren’t particularly vibrant for Sunderland.
The team struggled once again, lingering near the bottom of the table, though they never seemed at risk of relegation.
Despite boasting one of the best home forms outside the top four, the team’s Achilles’ heel remained their away performances.
The loss of their emerging teenage star, Bobby Kerr, who had notched up seven goals in his first ten games, to a broken leg, was another significant setback for the squad after his impressive debut.
While the club faced its share of misfortune, no one suffered more than our Northern Irish player, Norman Clarke, whose promising career was shattered by a knee injury early in his Sunderland tenure.
Clarke initiated his career with Ballymena in Northern Ireland, emerging as one of the region’s most promising talents. He represented his country at various underage levels, often playing against older opponents.
Honoured at multiple representative levels while still with Ballymena, Norman Clarke is still regarded as one of the Braidmen’s greatest players. A product of Boys’ Brigade football, he was just two weeks past his seventeenth birthday when he played in the 1-1 Irish Cup Final draw with Glenavon in April 1959, and in the 2-0 replay defeat a week-and-a-half later.
In 1962, after winning his first U23 cap for Northern Ireland, Clarke moved to Sunderland for £6000 with a big reputation. It was in August 1962 when he made his debut, and much was made of the performance he put in that day.
He had to wait until August 1962 for his Black Cats’ debut. In the heat of a north-east derby with Middlesbrough he put in an excellent performance in a 3-1 win.
Despite his positive performances, Clarke’s opportunities were limited due to the presence of George Mulhall. He continued to serve as Mulhall’s understudy for the remainder of his tenure at Roker Park, making just one appearance after Mulhall’s arrival in a League Cup match against Portsmouth in November.
Despite the lack of playing time, he continued to earn international caps and remained highly regarded at Roker Park.
In a cruel twist of fate, Clarke was just three days shy of his 22nd birthday when he suffered a cruciate ligament injury that he knew marked the end of his full-time playing career.
With a return from injury deemed impossible, Clarke called time on his career with a testimonial given to him.
According to The Guardian, Clarke’s testimonial holds the record for a player to achieve a testimonial with the least appearances.
Norman Clarke made just four league and one League Cup appearance for Sunderland in the 1962-3 season before injury cut short his career at 21.
He was awarded a testimonial on 28 September 1966 when 11,000-plus spectators watched a 6-6 draw against a ‘Charlton’s XI’.
11,551 fans turned up at Roker Park, and as the above quote suggests, the game was undeniably entertaining. In an unusual turn of events, Jimmy Montgomery played on the wing for Sunderland and scored two goals, while Jack Charlton assumed the goalkeeper’s role.
It must have been a bittersweet moment for Clarke, whose career was tragically cut short before it had truly begun.
He returned to his homeland in Northern Ireland and enjoyed another two and a half years of football in the less demanding environment of the Irish League with Ballymena United, the team he had supported as a boy.
Following the conclusion of his playing career, he found employment as a scout for Liverpool FC.
Sunderland AFC 6-6 International XI
Sunderland: Montgomery, Irwin, Ashurst, Harvey, Mortimore, McNab, Gauden, Martin, Sharkey, Baxter, Mulhall. Subs: McLaughlin, Wile, Kerr, Elliott.
International XI: Springett, Smith, Jones, Cross, Charlton, Young, Sinclair, Charlton, Summerbee, Crossan, Hinton.