Appeal launched to trace ‘mystery’ Sunderland footballer

Consett Iron Company and an SAFC star.

Consett Iron Company and an SAFC star.

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An appeal to track down details about the life a former Sunderland player has been launched.

Black Cats fan Tudor Rees is hoping to find out more about winger Samuel Walter Ellison, who was signed by SAFC just months after the end of World War Two.

Sunderland FC team circa 1946/7.

Sunderland FC team circa 1946/7.

“He is part of my wife Margaret’s family, a first cousin once removed, yet we know hardly anything about him,” said the retired research company manager from Rowlands Gill, who now lives in York.

“I only came across his name by accident, when it popped up while I was looking at the official SAFC website, but it sparked my interest. There is very little about him on the internet, other than statistics.”

Ellison, who was known professionally as Walter rather than Samuel, was born in Leadgate to Consett Iron Company worker Samuel Ellison and his wife Mary (nee Jobson) on April 27, 1923.

As a youngster he was a member of Middlesbrough Crusaders, a Sunderland AFC feeder club in the Teesside Junior League, but the outbreak of war in 1939 saw all competitive football put on hold across Britain.

“Records show that Walter was living with his parents in Leadgate, and working as a plate mills stock-taker for Consett Iron Company, just before war broke out,” said Tudor, a life-long SAFC fan.

“But what he did during the war is a mystery. It is possible his job was a reserved occupation and that he stayed at home, but at least two S W Ellisons were listed as prisoners-of-war during the conflict – one in Burma and the other in Poland.”

Once the war was over, however, Walter signed up with SAFC in October 1945. After playing for the reserves for more than a year, as well as in practice matches, he made his first team debut in an away game at Blackpool on January 18, 1947.

Happily, Sunderland won the match 5-0 . A crowd of 20,049 watched the game and, among the Sunderland players that day, were England international goalie Johnny Mapson and double international Willie Watson, who played both cricket and football for England.

“Walter was what I guess we would call a squad player now; not a first team regular. But he played with some of Sunderland’s legends during his brief time at the club,” said Tudor.

The winger made just two more first team appearances - in a snowy 2-1 away win at Blackburn Rovers on February 1, 1947, followed by a frost-bound and icy 0-0 draw at home to Portsmouth a week later.

But the Echo’s notoriously critical football pundit Argus picked on the poor youngster both times – criticising the “lightly built” player for his lack of strength in the first match, and claiming “his courage is bigger than his physical frame” in the second.

Sunderland, under manager Bill Murray, would go on to finish 9th in the old First Division (now the Premier League) that season, with 44 points from 42 games. Young Walter, however, was destined to move on.

“He went back to his roots to play for his home team of Consett in 1947, which was a North-Eastern League Club at the time. After that, he signed for Reading on June 29, 1949,” said Tudor.

“I believe he left there in about 1950 and moved on to Guildford City FC. However, we don’t know what happened to him from there – other than he died on the Isle of Wight in 1994. I just wish we knew a bit more – hopefully Echo readers may be able to help.”

Few records survive to trace what happened to Walter. Indeed, it is not known if he went on to a new career – or even if he got married and had a family.

“Presumably, or at least hopefully, there was a girl in his life at some point – but, so far, I haven’t managed to find any documentation,” said Tudor.

“Perhaps an Echo reader can help out with this research. I’d just like to know more about the real man behind the statistics.”

l Anyone with information should email: sarah.stoner@jpress.co.uk