A WEARSIDE school hailed as a “production line for professional footballers” is once again in a league of its own.
A SUNDERLAND school is celebrating a return to its footballing glory days – just as England storms through to the second round of the European Championships.
St Cuthbert’s Primary was hailed as a soccer force to be reckoned with for several decades, winning a string of trophies and titles. Several pupils even went on to play professionally.
The last few years, however, have proved rather quieter on the cup front – until now. Indeed, as England strives for Euro glory, the St Cuthbert’s players have already scooped their very own treble.
“We won the Sunderland School’s seven-a-side league last year, and the team has just done it again – totally unbeaten for the whole tournament,” said Year 5 teacher and football coach Gareth Hill.
“That was a fantastic achievement in itself, but we’ve also won the Julie Anne Thompson Trophy and the Alan Grimes County Cup as well. It has been our best season for many, many years.”
The tradition of footballing excellence at St Cuthbert’s can be traced to just a year after the school opened in 1954, when County Cork-born Jimmie McAuliffe joined the staff as a young teacher.
His decision to volunteer as a coach for the fledgling football team was to mark the beginning of three decades of extraordinary success.
“St Cuthbert’s topped their division 17 times in 24 years. It almost became like a production line for professional footballers,” said former St Joseph’s and St Aidan’s sports teacher Mick Winter.
“They won the Sunderland Championship nine times outright, shared the title with English Martyrs twice and scooped titles such as the Bishop’s Cup and Catenian Shield in the same period too.
“As a teacher at St Joseph’s, and later at St Aidan’s, I ‘inherited’ the Cuthy lads when they moved schools. You could see the passion for the game, as well as the skills, that Jimmie gave them.”
Jimmie went on to manage Sunderland Boys’ team, and also served as a vice-president of the city’s Schools’ Football Association. He never, however, forgot his St Cuthbert’s roots.
“He remained at Cuthy’s until his retirement in 1984, when he stepped down as deputy head,” said Mick. “He was greatly missed, as he inspired a generation of footballers with his love of the game.”
Indeed, in the days following Jimmie’s death in December 2006, several ex-St Cuthbert’s players – including footballers Mick Harford and Kevin Dillon – paid tribute to their old teacher.
“Mr McAuliffe was an inspiration to me – and I don’t say that lightly,” said Mick, who played for Chelsea, Sunderland, Luton Town, Derby, Newcastle and Wimbledon after leaving school.
“The time and effort he put into that team was incredible. He was a big influence on every kid. There were a few lads who went on to play professionally and he must take a lot of credit for that.”
Mick’s former team-mate Kevin Dillon, who played for Birmingham City, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Reading, Stevenage and Yeovil Town after training with Jimmie at St Cuthbert’s, added:
“He was the most inspirational person in my entire football career. He was the first person to teach me how to play football.”
Gareth, who signed schoolboy forms with Burnley before training as a teacher, is well aware of the footballing legacy left by Jimmie – and delighted his team is now living up to the Cuthy traditions.
“If you look back through the records, St Cuthbert’s had its name on the majority of the cups. Jimmie was hugely successful, training the pupils almost as hard as professionals,” he said.
“After he left, a guy called Ray Stewart continued the school’s success. I think he worked alongside Jimmie for a while, learning his ways, and one of the players he produced was Steve Howey.
“Even into the 1990s the school was still winning cups. Then for some reason, I don’t know why, there seems to be a break of quite a few years without very much success. But now we’re back!”
Gareth, coach of the St Cuthbert’s team for the past three years, credits the support of parents and teachers, as well as great sporting facilities, with the school’s renewed success on the pitch.
“I’ve also got some really promising players, including two at professional football academies and one who plays for Sunderland Girls, so I’m hoping they can carry on winning next year,” he said.
“Jimmie and Ray both coached young players who went on to play professionally, and that is something I would love to do, too. There are certainly some very talented kids on the team.”
Sidebar: The history of St Cuthbert’s footballing glory
A BOOK celebrating the 1993 centenary of Wearside school football named St Cuthbert’s as the “most consistently successful Under 11 team in the last 40 years.”
“It all started in the 1955-56 season, when James McAuliffe joined the staff,” said Ron Gormley and Aidan Tasker, authors of Schools’ Football in Sunderland – A Record and a Celebration.
“One of the first things he did was start a football team. They didn’t win anything that season, but he had started the building process that would lead to their continuing success.”
The secret to this success, according to the book, was that Jimmie’s teams all ‘played the same way’ – using half-backs and wingers as the main attacking force.
“The half-backs played the ball out to the wingers – who were nearly always fast – and they played the ball back into the middle for a goal to be scored,” records the book.
“It sounds simple: it is very effective – and very difficult to defend against.”
Indeed, during the 24 years Jimmie ran the team they won the division championships 17 times, the league championships 11 times – including nine outright – and the Watson Cup eight times.
“They also won the County Primary Cup three years in succession, as well as winning competitions for Catholic schools such as the Bishop’s Cup and Catenian Shield many times,” states the book.
But, “just as impressive as their record” – according to the authors – was the fact that St Cuthbert’s “played all their football in the right spirit.”
Indeed, the writers are quick to point out: “If they put any pressure on opponents, it was caused only by their footballing skills.”
Jimmie’s footballing legacy was taken over by Ray Stewart in the 1979-80 season and, during his time as manager, the team won their division at least a further eight times.
“They have won the League Championship (Ditchburn Cup) a further five times, as well as winning the Watson Cup three times outright and twice shared,” recorded the book in 1993.
Professional players who were once pupils at St Cuthbert’s include:
Kevin Dillon: Played for Birmingham City, Portsmouth, Newcastle, Reading, Stevenage and Yeovil Town. A member of England U21 in 1980. Managed Reading and Aldershot Town.
Micky Hazard: Played for Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Portsmouth and Swindon. Later became a youth academy coach at Crystal Palace.
Mick Harford: Played for Lincoln, Newcastle, Bristol, Birmingham, Luton, Derby, Chelsea, Sunderland, Coventry and Wimbledon, as well as England in 1988. Managed – sometimes on a caretaker basis – Nottingham Forest, Rotherham United, Queens Park Rangers and Luton Town.
Lee Howey: Played for Bishop Auckland, Sunderland, Ipswich, Burnley, Northampton, Forest Green and Nuneaton – older brother of Newcastle and England defender Steve Howey.
Steve Howey: Played for Newcastle, Manchester City, Leicester, Bolton Wanderers, New England Revolutions and Hartlepool United, as well as England in 1995-6.
Kevin Young: Played for Burnley, Torquay United, Port Vale, Bury and Utrecht.