Wearside Echoes: The other winners of 1973

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: The players of Thorney Close Youth Club Under-21s: Back, left to right: Tony Green, George Spurs, Danny Graham, John Dickman, Alan Swan, David Steele, Tommy Conroy, Rob McKenzie, Tommy Hammond, Alan Hall and Ted Oliver. Front: Trevor Hollingshead, Barry Dunn, Michael Waller, Tommy Dobbing, Paul Graham, Brian Davison and Robbie Maw.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: The players of Thorney Close Youth Club Under-21s: Back, left to right: Tony Green, George Spurs, Danny Graham, John Dickman, Alan Swan, David Steele, Tommy Conroy, Rob McKenzie, Tommy Hammond, Alan Hall and Ted Oliver. Front: Trevor Hollingshead, Barry Dunn, Michael Waller, Tommy Dobbing, Paul Graham, Brian Davison and Robbie Maw.

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THE sporting headlines of 1973 were dominated – not surprisingly – by Sunderland AFC’s shock FA Cup win over the mighty Leeds.

But the lads of Thorney Close Youth Club FC had cause to celebrate that season too – after winning the prestigious National Association of Youth Clubs Under-21 Cup competition.

“We were the first, and only, team from Sunderland to win this contest,” recalls Tommy Dobbing, who joined the club while working as an apprentice at Rolls Royce.

“It was an amazing experience. We played teams from across the country, travelling to matches by coach – which was unheard of. Usually we just walked or took the bus to our games.”

Although Thorney Close Youth Club FC was based on the post-war estate, many of the players – including Tommy – were drawn from other teams across Sunderland.

“I came from Hendon with some other lads, and there were a few from Plains Farm, Farringdon and Herrington, as well as some from Thorney. We grew up together in the team,” said Tommy.

“Our club manager, Tony Green, and the assistant manager, Ted Oliver, were very well known within Sunderland football and would visit local matches to scout out players they wanted.

“But, even though we didn’t all come from Thorney, we all ended up going to the youth club there. We were friends then and still are today.”

Thorney’s battle for victory in the National Association of Youth Clubs Cup started at local level. It was to prove a long, and hard-fought, campaign.

“First we became champions of Sunderland, then champions of Durham. We didn’t realise how big the competition was, or the achievement we made in eventually winning it,” said Tommy. “After becoming champions of Durham, we went on to represent the county at national level. I remember playing Rotherham, Leeds and Liverpool on the way to the finals.

“The cup final itself was held at the Tooting and Mitcham ground in London. It was supposed to have been played at Wolverhampton Wanderers, but there was a clash of fixtures.”

The lads of Thorney Close Youth Club certainly made their presence felt during that all-important last match. When the final whistle blew, the Wearside youngsters had beaten Devon 4-1.

“Apparently the cup final the next year was played at Wembley, which would have been a fantastic experience. But that didn’t matter to us at the time – we were just pleased to win,” said Tommy.

“I remember that the fellow who presented us with our winners’ medals was Elton John’s uncle, Reg Dwight, an ex-Blackburn Rovers professional.”

Among the club’s cup-winning players was Robbie Maw, who died in his 20s. Two other members – Ted Oliver and George Spurs – recently died over Christmas and the New Year.

“Ted was an inspiration to us. He was a very well known character, dedicated to football and well loved too. He is very sadly missed by us all,” said Tommy, who lives in Grangetown.

“He went on to become a physio for quite a few teams, including Plains Farm, in the Wearside League. He was originally from Deptford and was 84 when he died.

“George, who was only 59, was another great lad. He was a builder off the pitch and a great player on it. He went on to play for Silksworth in the Wearside League.”

Tommy also played for Silksworth after leaving Thorney Close, as did several other players. Another teammate, Barry Dunn, signed for Sunderland in 1979, at the age of 27.

The talented winger went on to make 25 appearances for the Roker Lads, scoring two goals. He later played for Preston and Darlington before joining Whitley Bay in 1985.

“Tommy Conroy became a boxing promoter and lots of the lads played in the Wearside and Northern leagues as semi-professionals,” said Tommy, manager of Ashbrooke Bedford House FC.

Tommy is now hoping to organise a team reunion – as a tribute to the lost members of the squad.

“With losing Ted and George so recently, it just seems like the right time to get everyone together to remember them. After all, it was Ted and George who helped make the team so special,” he said.

“Winning that cup was the experience of a lifetime, made all the more special that we have remained friends.”

l If you are interested in attending a reunion of Thorney Close Youth Club FC contact Tommy on 567 8041.

A MYSTERY object has left curators and specialists at a North East museum baffled.

The small figurine, originally thought to depict Charles I, was set to be displayed as part of the new Siege and Storm: Civil War in Newcastle exhibition at the Discovery Museum.

But museum spokesman Adam Goldwater said: “After much research, we were unable to identify the origin of the figurine.

“It appears to be dressed half in Cavalier clothing and half inPuritan clothing, which is odd as these were opposing sides in the Civil War. Cavaliers supported the King and Puritans the Parliament.

“We contacted a number of specialists and those who got back to me said they’ve never seen anything like it. The figure appears to be unique and date from the time of the Civil War (1630-60). We also know it’s made of brass.”

l If you can help identify the brass figurine, contact Adam Goldwater on 263 9860 or email him at adam.goldwater@twmuseums.org.uk