TRIBUTES have been paid to former Sunderland player John Fraser after his death at the age of 74.
The Belfast-born winger, pictured, who signed for the club in the late 1950s, died last month after a long illness.
Following his transfer from Northern Ireland side Glentoran, he made his debut in a red and white shirt in a 1-0 home victory over Huddersfield Town in 1959.
He went on to make 22 appearances for the Division Two club and his impressive performances earned him international recognition when he was capped by Northern Ireland in a B-international against France.
Throughout his life John retained a “great affection” for the area and met his future wife, Joan, while playing for the club.
“I was introduced to him by another Sunderland player, Jimmy Potter,” said Joan, who grew up in Monkwearmouth. “There were quite a number of Irish lads at the club in those days, the likes of Ian Lawther, Amby Fogarty, Jimmy O’Neill and Martin Harvey, who I went out with briefly before meeting John.”
The couple were married in 1960, shortly before John left Sunderland and joined Portsmouth and then non-league Margate.
He moved back into league football at Watford, where he and Joan became friends with goalkeeper Pat Jennings.
“I remember John coming in and telling me about this young Irish goalkeeper they had at the club who was terribly homesick and was about to pack his bags and head back to Ireland,” said Joan. “We decided to invite him to stay with us and he eventually settled down and was soon in the Watford first team.
“That youngster was Pat Jennings who, as everyone knows, went on to become a footballing legend, but fame didn’t change him at all and he always remained a smashing lad.”
After John left Watford, the couple emigrated to South Africa, where John played for Durban City before moving into coaching and management.
He ran a plumbing business after retiring from the game and the pair, who had three children, moved to the Republic of Ireland to be close to their family.
Joan, 72, added: “I know he retained a great affection for Sunderland. He loved playing at Roker Park.”
John, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, died on March 13. His funeral was held in Waterford, in the Republic of Ireland.