Could Joe be the oldest SAFC fan to see his club at the top of English football

A new contender has entered the fray for the competition to be the oldest fan to see Sunderland at the top of English football.

Sunday, 9th May 2021, 10:29 am

Joe Smith 86, becomes the latest supporter to put his name in the hat. He even remembers watching The Lads before the Second World War.

It was Joe’s daughter Jan Callaghan who got in touch with the Echo and said: “My dad watched Sunderland play from the age of 8 around 1943.

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Joe Smith's memories of watching Sunderland.

“He remembers watching games during the war when the Roker End was closed due to damage. He says there were that many fans in the Fulwell End they ran across the pitch and watched from the Roker End. ( No health and safety then).”

Joe watched Sunderland at the top of the league when they took on Manchester City in 1949. The Lads headed into the last four games of the season at the top of English football.

All seemed to be going smoothly for the team until the fourth match before the end of the season. They came up against Manchester City who had already been relegated – and lost.

Sunderland then won their last three games but the damage had already been done.

Joe Smith in his playing days.

Joe remembered that first game he saw in 1943 and recalled being ‘lifted over the turnstile by his brother in law and sat on one of the concrete pillars in the Roker End to see the match’, said Jan.

Another memory was of SAFC legend Len Shackleton. Jan added: “He saw Shack take a penalty against Man City at Roker Park. City had Frank Swift the then England goal keeper in goal.

“Shack placed the ball on the spot, turned his back on the goal to the gasps of the crowd and back heeled the ball into the net to score. Swift was so impressed he ran out of goal and hoisted Shack onto his shoulders."

Joe also saw ‘Shack do all manner of tricks. bending balls off corner flags, kicking ball way up field and then running after and catching it just outside the penalty area as he had put so much spin on it, it came back to him.”

Joe Smith in his playing days.

He remembered other heroes such as Trevor Ford and Charlie Hurley.

Jan added: “Joe played for Grangetown United, The Toll Bar and went on to play and then be player manager for The Ryhope Grange and The Mountain Daisy.

“He was at Wembley to see Sunderland win the FA Cup in 1973 and later that year went to Majorca on holiday. Whilst there, he played for the hotel team and recalls having a meal later that evening at the hotel when the team mamager Pedro appeared with a bottle of champagne as he was man of the match.

“In 1983 aged 48, he joined Lambton and Hetton teachers which was ‘the best team he ever played for’, said Jan.

Trevor Ford in action. He was one of Joe's favourite Sunderland players.

“He hung up his boots at the age of 52.”

Is Joe the oldest person still alive to see Sunderland play when they were at the top of the English football league? If you know different, tell us more by emailing [email protected]

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Len Shackleton, the best player Joe saw in a Sunderland shirt.
The bomb crater in the pitch at Roker Park in 1943 after an air raid. Joe remembers watching Sunderland during the war years.