‘Football cost me my leg, but I have no regrets’ – former Sunderland player

Former SAFC player - and now eco community resident - Norman Wood, relaxing at home with his wife Gillian.
Former SAFC player - and now eco community resident - Norman Wood, relaxing at home with his wife Gillian.
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THE 60th anniversary of a cup win for Silksworth Colliery Welfare FC has brought back happy memories for one of the stars of the match.

FOOTBALL has proved an enduring passion – and curse – for former Silksworth player Norman Wood.

Former SAFC player - and now park eco community resident Norman Wood in his 1950s playing days (left).

Former SAFC player - and now park eco community resident Norman Wood in his 1950s playing days (left).

His talent on the ball saw the Millfield lad rise swiftly through the ranks, from schoolboy and county player, to travelling the world as a professional.

But his dreams of becoming a Roker Park legend were dashed after just one game, when a tackle left him badly injured. Decades later, his leg had to be amputated.

“I was tackled from the side while playing for Sunderland Reserves at Horden Welfare,” recalls Norman. “The pain was quite horrific at the time.

“Unfortunately, despite an operation, as well as running up and down the terraces at Roker Park for months to build up my muscles, I couldn’t play again.” Norman, the son of a Doxford’s shipyard joiner, was born at the family home in Rosedale Street in 1932 – just as the storm clouds of war were gathering over Europe.

“I was at Chester Road School when war broke out. I still remember how two pupils, Laurie and Dorothy Wood, were supposed to be evacuated to Canada,” he said.

“They travelled to Liverpool to get a boat, but Laurie was denied passage because of an ailment. His sister left without him and the ship, City of Benares, was sunk by a U-boat.”

Norman and his family moved twice during the war, first to Cleveland Road and then Vale Street. Bombs brought death and destruction to both areas – as he well recalls.

“We started getting complacent about going into the shelter, until we were woken by continuous bombing one night,” said Norman, who now lives in Brasside, Durham.

“Cleveland Road was badly bombed, and a landmine fell around Colchester Terrace. The explosion shook our house; it shook everything. It was a horrible experience.”

Despite the trials and tribulations of war, Norman won a scholarship to Bede in 1943 – and was soon picked to represent the grammar school at football.

“I still remember playing for Bede in the Cochrane Cup Final in about 1947, which was held at Roker Park. Sadly, we got beaten 1-0 by West Park Central,” he said.

“After leaving school, I got a job as an office boy at Vaux and played for Lambton Street Boys’ Club. Then, as I got older, I moved on to Ryhope Colliery Welfare.

“I was still playing for them when I was called up for my National Service in the RAF. Two years later, I returned to both the football team and my job at Vaux.” It wasn’t long, however, before Norman was offered a place on Wearside League team Silksworth Colliery Welfare – a step up from the Houghton and District League.

“It was in my first season that the club won the Shipowner’s Cup. I was elated – especially as we were the under-dogs – and it was the biggest cup around,” he said.

“Our opposition, Sunderland Reserves, had won the competition several times in a row, and just expected to win it again. But we managed to take it away from them.

“I still remember the pitch invasion afterwards – which was unheard of at the time. Heading the crowd was my dad – he was as pleased as we were to win that cup!”

Just weeks after his cup-winning appearance for Silksworth, Norman was approached by Sunderland manager Bill Murray – who asked him to join the top flight club.

“I was what they called a part-time professional at first, training in the evenings with the younger players and playing for the Sunderland Reserves and B team,” he said.

“But I went on to sign professional forms in November/December 1954, and gave up my job at Vaux – where I was assistant personnel manager – to play full time.” Just a few months later, in February 1955, Norman played his one and only game for Sunderland’s first team – before suffering the terrible injury to his leg.

“I’d been selected to travel to North America and Canada with the team, and was terrified I’d be dropped. I ended up going, but didn’t play a single game,” he said.

“The injury happened two or three days before we set off, and at first I thought it would just get better. In hindsight, I think I had injured my cruciate ligament.

“These days, you can be back on the pitch in a few months with the right treatment. Back in the 1950s, though, there just wasn’t that medical knowledge available.”
Norman finally left Sunderland AFC in 1957, still suffering from the injury. Yet again he returned to Vaux – working his way up to become an outside office manager.

A third change of career came later, when he trained as a teacher and spent several years at South Hylton Primary. His old injury, however, forced an early retirement.

“I had bother from the injury most of my life, culminating in amputation about seven years ago. I’ve never been better in mind and body since that operation,” he said.

“Obviously I wish the injury had never happened, but I have no regrets about my life in football – and wouldn’t change a thing. I still have good memories of those days.”

Cup triumph anniversary

A PARTY celebrating Silksworth Colliery Welfare’s triumph over Sunderland Reserves in the 1954 Shipowners’ Cup proved a huge success.

Dozens of people, including former players and ex-Sunderland Reserves man Jimmy Shields, were at the Comrades’ Club to toast the 60th anniversary of the victory.

A commemorative programme has also been published to mark the event, and club officials are hoping to hold a memorial match next month.

David Steele, chairman of Silksworth CW, said: “We have had an amazing response to the anniversary. Now we are hoping to get the old players together for a charity match, and set up a Hall of Fame for them. It would be great if Sunderland AFC could get involved too.”

l The commemorative brochure, £4, can be ordered by email at: silksworthcw@gmail.com