THE discovery of a Sunderland footballer’s picture in an Italian graveyard has sparked an international appeal for information.
A snapshot featuring World War One hero Alexander ‘Sandy’ McAllister and two mystery men was left on his grave at Giavera British Cemetery in Treviso Province.
Now Pierluigi Sanzovo, of Museo Emotivo of the Great War in Veneto, is hoping Echo readers will be able to put names to faces and help solve the picture puzzle.
“Sandy was buried at Giavera in 1918. The photo was put on his grave many years ago and was found by the caretaker. We have absolutely no idea who left it,” he said.
“Whoever left it simply wrote McAllister on the back. I have had the photo for many years, but have discovered only recently that it is of the footballer Sandy McAllister.
“It is a mystery who the other two young men are in the photograph. Could they be his brothers, or other Sunderland players? Perhaps they were soldiers just like him.”
Sandy, the son of a Scottish pitman, was born in Kilmarnock in around 1878 and, despite showing a flare for sport, followed in his father’s footsteps to become a miner.
In his spare time, however, he played for Kilmarnock and, on February 20, 1897, the “sturdy” teenager made his debut for Sunderland against Stoke City in a 4-1 win.
“He won his spurs in the 1897 Test Matches, which he has worn ever since with great success,” one sports pundit wrote of the ‘heavily built and strong’ player in 1902.
Indeed, Sandy – a short, stocky centre-half – went on to play in the first game at Roker Park and was an indispensable part of the 1902 Championship-winning side as well.
His seven-year career with the Rokermen saw him make 215 appearances – receiving a gold watch and a piano from fans after scoring the first of five goals for the club.
But he finally left Sunderland for Derby County in 1904, followed by Oldham in 1905 and Spennymoor Utd in 1909. By 1911, he was back in Sunderland – as a miner.
His days as a SAFC player saw Sandy living at 4 William Street, but by 1911 he had moved to 73 Broadsheath Terrace, Southwick, with wife Isabel and their five children.
Just three years later, when Britain declared war on Germany, the 36-year-old enlisted in the Northumberland Fusiliers and was wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
He returned, however, to front-line fighting, serving in France and Italy. Tragically, Sandy died of food poisoning in February 1918 and was buried at Giavera Cemetery.
“Our project, the Museo Emotivo of the Great War, is focused on the area of the midlands of the River Piave, in the Veneto region of Northern Italy,” said Pierluigi.
“Here, between November 1917 and June 1918, soldiers from Italy, France and Great Britain fought gallantly against soldiers from Germany, Austria, Hungary and other countries.
“Our project aims to catalogue more than 30,000 soldiers buried in the area. It will allow access to the tragic stories of the young Europeans who fought and died here.”
The museum is set to open in April this year, although its first project is already up and running – cataloguing the 416 British soldiers buried in Giavera British Cemetery.
“Sandy is not the only sportsman here. There is also Reginald Pridmore, who won gold at the 1908 Olympic Games as part of the England hockey team,” said Pierluigi.
“However, we would very much like to know who the two men pictured with Sandy are, as this is a mystery to us.”
•Pierluigi can be contacted via email at email@example.com.
A lasting tribute to players
SANDY McAllister’s sacrifice for King and Country will never be forgotten in Sunderland - thanks to an SAFC memorial to players killed in action.
The tribute to lost soldiers of the Great War and World War Two was unveiled outside the Stadium of Light’s West Stand just before Christmas.
Seven WWI players – Alexander Barrie, James Chalmers, Jack Huggins, Albert Milton, Leigh Richmond Roose, Thomas Rowlandson and Sandy – are featured.
Former Rokerman Percy Saunders, who was killed in action during World War Two, is also named on the memorial – which stands alongside the Fans Statue.
“Through this monument we pay tribute not only to our former players who lost their lives during the First and Second World Wars, but to all the brave men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice serving their country,” said SAFC chairman Ellis Short at the time.