Charlie Buchan - the Sunderland legend lives on

Charlie Buchan
Charlie Buchan
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CHARLIE BUCHAN pulled on a Sunderland shirt for the last time 85 years ago, but his legend lives on.

And so it should – the prolific forward is as good a role model as the game has produced.

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So says his granddaughter Frances Klepp, who has had Buchan’s famous 1955 biography A Lifetime In Football brought back into print.

The book is out now, giving a fascinating insight into football life in the first half of the Twentieth century and featuring his goal-laden years on Wearside as one of the game’s greatest players. It also describes Buchan’s shock move to Arsenal in 1925 – and unusual transfer fee – and his move into journalism with newspapers and the BBC, covering football around the globe.

It is 50 years since Buchan died after suffering a heart attack while on holiday on the French Riviera, and he was recently inducted in the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame.

“It was time to let him speak for himself again,” said Miss Klepp.

“A lot of people know he was my grandfather and he is often talked about. It was also lovely to attend the ceremony when he was accepted into the Hall of Fame in Manchester recently, when a presentation was made to me by Jimmy Montgomery, another Sunderland legend.

“I made a short speech. As I was leaving, a young man approached me – I could tell from his accent that he was from Sunderland – and said he had been inspired by my words about my granddad. It was wonderful to feel that someone could be affected in that way.”

Miss Klepp was only ten when Buchan died, but knew him very well.

“We used to visit him in London every holiday. I can remember arriving at his house and being carried in from the car by him.

“He often used to take me to the BBC. He let me play in the lifts until he would say ‘that is enough!’

“He used to travel abroad a lot covering football and would send postcards form wherever he went. He also sent me a beautiful dress from Macy’s store in New York, and a kilt he had specially made in Princes Street in Edinburgh. I can also remember my brother getting a football on his seventh birthday.

“I knew then that he was something different; that he was famous and wrote in the newspaper and worked for the BBC. But probably not that he was a great footballer.

“I remember when he died. My mother came to me in the middle of the night and whispered that she had to go away to France. It was obviously terrible news.

“I can also remember at the memorial service that the church as full to overflowing.”

Buchan’s autobiography gives a very clear impression of the man.

“Reading the book, it is very much him speaking,” said Miss Klepp, a retired teacher, who now runs a book shop in Torquay. “It is exactly as he was.

“He was very well spoken and wrote well. But then he studied right up to the age of 17 at a time when children often left school at the age of 12 or 14.

“He became a teacher in Sunderland and had earlier considered becoming a doctor; but that would have been too expensive for his family.

“Everything he did was through the eyes of a teacher – all he wanted to do was to help others. He was a very placid man; he had no temper.

“He was not somebody who looked for fame or accolades. After big games he would often avoid the crowds, slip out a side door and be seen signing autographs for youngsters and telling them about the game.”

Indeed, in his book Buchan skirts quickly over his involvement in the First World War, when he volunteered for the Grenadier Guards, served in the trenches, and was awarded the Military Medal for bravery, getting “through the Somme, Cambrai and Passchendaele battles without a scratch”.

He finished the war as a second lieutenant with the Sherwood Forresters.

Concentrating almost wholly on football, he tells how his first game during the war was “behind the Somme front, just after the big push in July 1916 ... no sooner had we started than the German shells began to drop perilously near the field. So we packed up and restarted on another pitch. The game had to go on!”

After the war, Buchan took up teaching at Cowan Terrace School, near Park Lane. But he soon found that teaching and professional football did not mix – finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate on his lessons as match day approached – and had to give it up.

Instead, he went into partnership in a sports outfitters shop in Blandford Street, near Sunderland railway station. He worked there, taking time out twice a day to go to training.

In the book, Buchan does not have a bad word for anyone. Instead, he heaps praise on others who helped him on his way, his team-mates, and other players from his era.

“I was asked recently to do a talk at a local school and expected only a small number of students,” added Miss Klepp. “There turned out to be 260 and they listened spellbound to the tales of my grandad’s life.

“He was the stuff of heroes, a real role model. He had the sort of qualities that we should be encouraging in youngsters today.

“He was an inspiration and I believe he still is.”