Tributes to Sunderland teacher who inspired winning football team

Len Ashurst presents the team with the shield
Len Ashurst presents the team with the shield

Tributes have been paid to a teacher who inspired a generation of Sunderland footballers.

Charles Milburn, who has died at the age of 89, guided a team from West Southwick School to become Town Champions in 1966 and claim the Durham County Benevolent and Orphan Shield.

Charles Milburn

Charles Milburn

His sporting career got off to a less than auspicious start while playing for Sunderland boys, as the goal keeper mistook his head for the ball during a spectacular save, which resulted in him being stretchered off to the horror of his proud mum, who had turned up for the first time to watch him play.

Trying his hand at boxing in the Army proved no more successful, with Charles hanging up his gloves with the grand title of best loser, a fat nose and the last man’s prize of a five shilling special 1951 crown.

Sunderland AFC was his passion, as daughter Beverly recalls: “As a family we experienced the highs and lows of Sunderland football and I will remember with fondness my father’s all-consuming excitement at the Wembley cup final and going to London as a family for big day,” she said.

One of the smallest schools in the town, West Southwick might have been expected to struggle against the much bigger comprehensive and grammar schools, but he had spotted a group of talented young players moving through the school and was ready when they progressed to the under-15 level.

We were all young and enthusiastic boys. Mr Milburn took it to the next level for us and taught us the game.

John Lathan

During the six weeks’ holiday before the 1965-66 season, he trained and coached the team on Thompson, even providing boots for one of the players whose parents could not afford them.

It proved to be a good investment, as young Ray Stoker went on to score many goals and netted a hat trick in the final of the Durham County Benevolent and Orphan Shield against Eppleton Comprehensive.

John Lathan, who would go onto to play for Sunderland, netted two more in 5-1 victory in front of 1,500 spectators at Wearmouth Colliery Welfare.

Charles even visited the pubs and clubs in Southwick to sell tickets for the final tie to ensure his team had a large crowd to cheer them on.

“I was extremely proud of all of the lads that day,” he said.

John Lathan said: “We were all young and enthusiastic boys. Mr Milburn took it to the next level for us and taught us the game.

“His knowledge of play, tactics and when to shoot at goal was inspiring for us young lads, invaluable lessons that we took with us to the game in later life.

“Mr Milburn was a major influence in my life and career, and the first real time coach who actually had an impact on my playing.

“I owe so much to his leadership, and will remember him with gratitude forever.”

“We would like to thank everybody for the kind words and thoughts over this last few weeks, and especially the fond memories from the West Southwick under 15’s team,” said Beverly.

Mr Milburn is survived by wife Verna. A funeral service will be held at Sunderland Crematorium at 11.30am tomorrow. Donations to the Kidney Foundation.