Ha’way back when: This Sunderland legend will be remembered today on an important anniversary

Len Ashurst during his time at Sunderland
Len Ashurst during his time at Sunderland
0
Have your say

Racking up 458 appearances for a single club is scarcely seen in modern football - but that milestone will be celebrated on Wearside today.

For September 20, 2018 marks sixty years to the day since Len Ashurst made the first of over 450 appearances for Sunderland.

Ashurst, then 19, was handed his debut at Roker Park during a 2-0 defeat to Ipswich Town, and that would prove to be the start of a 12-year stint on Wearside - which would later be followed by a spell in the dugout.

The defender’s 458 appearances remain a record for an outfield player at Sunderland.

And this landmark was recently honoured by the club’s supporters.

A left-back by trade, Ashurst quickly endeared himself to the Sunderland faithful after being handed a string of first team opportunities under manager Alan Brown, who was keen to give youth a chance.

That initial chance came against the Tractor Boys on 20 September 1958 in a home fixture at Roker Park where, in front of 26,970 fans, Ashurst and fellow youngsters Cecil Irwin and Jimmy McNab were handed their first starts and quickly impressed.

As well as his natural football ability, Ashurst’s determination and willingness to put in hard graft was appreciated by Sunderland fans who quickly welcomed him as one of their own.

Alongside McNab and Irwin, Ashurst helped form one of Sunderland’s most consistent and impressive defensive units in history - with Jimmy Montgomery, Charlie Hurley and Martin Harvey making up a feared back line.

As his stock began to rise, further opportunities started to come his way. The defender handed an England U23 call-up in 1961 before later being described as ‘the one that got away’ by former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly.

But the defender remained loyal to Sunderland, and stayed at the club until 1970, when he took up a player-coach role at Hartlepool United.

That wouldn’t be the end of Ashurst’s time at Roker Park, however, as he returned to the club in 1984 - this time as manager.

Despite leading the club to the League Cup final, Ashurst was sacked in May 1985 after the Black Cats suffered relegation from the First Division.

But fans remained behind Ashurst and appreciative of his fine service to the club during his two spells.

Such service was honoured recently, as Sunderland’s Senior Supporters’ Association presented Ashurst with a programme from his debut and several other gifts - including some from the club’s board of directors - to commemorate the 60-year anniversary of his debut.

Speaking in his autobiography ‘Left Back in Time’, Ashurst said: “Nothing gets to us (players) more than the genuine warmth of supporters. I was lucky enough to experience plenty of that during my time playing for Sunderland.

“But the fans on Wearside are special. They remember things so vividly and are so happy to give of themselves.”

Even 60 years on, that warmth continues - with a contribution to Sunderland like that of Ashurst’s unlikely to be seen again in the modern era.