'He was a winner' - Emotional tributes paid to club legend and former Sunderland player and manager Len Ashurst

Emotional tributes have been paid following the sad death of Sunderland legend Len Ashurst.
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Ashurst made 458 appearances for Sunderland, a record for an outfield player, and scored four goals for the club between December 27, 1957 and March 8, 1971.

He would later return for a 66-game spell as Sunderland manager, between March 5, 1984 and May, 24, 1985.

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As a player, Ashurst, who won caps for England at youth level, would become a fixture in the Sunderland side from the late fifties to the early seventies.

Tributes have been paid to former Sunderland player and manager Len Ashurst, pictured here in March 1984.Tributes have been paid to former Sunderland player and manager Len Ashurst, pictured here in March 1984.
Tributes have been paid to former Sunderland player and manager Len Ashurst, pictured here in March 1984.

He finished his playing days as player-manager of Hartlepool United.

During a lengthy career in management he also took charge of Gillingham, Sheffield Wednesday, Newport County and Cardiff City.

Ashurst was 82. Club legends and friends at Sunderland have been paying tribute to his incredible impact on Wearside, both as a player and manager.

Club historian Rob Mason

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"We were immensely saddened to learn of the death of Len Ashurst,” wrote Mason on the club website.

“No one has played more games as an outfield player for Sunderland than Len, who was so proud of his total of 458 appearances that he included it as part of his autograph.

“Len was 82. In the week of his 70th birthday, he published a self-penned autobiography, “Left Back In Time.’

"While I worked with Len on the book, I take no credit for it as unlike almost all football autobiographies, Len wrote it himself and it is all the more authentic for that.”

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He added: “He took Sunderland to their first ever League Cup final in 1985 but was powerless to stop the side being relegated in a year of boardroom turmoil. Len took both Cardiff and Newport to promotion. He also won the Welsh Cup with Newport before astonishingly taking them to the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

"He also managed the national sides of Kuwait and Qatar, as well as Al-Wakrah in Qatar and coaching in Malaysia. In all, Ashurst spent over half a century in the game proudly becoming inducted into both the League Managers’ Association’s 1,000 club and the SAFC Hall of Fame.

“After management, he was influential in helping the FA create the Academy system and spent many years as a Premier League Match Delegate assessing match officials.

“Over and above all this, Len Ashurst was ultra-professional, had one of the best contacts books in the game and was a loyal and trusted person who was married to Val 60 years ago this year. He loved his home city Liverpool, but spent his final years in Whitburn, referring to Wearside as ‘God’s Country.’”

Goalkeeper Jim Montgomery is the only man to play more games for Sunderland than ‘Lennie the Lion’

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“When you came into the first team in those days you didn’t really speak to the senior players, but Lennie looked after you,” he said.

"Pointing you in the right direction and talking to you, as did Charlie Hurley and Jimmy McNab. If you needed Len, he was always there.

"As a player, Lennie would have kicked his granny because he was a winner. Over the years we had relative gentlemen at right-back, people like Colin Nelson, Cecil Irwin and Dick Malone, but at left-back Len put the fear of God into outside rights.

“Len always gave everything on the pitch, but off it he was a family man who was a perfect gentleman and was always immaculate in collar and tie.”

Cecil Irwin and 1964 promotion winning teammate George Herd have also paid tribute

“It’s terrible news to hear about Len,” said Irwin.

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"I’m very sorry to learn of it. He was a whole-hearted player. Wingers couldn’t get past him. He was a good stopper and he could play a bit. If there was ever a player who gave 100%, it would be Lennie.”

Herd added: “Len was a very good full-back. He played in every game of the 1964 promotion side, which was a very good team that we had. It was definitely the highlight of my time at Sunderland.

"After Len finished playing I saw for myself what a brilliant manager and coach he was. He took me out to Kuwait to work with him for a year. He was helping me out which is what he did with a lot of people and I always appreciated that.

“Len will be a big miss. We played golf together and he was a great lad, a funny lad and I’m very sad to hear the news.”

Gary Bennett described Ashurst as a ‘winner’

“Len played a big part in my life," said Bennett.

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"Without Len I might not have been where I am now, in football and in life.

"Through Len I got the opportunity to play top league football with Sunderland and that led to me meeting my wife and having my children. Len played a huge part in my life, not just as a manager but as a person.

"Len was always very chirpy and a lovely fella to get on with. He was a winner and his attitude rubbed off on me.”

Malcolm Bramley, secretary of the Sunderland Senior Supporters’ Association and close friend:

“I met Len in 1962 on the day I walked into Roker Park to start work as an office boy and we later worked together at Gillingham FC, a great friendship that spanned 60 years.

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"I'm devastated at his passing, but have some great memories to look back on.”

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