It’s Sunderland all the way for Len Ashurst in the battle of two of his former clubs

Former Sunderland and Cardiff boss Len Ashurst
Former Sunderland and Cardiff boss Len Ashurst
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There will be no such thing as divided loyalties for former Sunderland and Cardiff City boss Len Ashurst when the two sides face each other tomorrow.

Ashurst, who managed both clubs in the 1980s after a distinguished playing career with the Black Cats, insists: “I’ll be shouting for Sunderland all the way.

Len Ashurst arrives at Roker Park to become Sunderland manager on March 5, 1984.

Len Ashurst arrives at Roker Park to become Sunderland manager on March 5, 1984.

“I always said when I was a manager that if ever any of my teams played against Sunderland and lost then, at the back of my mind, I would not really mind because it was Sunderland, it was my team.

“It will be tough on Saturday, but I think they can get something and there’ll be no divided loyalties from me if they do.”

Liverpool-born Ashurst, now 78 and living back in Whitburn, holds the record for most appearances by an outfield player for Sunderland.

The left-back played 458 times for the club between 1957-70 before beginning his managerial odyssey down the A19 as player-boss at Hartlepool United.

He took charge at Sunderland in early 1984, after guiding Cardiff to promotion from the old Division Three, and preserved the Red and Whites’ top-flight status with a 2-0 final day win at Leicester City.

His new-look team then reached the final of Milk Cup the following season before a 1-0 defeat at Wembley by Norwich City triggered a losing run, relegation and the sack.

He returned to Cardiff for a less successful spell between 1989-91 and settled in the area before later moving back to the North East 12 years ago.

Another link with tomorrow’s game is that he signed Neil Warnock for Hartlepool for £1,000 from Rotherham United when the fiery Bluebirds boss was still a winger.

Ashurst remembers: “He’s always had an edge to him and was one of the few players I managed who ever answered back.

“But he showed the passion and determination that we have all seen in his managerial career.

“I remember him playing on in an important game for Hartlepool against Darlington after he had injured his spleen or something like that.

“I am pleased that he has done well as a manager.

“When you scratch beneath the surface, he has a big heart and his demeanour on match days is different to other days.”