We all know the drill: Chris Makin gets the ball anywhere outside his own penalty box, the crowd booms ‘SHOOOOT!’ he does and… it never goes in. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Armed with my Dad’s endless supply of Football Echos since the 1960’s, all 30 Rothmans Football Yearbooks, a load of SAFC history books, plus assistance from my old man himself, I used my reading week at Uni to find out why.
Anyone born in the 1980s might be forgiven for thinking that the bloke in the number two shirt isn’t allowed to score. It is a sad fact that in the past ten and a half seasons, a Sunderland right back has only scored one goal, and that was from Martin Gray on one of his rare appearances in the position in May 1993. Regulars like Johnny Kay, Dariusz Kubicki and Chris Makin have never officially scored for the Lads, and neither have many of their deputies like Reuben Agboola, Paul Williams, Darren Williams, Gareth Hall and Darren Holloway.
These facts in themselves wouldn’t be so outstanding, but for the fact that the left backs have, over the years been banging them in on a regular basis. Since the start of the 1960/61 season, the left backs have outscored their right footed counterparts by 54 goals to 16. But why?
Well for a start, in those 40 odd seasons, the role of penalty taker has never been entrusted to a right back. Conversely, in one season ('89/90) Paul Hardyman netted six penalties in the games where he played at left back, whilst more recently seven of Martin Scott’s eleven goals were scored from the spot. Another reason I found which might explain why the left backs are more prolific, is that a lot of them played games in midfield and would be more used to running in at goal. Whereas Kaysie, Makin, Agboola and Kubicki were always defenders, the likes of Mickey Gray, Frank Gray, Nick Pickering, Paul Hardyman and Joe Bolton all had experience in the midfield and all scored goals from the midfield, although these goals aren’t included in this investigation.
However, anyone who regularly attended SAFC matches over the years will know that our lack of goals from right back has not been for the want of trying. Chris Makin’s two efforts recently against Newcastle, or his late curler at Oxford last season left us all in disbelief. How the hell did they stay out? Dariusz Kubicki often went close to getting an elusive first goal, and then there was the red and white tractor himself, Johnny Kay.
With the best part of 250 appearances in a red and white shirt under his belt, Kaysie never managed to score a goal. Or did he? I remember that in March 1993 against Peterborough, Kaysie drilled in a cross and proceeded to follow it across the goalmouth. Peter Davenport controlled it, then drilled it through a crowd of legs and in. Davenport admitted in the following Monday’s Echo that it had flicked off Kaysie’s legs as he ran across it, but Kaysie said that it wasn’t his goal because he wanted his first SAFC goal to be spectacular. The season before, Kaysie was denied a goal in the 6-2 battering of Millwall by the ref’s final whistle, and he never got his ‘spectacular goal’ in the first team.
Kaysie was nothing new as far as rarely scoring right backs were concerned though. George Burley netted only twice in 66 appearances, Barry Venison scored just three times (and one of those was from midfield) in over 200 appearances, Steve Whitworth never scored in 94 appearances, Mick Henderson scored only once from right back in almost 100 appearances, Dick Malone netted just twice in over 270 appearances, whilst Sunderland’s most played right back, Cecil Irwin, managed only one goal in nearly 350 league and cup appearances.
In truth, from 1960 until the appearance of Joe Bolton in the seventies, goals from either full back were few and far between. Len Ashurst hit four goals from left back in the early sixties, the last of which was in 1965. That was the last goal from that position for seven years when Keith Coleman scored at home to Burnley. In the same period (1960-72), the right backs managed only four goals between them, including just one, a Colin Nelson goal, between 1960 and 1967!
However, from Joe Bolton's first season, the Sunderland left backs have nearly always outscored their right footed counterparts. Bolton three times, Ron Guthrie twice and Keith Coleman all found the net between Dick Malone’s two strikes for the club in the mid-seventies, and from the '75/76 season ‘til the end of the '79/80 season, Tim Gilbert and Joe Bolton scored ten times from left back, compared to just one goal from right back, a Mick Henderson strike against Bristol Rovers in 1977.
In that period, Joe Bolton nearly became the only Sunderland full back to score a hat-trick. He scored twice against Charlton at Roker Park on the final day of the season and with SAFC 3-0 up when they were awarded a penalty. Bolton was allowed to take it. However, he blew his chance of glory and missed.
The four seasons from '79/80 to '82/83 saw no goals from either full back apart from two weeks in March 1981 when Joe Hinnigan went mental. Hinnigan scored at home to Aston Villa on the 7th March, and a week later at Selhurst park against Crystal Palace. The third consecutive match saw Hinnigan net a double at home to Coventry making him the Lads’ highest scoring right back in the past 40 years, in just 270 minutes of football. This, I thought, dispels the rumour that right backs can’t score until my dad appeared from under a pile of Footie Echo’s to point out that ironically, Hinnigan was a left back who was playing at right back as cover for Steve Whitworth.
The remainder of the 1980s to the end of the '89/90 season saw Nick Pickering, Alan Kennedy, Frank Gray, and Paul Hardyman score fourteen goals between them from left back (plus more from midfield). In the same time Barry Venison, George Burley and Gary Bennett scored just five goals from right back. Ironically, one of Burley’s goals came in the 1987/88 season in one of only two games that John Kay missed.
In the past ten seasons, Paul Hardyman (3), Anton Rogan (1), Mickey Gray (3), Dicky Ord (2), and Martin Scott (11) have combined for twenty goals from left back. In the same time Martin Gray’s goal against Portsmouth in 1993 is the only goal from a right back. This high number of goals from the left backs in the 1990s has occurred because Scotty scored seven penalties and a few free kicks. Mickey Gray is comfortable in going forward and Dicky Ord's height meant that he went up for corners and free kicks.
Finally, are full back's goals good or what? My favourite has to be Dicky Ord’s thunderbolt in off the Fulwell End crossbar against Grimsby. Other crackers I remember are Scotty’s belter against Watford in The Coca Cola Cup tie and Mickey Gray’s debut goal in the first minute, at home to Barnsley. My Dad reckons that the best goal for him was Cec Irwin's one and only goal for SAFC in over 300 games. How many more matches do we have to wait for the moment when Makin SHOOOOOOOOOTs and finally does score?
FULL BACK GOALS SINCE 1960
Len Ashurst: 4
Alan Kennedy: 3
Keith Coleman: 2
Paul Hardyman: 9
Joe Bolton: 10
Anton Rogan: 1
Ron Guthrie: 2
Mickey Gray: 3
Tim Gilbert: 2
Dicky Ord: 2
Nick Pickering: 3
Martin Scott: 11
Frank Gray: 2
Colin Nelson: 1
Joe Hinnigan: 4
Calvin Palmer: 1
Barry Venison: 2
Cecil Irwin: 1
George Burley: 2
Dick Malone: 2
Gary Bennett: 1
Mick Henderson: 1
Martin Gray: 1