THE NIGHT NICKY SHARKEY MADE ME SLEEPWALK



I woke up for a moment as I put my hand on the banister-rail but went back to sleep and kept on ascending the stairs of our house. The next thing I remember was the click of the handle on the door of my parent’s bedroom as I turned it and went inside.

It was black dark and I must’ve woken them up but I managed to announce, more than once I believe, “We beat Norwich 7-1 and Nicky Sharkey scored five.” My dad mumbled something like, “All right, son. Go back to bed, now.” Next thing I knew I was waking up in bed in the morning. That was the last time, as far as I’m aware, that I went sleepwalking but if Sunderland ever do win 7-1 again, I’d be happy to give it another go. Mind you, it took me about ten years to live down that initial effort as it was regularly brought up at family gatherings.

It was Wednesday 20th March 1963 and the place was 31 Elmwood Street in Sunderland. I was almost nine years old and had attended my first match at Roker Park six months earlier but the result against Norwich and especially Nicky going nap had obviously excited me even more than I’d realized. I hadn’t been to the game as it was of course a night-match and bed-times for little kids were early in those days.

Our team that night was Montgomery, Nelson, Ashurst, Anderson, Hurley, McNab, Davison, Herd, Sharkey, Crossan and Mulhall. We were three-up at half-time and apart from Nicky, our scorers were Stan Anderson and Johnny Crossan. In my memory I’d always thought that it was a League-Cup game but it was a League match and it did our promotion push nothing but good as we headed towards that final game of the season when we lost 1-0 at home to Chelsea and grown men wept on the terraces.

Nicky had first played for us in April 1960 when he was only 16 but didn’t get a game for two periods of a year or more before Brian Clough’s injury on Boxing Day 1962 gave him his chance to shine. He certainly took it, scoring 11 goals in half a season. He made 117 appearances in all competitions for Sunderland and scored 62 goals, which is some record.

When we were promoted he continued to score prolifically in the First Division but all that was to change. After Ian McColl became our manager in May 1965, Nicky didn’t get much of a look-in and was finally transferred to Leicester City in October 1966, where he formed a partnership for a while with Derek Dougan. It had the look of a good pairing with the tall Doog nodding them down for the diminutive Nicky to smash them in but Dougan was soon off to Wolves.

When I was in the sixth form at Bede School, one of my teachers, Mr Street, let slip one day that his next-door neighbour was non-other than Nicky, who was playing for Hartlepool at the time - he was there till the end of the 1971/2 season, I believe and we always snapped up whatever tit-bits he would cast our way.

Nicky continued to live in Sunderland for many years and I was saddened to hear of his death in 2015 at the age of seventy-one. He’ll always be a hero to me and to thousands of others.



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