Born on this day in Mancot, Wales, is former Sunderland goalkeeper Tony Norman.
Norman began his career at Burnley and was a Wales schoolboy. Over his four years at the club he found game time hard to come by, largely kept out of the side by the promising young England U23s keeper Alan Stephenson. The restricted first team appearances at Burnley led to a £30,000 move to Hull. Both teams were in the Third Division at the time, but the sideways move ensured regular game time and not long after his debut in February 1980, the keeper was an integral part of the starting 11.
In fact, Norman was so important to the first team that he holds the record for most consecutive Hull appearances - playing 226 consecutive games between August 1983 and September 1988. Norman remains a Hull legend and his role in Hull’s ascent up the Football League was recognised in 2005. During Hull’s centenary celebrations, a poll was conducted to establish the top 100 Hull players over the past 100 years and Norman was voted in 6th place as the top goalkeeper – a Hull legend, as canonized by this poll.
With Norman in goal, Hull’s fortunes turned around. Briefly relegated to Division Four, from here they went up towards the top end of the Second Division, achieving a then highest position in their history. While at Hull, his performances meant that he was in contention for the Welsh national team, but only intermittently. Sadly, despite being a top goalkeeper, he was mainly understudy to one Neville Southall. He only made a handful of Wales appearances, a shame for someone of his ability.
After success at Hull, Norman earned a move to Wearside. He signed in a Sunderland record move for a fee of half a million – a very decent return on Hull’s initial investment. Especially so when you realise that they gained two players from the deal – Iain Hesford and Billy Whitehurst. Whilst Norman was in goal, we earned promotion to the top flight and went on a brilliant cup run in 1991-92 that saw us get to Wembley.
He was a regular in most of his seven seasons and racked up an impressive 227 Sunderland appearances. Whilst a goalkeeper’s life is never straightforward and a couple of clangers can effectively ruin your reputation (think Loris Karius),Norman’s first game for the Lads really set the standard for how he could perform. His debut saw him very assured between the sticks in a comprehensive 4-0 win over Portsmouth- how we could have used him over the last few years.
He put in memorable performances in the aforesaid cup run, including that memorable game beneath the floodlights against Chelsea at Roker Park in the sixth round replay. He pulled off some incredibly agile saves against West Ham in the fifth round, too. His Sunderland career came to an end in 1995 when he moved to Huddersfield.
One thing that seems consistent across his career is the respect that supporters express for Norman. He received a great reception when Huddersfield visited Roker Park and was actually conducive to the electric atmosphere himself: letting in a goal for us so that our streak of nine consecutive victories was unsullied. We won Division One that year.
After retiring, Norman joined Durham Police. He was 6ft 2in tall and weighed 14st 5lb in his prime, so perhaps he was as effective a crimestopper as he was a shotstopper. A decade after his Sunderland debut on New Years Eve, Norman found himself being dragged 200 yards along a road, latched onto a driver of a stolen car who was trying to pull away. Quite the career change.
Into the 2000’s Norman struggled with depression and medical issues. In 2002, he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy,a condition causes the heart to become enlarged, reducing its ability to pump blood around the body. At one point, a heart transplant was on the cards. Despite this ordeal, Norman has continued to find work and turn his life around, most recently working as a goalkeeping coach at Blyth Spartans.
He has made the North East his home, but he would be welcome anywhere he has played football; such is the good feeling for the man and the player.