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Sunderland legend Charlie Hurley dies aged 87

By Lucas Ward

Sunderland’s Charlie Hurley. Credit: Alamy

In a statement released by the club, Sunderland AFC have announced the passing of former defender Charlie Hurley.

‘We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Charlie Hurley, one of the greatest and most beloved players in the history of Sunderland AFC’.

Hurley, who signed for the club in 1957, was named the club’s Player of the Century highlighting the impact he had on the club throughout his career and later life.

Born in Cork in 1936, his family moved to England just seven months later. At the age of sixteen, Hurley was offered a contract at Millwall, which saw the beginning of an illustrious footballing career.

Hurley represented the Lions 105 times in his four years at the club, making his Ireland debut against England. Hurley would later go on to represent his country another 39 times, captaining his country on over 20 occasions. In 2007, the Millwall fanzine The Lion Roars voted him as the club’s ‘best ever player’, a title he would later receive at Sunderland also.

Sunderland signed Hurley for £18,000 before the 1957/58 season and would go on to play for the club for twelve years, making over 400 appearances for the side.

His debut was one to forget with him scoring an own goal in a 7-0 defeat to Blackpool however he soon turned his fortunes around, becoming one of the most loved players in Sunderland history. It took him 124 appearances before he scored his first goal for the boys in red and white and would go on to score another 42 in his time at the club.

In Sunderland’s promotion-winning 1963/64 season, Hurley was runner-up for FWA Footballer of the Year, second only to England captain Sir Bobby Moore.

The late sixties saw Hurley form the strongest defensive line in Sunderland’s history alongside the club’s top appearance holders goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery and Len Ashhurst. His final runout for the club came against Burnley in 1969, marking the end of a legendary Sunderland career, that saw him affectionately nicknamed ‘The King by the Sunderland faithful.

Retired Sunderland player Charlie Hurley is received by fans before the Premier League match at the Stadium of Light, Sunderland. Credit: Alamy

After three years at Bolton Wanderers, Hurley briefly ventured into management with Reading. His highlight at the club was gambling on the signing of non-league player Robin Friday, who would go on to be an instrumental figure in Hurley’s side as they won promotion in 1976.

A year later, Hurley made history as the first Football League manager to resign from a team mid-game, quitting the Reading job at halftime during a match.

Following his retirement, Hurley continued to be highly respected in the North-East, being immortalised through the Charlie Hurley gates, initially forming the entrance to the club’s training ground before being moved as a permanent fixture outside the Stadium of Light.

In a ceremony at the ground, former teammates joined Hurley and his family that ended in a fitting fashion with thousands of Mackems serenading the club legend in his final visit to Wearside in 2016.

Tributes have been pouring in all day in Hurley’s memory with the flags being flown at half-mast outside the Stadium of Light.

Stadium of Light, Sunderland shows respect to Charlie Hurley. Photo Credit: Lucas Ward

Sunderland’s caretaker manager Mike Dodds said: “The outpouring of love for Charlie Hurley speaks volumes, not just in the North East but in football. He’s a huge legend at the football club, he was one of the first players I was told about when I came here.” Irish FA also released a statement saying: “We are proud he played for Ireland”.