Obituary: George Mulhall, Aberdeen and Sunderland striker who enjoyed successful managerial career

George Mulhall, who has died at the age of 81, played nearly 300 games for Sunderland
George Mulhall, who has died at the age of 81, played nearly 300 games for Sunderland
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George Mulhall, footballer and manager. Born: Westquarter Falkirk, 08 May, 1936. Died: Huddersfield, 27 April, 2018, aged 81.

George Mulhall a great outside-left – probably under-capped by Scotland through being a contemporary of a legend – who became a very good manager of lower division English clubs has died, just two weeks before his 82nd birthday.

He emerged from Westquarter, Falkirk, the youngest of eight children, two of whom, elder brothers Martin and Edward played senior football in Scotland’s lower leagues. However, with both Denny YMCA and juniors Kilsyth Rangers he demonstrated enough promise to cause legendary scout Bobby Calder to send him north to Aberdeen, for whom he signed on his 17th birthday.

As later with Scotland, Mulhall had to wait patiently in line behind the great Jackie Hather, for his break at Aberdeen. National Service also got in the way and it wasn’t until 13 August, 1955, at Easter Road, that he made his Aberdeen debut, deputising for Hather, who was recovering from surgery. He played regularly through the Dons’ successful League Cup campaign that season, but, by the time they beat St Mirren in the final, Hather was back and Mulhall was in the stand spectating.

Hather hung-up his boots following the Dons’ defeat in the 1959 Scottish Cup final, St Mirren having their revenge that day, and, at last, Mulhall owned the number 11 shirt. His start was meteoric and, on 3 October 1959, after just a handful of the eventual 150 games he would play for Aberdeen, he made a winning Scotland debut in a 4-0 Windsor Park win over Northern Ireland, scoring the final goal in a game in which he had Aberdeen company in the form of former Dons’ team mate Graham Leggat and Denis Law, in the Scottish forward line.

He continued to play well for the Dons until, in September, 1962, Sunderland dangled a cheque for £23,000 in front of the Aberdeen directors, and Mulhall headed south. Over the next seven years he would play nearly 300 games for the Black Cats, score more than 60 goals and become a genuine hero to the Rokerites.

He also trebled his collection of Scotland caps, making further appearances against the Irish, at Hampden in 1962 – just weeks after his transfer – Scotland winning 5-2, Law scoring four of the goals, and a year later, at Windsor Park, when the Irish won 2-1. But for his career running alongside that of Rangers’ legend Davie Wilson, Mulhall would surely have won more than a mere three Scotland caps.

In his early days at Sunderland, he forged an immediate partnership with Brian Clough, laying on many chances for the great man before Clough’s career was ended by injury. But Mulhall could score too – he was possessed of a fierce shot. Later in his seven-year Sunderland career, he would link up with Jim Baxter, Neil Martin and his old Scotland boss Ian McColl, while George Herd, another Scotland cap, was a long-time Sunderland teammate – together they were in the promotion-winning squad of 1963-64.

He had spent the summer of 1967 with Vancouver Royal Canadians in the North American Soccer League and two years later, when he called time on his Sunderland career, he headed for South Africa and Cape Town City.

He spent three years in the shadow of Table Mountain, during which time he first dipped his toe into coaching. However, his wife Elizabeth wanted their three kids educated back in Britain, so he returned. He played one match for Morton, then switched to coaching, with Halifax Town.

The Shaymen were struggling near the foot of the bottom division in England, and had no money. Mulhall soon moved up to become manager, keeping them in the Football League and coming to the attention of bigger clubs in the process.

He joined Bolton Wanderers as assistant manager, further embellishing his coaching credentials, before returning to Yorkshire to manage Bradford City. He then went back to Bolton, as manager, but this move was not a success and he was sacked. Spells as a scout with Ipswich Town and as assistant manager at Tranmere Rovers kept him in the game, ready when the call came, to ride to the rescue of Halifax Town in 1996.

Halifax had been relegated out of the Football League in 1993, and were in danger of dropping out of the Conference when Mulhall went back. He steadied the ship and, in 1998, he became the first, and thus far only Halifax manager to win a league title, when he took them back to the Football League, as Conference Champions. Then, just before the start of the new season – he sensationally quit, in circumstances which remain a mystery.

He remained in Yorkshire, enjoying his retirement, until hit by dementia. He appeared to be coping well with this, but a fall saw him hospitalised in Huddersfield, where he died.

George Mulhall, who is survived by Elizabeth and their three children, is still a legend at Aberdeen, at Sunderland and at Halifax, while also well-regarded with his other clubs.

MATTHEW VALLANCE