Obituary: Nick Sharkey, footballer

Popular Scottish footballer who played for promotion-winning Sunderland side. Picture: Contributed
Popular Scottish footballer who played for promotion-winning Sunderland side. Picture: Contributed
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BORN: 4 May, 1943, in Helensburgh. Died: 8 February, 2015, in Sunderland, aged 71.

Nick Sharkey, who played for Sunderland AFC and was for many years a leading light in the club’s former players’ association, welcoming guests and VIPs to Roker Park and the Stadium of Light, has died at the age of 71.

Sharkey was born in Helensburgh where he went first to school at St Joseph’s Primary and later at St Patrick’s High School in Dumbarton, where he played for the school team.

He was spotted by legendary soccer scout Charlie Ferguson from Dumbarton, who mined a rich seam of promising footballers from Dunbartonshire schools and recruited them for Sunderland manager Alan Brown’s nursery for budding young stars.

Other Dunbartonshire players signed by the Roker Park club at that time included Vale of Leven-born Bobby Kerr, who captained Sunderland to victory in the 1973 FA Cup final against Leeds United at Wembley Stadium.

Alan Black from Alexandria, who started and finished his career with Dumbarton, was also snapped up by the north-east of England club.

Black, who was a team mate of Sharkey’s in the Dunbartonshire West schools select team, played for Sunderland and Norwich City, where he was a member of the team that won the English Second Division championship in 1972 while playing for Norwich City.

Sharkey shone in schools football, alongside Joe Davin of Hibernian and Willie McCulloch of Clyde, in an era when the trophy cabinet in St Patrick’s head teacher William B Monaghan’s office was stuffed with silverware.

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who played for the highly successful Govan High School in Glasgow, admitted in his autobiography that St Patrick’s had been the only team he never relished playing against as a schoolboy.

They were at the time the team other schools couldn’t beat.

Nick Sharkey, who formed part of Sunderland’s 1964 promotion-winning side, made 117 appearances for the Black Cats.

He scored 62 goals, five of which famously came in a 7-1 victory over Norwich City at Roker Park in March 1963.

His Sunderland career began when he made his debut on 9 April, 1960 against Scunthorpe United in a 1–0 win at Roker Park. In total, he made 99 league appearances for the club, scoring 51 goals from 1960 to 1966. He then joined Leicester City in 1966, but made just six appearances, scoring five goals.

Sharkey’s next club was Mansfield Town, where he signed on in 1968. He scored 17 goals in 69 games for them.

He completed his footballing career with another north-east of England team, Hartlepool United, moving there in 1970 and making a total of 60 appearances, with 12 goals to his credit.

Since his death, tributes have poured in, with friends, supporters and the general public acknowledging his contribution to football and the wider community.

Sunderland AFC’s chief executive, Margaret Byrne, said everyone at the Stadium of Light had been deeply saddened to hear of his death.

She added: “Nick was a great character and a friend to many at the club, attending games and playing a big part in the Sunderland Former Players’ Association, and he will be sadly missed.

“Our thoughts are with his wife, Joan, family and friends during this difficult time.”

Sunderland’s famous goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery, who is now an ambassador for the club and who featured in the 1973 FA Cup final, where they won the trophy for only the second time in their history, was full of praise for Sharkey.

He said: “I have great memories of playing with Nick since our youth days at the club.

“He used to score goals for fun in training, ten or more at a time, and he was a great player for us.

“Nick was a great man and we were friends for years as team-mates and we played golf together as well as attending events through the former players association.

“He was a lovely man and will be sadly missed by everybody who knew him.”

Nick Sharkey, who was a company representative in the licensed trade, is survived by his wife, Joan, and his sons, Stephen and David.

A large turnout of friends and relatives from Scotland is expected at Nick Sharkey’s funeral service at Sunderland Crematorium on Friday.