Sunderland travel to South Wales this weekend to face Cardiff City. The author of this piece has rarely looked forward to a match for so long as it will mean I will have again seen a competitive match on all current 92 Premier/Football League grounds. I first did this when Sunderland faced Bournemouth on 21 January 1988.
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The game will be the first time the two sides have met in a top-flight match since they drew 1-1 on March 30 1957. In 1963-64 both teams were seen as promotion contenders to Division One. Sunderland had missed out twice on promotion by finishing in third place in 1961-62 and 1962-1963, whilst Cardiff had strengthened by signing from Juventus the greatest Welsh footballer of all time, John Charles, a man equally at home at centre back and centre forward.
What follows is taken from my authorised biography CHARLIE HURLEY - “The Greatest Centre Half the World Has Ever Seen” published by SPORTSBOOKS in 2008.
Sunderland started the 1963-64 season in tremendous form, winning six and losing just the once. They then came up against Cardiff City. who had Ivor Allchurch, the one-time Swansea hero who had scored four at the Vetch Field back in September 1958 when Sunderland limped off beaten 5-0, and John Charles in their team.
This time Allchurch scored three times in sixteen minutes as they overturned a two-goal deficit (both scored by Nick Sharkey) before being pegged back when Hurley scored Sunderland’s equalising goal after sixty-four minutes, out-jumping John Charles.
Don Murray, a Cardiff player that day, described the struggle between Charles and Hurley as “a clash of giants. Like John, Charlie was tremendous in the air. That was some battle. The corner came in from the left and Charlie jumped above John and sent a header screaming into the net. To beat John in the air took some doing but Hurley could do it on his day. “
Hurley is a big fan of John Charles stating: “John Charles was the cleanest giant you’ve ever seen. He was built like a brick shithouse and he was a cracking player and even to be compared to him was and is a privilege.”
The feelings were clearly mutual, with Vince Wilson in the Sunday Mirror reporting that Charles had told him before the game that “Hurley’s the best centre-half in Great Britain and a world class player.”
Interestingly Charlie Hurley’s opinion of the Welshman is borne out by a story from Italy when Charles was starring for Juventus. In time-honoured Italian fashion he was being kicked so badly by opposing defenders in one game that he lost his temper. He turned to his inside forward, Argentinian Omar Sivori, to say he couldn’t kick them back and could Sivori do it for him! Sivori was 5ft 7ins tall, Charles was 6ft 2ins.