Club historian Rob Mason pays tribute to George Mulhall.
Former Sunderland winger George Mulhall passed away late on 27 April, the evening Sunderland were in action at Fulham. He would have been 82 on 8 May.
“Dad’s death came as a great shock to us” said eldest son Neil. He had fractured his hip a few weeks ago and was in Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. He had been in good spirits although for many years he had been suffering from Alzheimer’s – something he attributed to heading so many heavy balls as a footballer. My dad loved playing for Sunderland and my mother who had come down from Aberdeen with him loved living there too”
George Mulhall played 289 games for Sunderland, including five as sub, and scored 67 goals from the wing, a couple of the best known being a winner at Manchester United 50 years ago next week and a 20 yarder that completed a 3-0 home win over Newcastle in March 1967.
As a left-winger Mulhall was more about making goals as scoring them. Playing in an era when every team had a ‘hatchet-man’ in defence you had to earn the right to play. Many a winger was known to switch wings if a full-back had hacked him down once too often. George was the kind of winger who made full-backs feel like switching flanks.
I once put it to George that I remembered him as a winger who liked to get his retaliation in first. He laughed and acknowledged, “I did, aye. I used to let the full-back get there first. I used to think I’ll leave that one to you but just as they got there I’d get there with the studs. They knew I was there alright. As a winger full-backs liked to give you a kick early on just to see what you were made of and I liked to let them know I was there as well!”
Ever-present in the much-loved 1964 promotion team, those appearances were part of a run of 114 games without missing a game after joining Sunderland as a 26-year old in September 1962. Previously George had spent almost a decade with Aberdeen who he signed for on his 17th birthday.
The youngest of eight children, George was the third brother to become a footballer, Martin playing for Falkirk, Albion Rovers and Cowdenbeath while Edward represented East Stirlingshire.
Always a man who’s eyes twinkled as much off the pitch as he did on the wing George liked to tell the tale of how he once played for Real Madrid! That wasn’t strictly true but in Jackie Milburn’s Testimonial at Newcastle he was part of an International XI with Ferenc Puskas as his inside left as they wore a Madrid like all-white. The fact that Bobby Charlton was centre-forward indicates the company George was good enough to keep.
Two of his three Scotland caps were won while with Sunderland, with son Neil revealing a gentlemanly touch by that giant of the game Danny Blanchflower after Mulhall joined Denis Law and Ian St. John on the score-sheet in a 4-0 win over Northern Ireland. “Dad had swapped his shirt with Danny Blanchflower but when Blanchflower got back to his dressing room and realised it was my dad’s debut he knocked on the Scotland door and returned his shirt while letting him keep the Irish shirt.”
Mulhall’s farewell in red and white came in the same game as Charlie Hurley’s final appearance in an away win at Burnley in April 1969 after which he played for Cape Town City and had a single game for Greenock Morton.
George managed Halifax Town, keeping them in the league and in a second spell returning them to the Football League, his Conference win being the first time The Shaymen had ever won any league title. He also managed Bradford City, scouted for Ipswich and was assistant manager at Tranmere, Huddersfield and Bolton, where he worked alongside his old Roker team-mate Stan Anderson and tutored a young Peter Reid who as Sunderland manager took a team to Halifax for a testimonial for Mulhall in 1999.