Club historian Rob Mason pays tribute to Clive Bircham.
7 September 1939 – 6 June 2020
Sunderland: 21 September 1956 – 5 February 1960
SAFC career: 28 appearances / 2 goals.
We were saddened to learn of the death of former Sunderland winger Clive Bircham. Born in Philadelphia on 7 September 1939 Clive passed away, aged 80 on 6 June.
Clive set up Sunderland’s first ever goal outside of the top division on his debut as a teenager at Lincoln in August 1958. He then marked his home debut against Fulham when he scored. “I just cut in from the right wing, beat the full back and stuck it in… It was a wonderful feeling for me. All I’d ever wanted to do was play for Sunderland and I’d done it and scored at Roker Park,” he remembered when interviewed for the match programme ‘Red and White’ in 2008.
Like the famous Preston and England winger Tom Finney, Bircham was a plumber. This meant he was only a part-time player because he was serving his time in his trade where there was more money to be made than in football in the age of the maximum wage. Consequently manager Alan Brown eventually left Bircham out of the side after he had played in the opening 18 games of the season.
Clive later returned to the side to total 26 appearances that season, adding another goal in a home win over Bristol Rovers. There would be just two more games the following season, the last in a draw at Middlesbrough in October 1959.
Four months later Clive was transferred to Hartlepools United for whom he went on to play 114 games, scoring 17 goals. He was good enough to play at a higher level but in the days of national service Bircham could avoid having to do time in the army due to his job as an essential worker as a plumber for the National Coal Board. Had he moved further afield he would have had to give up that job and go into the forces.
He later played for Boston United, Boston FC, Skegness and South Shields as well as playing cricket for Philadelphia and Langley Park. Clive’s sporting interests extended to being a successful racehorse owner while he always continued to be a regular at Sunderland matches. He never regretted his decision to focus on his plumbing rather than finding leaks in opposition defences. Clive Bircham Heating Services became a very successful business in Sunderland.
Older brother Barney played for Sunderland during World War Two as well as representing Grimsby, Chesterfield, Colchester, Gateshead and Hull City.