Gordon Armstrong signed for Sunderland in 1985 from the youth team after an apprenticeship. The Newcastle born Sunderland fan would go on to make over 300 appearances and score 50 goals over his 11 year career at Roker Park. I had the pleasure of speaking with him about his time on Wearside.
WAW: What were your inspirations to go professional?
GA: “I was brought up in Newcastle, as a Sunderland fan, I loved football; my family, my dad and I would watch Sunderland. I got an apprenticeship at Sunderland when I was at school too, and that was it, there was only one way to go!”
WAW: What was it like growing up in Newcastle, and supporting Sunderland?
GA: “It wasn’t easy, not at all. There were three of us in the school in Gosforth – one of which I keep in contact with and the other is Martyn McFadden from ALS. We certainly formed a bond, as there were so few of us. To sum it up, it was difficult!”
WAW: Who were your footballing heroes growing up?
GA: “Bryan Robson for Manchester United, and for Sunderland it’d have to be Kevin Arnott.”
WAW: What was it like to play for Sunderland for the first time, being a fan of the club?
GA: “It was unbelievable! I was lucky that I had the chance, as I was only 17 at the time; I made my debut at West Brom away.”
WAW: You were debuted by Lawrie McMenemy, obviously not popular with the fans, how was he to work with?
GA: "Lawrie was a good guy but he tried to do the same as he had at Southampton in bringing in good experienced players to sort the club out but it just never worked for him. In fact it backfired as a lot of those players really struggled. "
WAW: After Lawrie left the club, Bob Stokoe came in for a short time, what was it like to work for the ’73 legend?
GA: “Bob again was a great guy, he was truly class. The one thing about Bob was that he was always forgetful, he always mixed up Gary Bennett’s names and mine; I was Gary Armstrong and he was Gordon Bennett! But in all seriousness, Bob gave us a massive lift and nearly kept us up.”
WAW: The man who did get us back up was Dennis Smith, what are your thoughts on him?
GA: “Dennis and his assistant Viv Busby were two of my favourite coaches, they were both extremely confident, two brilliant guys indeed. Back in those days there was only about five staff including physios.”
WAW: Dennis was manager in 1989 when we beat Newcastle in the play-off semi finals, what were those two games like?
GA: “The win at St James’ was a really special night, it was brilliant to be part of and we truly deserved it. We thought we’d win from the start – although it didn’t come easily, especially with the crowd trouble at the end. Everything in that play off was deserved.”
WAW: How did your first goal for Sunderland feel?
GA: “My first goal was at Roker Park against Palace; it was like a second debut, we were struggling at the time, McMenemy gave me the chance and I scored.”
WAW: You scored 50 goals from midfield for Sunderland, which was your favourite?
GA: “Most people think the Chelsea one in the cup, that was special, but I scored one away at Swindon in a 5-3 loss from the half way line and it got stuck in the stanchion! That’d have to be my favourite. The Chelsea goal was special because it was one of those nights at Roker Park and obviously it was a massive game.”
WAW: That Chelsea game was in that ’92 FA Cup run – which we lost in the final, how was that game for you?
GA: “It was 100% gutting, especially for me. None of us really played well. I’ve never watched the game back over either.”
WAW: It was Malcom Crosby who got us to the final, what was he like?
GA: “Malcom was a good guy, he was thrown in at the deep and in all honesty, I felt a bit sorry for him; he wasn’t an in and out manager, more of a coach.”
WAW: Who was the best player you played against?
GA: “It would have to be Gazza.”
WAW: What would be your starting 11 of Sunderland players, whilst you were at the club?
GA: “In goal: Tony Norman, John Kay at right back, Bally and Benno as the centre backs, and Paul Hardyman at left back; in the centre of midfield would be Brace and Paul Atkinson, Martin Smith on the left and Gary Owers on the right wing; John Byrne up front with either Don Goodman or Marco Gabbiadini.”
WAW: After leaving Sunderland what did you do and what do you do now?
GA: “I left Sunderland for Bury where I had a great time, then I had a spell at Burnley; there was no arrogance and no superstars, everyone got on, I got on with 99% of people I played with over the years. As a youth player you had to grow up quickly and had to mix in with the older lads. Now I’m a football agent, which is what I’ve been doing since I retired, it involves basically signing players up to my company and then looking after their contractual stuff.”
WAW: Finally, what are your thoughts on the new boss, Chris Coleman?
GA: “My thoughts on his appointment are very good; it needs someone with a big personality to turn this around, and Chris has that. He must be given funds though, otherwise it’s almost impossible to sort out our defence.”
I’d like to thank Gordon for his time, it was a real pleasure to talk to him about his decade long Sunderland career.