On the Grill: treat this week as the immortal Doug Weatherall describes one of the "most exciting" players to enter a penalty box

Seaham-born Doug Weatherall , now 85, is a journalist who specialised in sports coverage for most of his career. Brought up a Sunderland fan, he certainly has better memories of the club than can be enjoyed today. Doug edited the Army newspaper in Austria while on National Service before returning to the Sunderland Echo he'd joined as a 16-year-old. He graduated to the Daily Herald and Daily Mail. For many years he was a broadcaster for the BBC...

WAW: What was your first Sunderland match?

Doug:  "Versus Leeds in 1941. I was in the old Clock Stand and was behind Raich Carter as he struck a fabulous left-footer from the angle of the penalty area. We won 7-2 and a hat-trick from Raich, my boyhood hero, made my day. I haven't seen a better Sunderland player since him. I got to know Raich well and we became friends. As a Hendon-born lad, he was so proud to help his home team win the League in 1936 and then captain the 1937 FA Cup winners."

WAW: How did you get involved with football and what inspired your career in sports?


Doug: "I was a goalkeeper --not by choice-- but I played there for Ryhope Grammar School. We won seven of the eight competitions we entered in the 1946-47 season. That's still a Northumberland and Durham schools record. I then played for a trophy-winning Silksworth IOGT side before my Dawdon Juniors' team won the Sunderland Eye Infirmary Cup. From being 15 I batted for Seaham Harbour's seconds."

WAW: How did you become a journalist?

Doug: "My Ryhope headmaster, via a prefect, sent for me. Mr. S.B. Graham asked what I intended doing when I left school. Only three weeks earlier my Dad, having read a Daily Herald article about how to become a cub reporter, suggested I was cut out to be just that. Whereupon the head explained the Echo's Seaham office reporter, Mr. Browne, was looking for a junior. I remain eternally grateful that Mr. Graham recommended me. My great regret is that I never returned to school to thank him for that."

WAW: How did you take to Army life?

Doug: "I mainly enjoyed it. I did ten weeks' basic infantry training at Fort George, Inverness, then a three-month course at the Army School of Education in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire. Austria was a great posting. As a sergeant in the Royal Army Educational Corps, I'd expected to be teaching, but, because of my journalistic grounding, I was lucky enough to run the BTA Weekly News. One of the highlights of my 18 months based in Klagenfurt was to cover a 3-2 England win over Austria. Bolton's Nat Lofthouse scored the winner. One of the England players we soldiers chaired off the field was Billy Elliott who was later to be transferred from Burnley to Sunderland. Billy and I became friends and, after he died, I gave the eulogy at his funeral service in St. Hilda's Church, Southwick."

WAW: After the Army, what next?

Doug: "I returned to the Echo, still as a general news reporter, but soon had itchy feet and wanted to cover bigger stories. I went to Manchester to knock on doors of the big national papers. I knocked on only one. Within a few days I learned I'd landed a news reporting post with the Herald. I was the youngest national news reporter in the country.

I had long ago stopped goalkeeping and, in my debut as centre-forward for the Herald, I scored four. I also played for the Herald's cricket team.

The Herald persuaded me to switch from news reporting to become their first sports man in the North-East. I have lived in the area ever since.

I retired from full-time reporting after Euro '96, but worked as a freelance for several years."

WAW: Did you enjoy your contributions to the Sunderland match programmes?

Doug: "I enjoyed doing them and readers tell me they enjoyed reading them. But I wasn't asked to contribute this season. It's not sour grapes, but I think the programmes now could do with more personal anecdotes."

WAW: What are your best memories?

Doug: "Obviously the 1973 FA Cup win, Ian Porterfield's goal and, of course, Monty's double save. My memory of the 1937 3-1 Wembley win over Preston is the toy sword my Dad brought back for me from London. He'd said, "Listen out for me on the wireless." I sat all game trying to hear Dad shouting!"

WAW: What would be your Sunderland XI of the years you've followed the club?

Doug: "I'll go for the old 2-3-5 formation. Monty in goal is a no-brainer. The right-back: Colin Todd (even though he was normally a wing-half) with Billy Elliott at left-back; right-half Willie Watson, centre-half Dave Watson, left-half Jim Baxter; outside-right Dennis Tueart, inside-right my all-time favourite Raich Carter, centre-forward Brian Clough, a fabulous scorer, inside-left Len Shackleton, the greatest of ball-masters, outside-left George Mulhall.

Season 1949-50 had the best side in my viewing years. They missed out on the championship through failing with a twice-taken penalty against relegated Manchester City. Centre-forward Dickie Davis, though, was the top division's leading scorer."

WAW: What are the best goals you've seen scored by Sunderland?

Doug: "Vic Halom's against Manchester City in the 1973 Cup run springs immediately to mind, but a Clough goal rivals it. With his back to goal from outside the box on the left, he hooked over his shoulder to the left of the keeper. That was against Norwich, but we lost 4-1 at Roker. Brian's marker, Ollie Burton, said it would have beaten anyone."

WAW: You mention Clough a lot. What was he like as a person as well as a footballer?

Doug:  "In my first report of a Middlesbrough match, against Grimsby, I wrote he was the most exciting player to enter a penalty box I had seen in years. He was only 20 when I first interviewed him, yet I believe he could have managed a team then. His views never changed. After a few months of his first job as a manager I asked what he had l learned. "Not so much learned as underlined," he said. "Management is about judgement of players--those you have and those you want." He and his assistant, Peter Taylor, were great judges. I like to think I'm a good judge of a player, too!"

WAW: Finally, have you any advice for aspiring journalists?

Doug: "Facts are sacred, comment is free. I have always tried to be factual, fearless and fair."

Thank you to Doug for agreeing to speak to me and taking the time to answer my questions so honestly. It was a real pleasure to talk to Doug and I wish him all the best. 

You can share your thoughts on Twitter with me @ethan_thoburn or @WeAreWearside.

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