Played For Both Sides – A cup-winning Sunderland hero

Stephen Kennedy looks back at a Rotherham, Sunderland and England legend.

The fixtures are coming in relentlessly at the minute; it feels like we’re Homer hooked up to the never-ending donut machine, and after every delicious Championship mouthful we want more.

So it’s off to Rotherham United for us on Tuesday, a ground which, on our last visit, saw us handed a 5-1 knacking. Things have changed somewhat since October 2021, not least the fact that 11 members of our matchday squad from then are no longer at the club.

In keeping with the theme of no one from the recent past being around any more, let’s make today’s edition about way back when, with an out and out club legend.

Dave Watson

More widely known in the football world as a Manchester City icon, Dave Watson played over 200 games for Sunderland before heading to Maine Road and, before that, made over 140 appearances for Rotherham.

Starting out in 1966 for hometown club Notts County, Watson moved to Yorkshire the following year and immediately found himself an integral part of the Millers’ first team. Despite the fact that everyone now knows him as a classy, tough tackling defender, he was actually a striker in his early days, netting eight times in his first season and an impressive nine in only 18 games in his final year at the club.

Rotherham had been relegated at the end of Watson’s first half season as a Miller, and they were unable to climb back up during his time there, so when Sunderland manager Alan Brown came calling in December 1970, he made the switch to Wearside for £100k.

Again, Watson started out life at Roker Park up front as Sunderland looked to push for promotion out of the Second Division. With Brown unable to get the club over the line, in came Bob Stokoe who promptly shifted Watson into defence, and he never looked back (possibly literally).

Watson was vital to Sunderland winning the 1973 FA Cup with commanding performances throughout the run, stifling formidable Leeds United – and England international – attackers at Wembley.

Despite cup glory, Sunderland were unable to win promotion in either of the seasons which followed, during which time Watson was given his England debut. It was inevitable he’d make an exit from Roker Park, and so it came to be at the end of the 1974/75 season, Manchester City snapping him up for £175k (plus Jeff Clarke).

By the end of his first season in Manchester, Watson had helped himself to a League Cup winners medal, and only missed out on winning the league title the following year by a single point. At this stage in his career Watson was a first-teamer for the national side too and nothing short of a terrace hero at Maine Road.

A four-year stay at City was ended in 1979 when Watson moved to Germany with Werder Bremen, although that spell was nothing short of disastrous. In only his second appearance, and what would prove to be final game for the club, he was sent off for pushing an opponent and banned for eight weeks and given a fine by the club. He then refused to travel to their fixture against Schalke 04 in favour of England duty instead. Must have been quite the shove.

Watson returned to England after only four months in Europe, signing for Southampton for £200k in October 1979. Two years and another 80-plus appearances in the First Division followed before a move to Stoke City in January 1982 which kicked off the final, nomadic years of Watson’s career.

Short stays at Vancouver Whitecaps and Derby County followed before Watson returned to first club Notts County in 1984 and then ended his playing days at Kettering Town in 1986.

Tragically, it was revealed in 2020 that Watson was suffering from a neurodegenerative disease, suspected to have been caused by repeatedly heading the ball. The outpouring of support and emotion of fans of all clubs Watson played for was heartwarming, and I hope that at least provides some comfort to his family.

During his career, Watson won the FA Cup, the League Cup and found himself in teams of the year on four occasions, not to mention winning 65 caps for his country in the process, three of them as captain. A true colossus of the game, and a name never to be forgotten by Sunderland fans.

Joined Left League Apps League Goals
Sunderland 1970 1975 177 27
Rotherham 1967 1970 121 19