There have been a few similarities you can draw between Sunderland and Blackpool over the years. Both seaside towns that enjoy a good political knackering. Both enjoyed sojourns to the third division in recent years, despite a history that suggests we deserve at least a little better. We’ve both had various degrees of inept financial wronguns take advantage of our clubs for entirely too long.
Oh, and we absolutely love swapping players. By my reckoning there have been at least 30 players to have swapped sides within the last 60 years, and even now, we currently have three of their League One play off winning team on our books in Ellis Simms (currently dead), Dan Ballard (currently dead) and Elliot Embleton (more on him later). But even better, Blackpool have gone insane in the last few days and signed Liam Bridcutt on a free transfer, so we could welcome him back to the Stadium of Light, which is nice.
From one diminutive midfield plodder to the Little General himself, most Sunderland fans know that our FA Cup winning captain of the 1973 team spent the majority of his playing days on Wearside, but probably not so many of us knew that when he finally did leave in 1978, he headed to Blackpool.
Kerr joined Sunderland almost six decades ago in 1964, scoring on his debut against Man City two years later as a fresh faced (but probably still moustachioed) 19 year old. Tenacious, tough tackling and skilful, in his 12 years at the club, playing on the debatable pitches of the late 60s and 70s, Kerr was one of a plethora of players who ended up breaking his leg (twice), but unlike a lot of his contemporaries was able to make a full recovery and continue to make an incredible amount of appearances.
The most memorable of those appearances of course, came at Wembley in 1973, as Kerr led the Lads to the giant killing of all final giant killings, beating then mighty Leeds United 1-0 to win the FA Cup (with a bit of help from Jimmy Montgomery and Ian Porterfield). Incredibly, if Wikipedia is anything to go by, Kerr managed to miss only 23 games between 1970-1978, and never dropped below 40 games a season between the 71/72 and 75/76 campaigns. Kerr remains one of the highest appearance makers in club history, with 368 under his belt, and a rather handy 56 goals to boot.
When he finally did leave in March 1979, he headed to Blackpool, linking up with our cup winning manager Bob Stokoe. However the spell only lasted 18 months, during which time the Seasiders languished near the bottom of the old Division 3, before the Scot headed North Eastwards again, and to another stretch of coast, at Hartlepool United.
Since retiring, Kerr has made the North East his home, and more specifically, several pubs, as he established himself a long career as a landlord across the city and beyond – notably you could find him in his Sunderland club tie and blazer, doing the rounds in the Burton House on match days, alongside a demented parrot and a mountain of free hot dogs. A career we all dream of indeed.
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The image that captured what it was like to be a Sunderland fan during our League One purgatory was taken on 30th May 2021. Blackpool had just won the League One play off final at Wembley, beating Lincoln City 2-1, rounding of a truly ridiculous season which saw them rise from the dregs of the league before Christmas, to coming close to nicking automatic promotion by the time the games ran out.
That image, of course, is of Sunderland academy graduate Elliot Embleton, who had been sent out on loan to Blackpool in January, sat on the Wembley pitch, taking a picture of the playoff trophy with a look of sheer confusion all around him. Yes, for years we’d heard that Embo was a great prospect for us, and it was frustrating to see that at every opportunity he was given, he was dealt a cruel blow of an injury that would keep him out just long enough to push him out of the first team picture entirely. So when the opportunity was presented to us to send him out on loan to a team playing in the same division, but notably one we didn’t see as a promotion threat, we snapped their hands off.
Of course, Blackpool went on to only lose four league games after Christmas, storming their way up the league, finishing 3 points above Sunderland in the process, with Embleton proving to be a key player in their ranks. Blackpool’s team had a strong spine which included Embo, Ellis Simms and Dan Ballard, so our summer recruitment seems to have been fairly focused on replicating similar this year. On a personal level, the highlight of Embo’s time as a Tangerine likely came in the play off semi final, where he hit an immediate equaliser against Oxford United, in a bizarre fixture which would end 3-3 on the night, with Blackpool winning the tie 6-3 on aggregate.
Back at Sunderland, Embo’s experience seemed to spark new life and determination into him, gone were the middling performances and injury worries, as he made himself a key player for both Lee Johnson and Alex Neil’s teams. A clearly talented player with the ball at his feet, he developed a knack for swinging in deliveries that League One defences just couldn’t deal with, as well has a habit of scoring some important goals against the likes of Portsmouth, Oxford and Shrewsbury.
Then, of course, you have Wembley. Only a year on from tasting the bittersweet success of promotion on loan from his boyhood club, Embo scored that goal early in the first half against Wycombe. The picture of him then sat on the floor of the Wembley changing room, surrounded by delirious team mates as he gazed off into the middle distance, that’s the very picture to bookend our time in the third tier for me.
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