Don Hutchison: I fear for the future of North East football

Former Sunderland star Don Hutchison says kids aren't playing enough football any more and we lavish too much money on Academy stars

Andrew Matthews/PA Wire England manager Roy Hodgson
England manager Roy Hodgson

Twenty-four years ago, England went to the World Cup in Italy and four of their best players were from the North East – along with their manager.

Those days seem a long time ago. This time around Roy Hodgson will probably pick Michael Carrick, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson, but the talent supply seems to have started to dry up.

Neither Newcastle nor Sunderland have ready-made stars waiting in the wings and they’ve preferred to shop abroad in the last couple of years to bring in players who would have not been fit to lace the boots of some of the lads I came through with in the area.

So what has happened? Why is the talent not coming through?

With my background it is something I’m really passionate about and I get so frustrated when I see the way things are going for English football. I’m only 42 and not long retired, but I worry that the way I came through in the North East is a thing of the past.

I played for Redheugh Boys Club from a young age. We were brilliant but the Boys Clubs in the North East were so competitive. Every team was loaded with talent. We were the best though – we went nearly three years unbeaten.

That brought scouts and I remember one game at the age of 16 when I had a worldie. I scored twice but five minutes before the end their midfielder went through me and I broke my leg. I was out for a year and my dream of playing for my boyhood team was over. Newcastle were brilliant for me. Their long-serving physio Derek Wright treated me during my year off but I went away and got a job as an apprentice forklift truck driver while still turning out for Redheugh at 17.

Scouts still used to watch us and Bryan ‘Pop’ Robson was doing a bit of scouting work for Hartlepool. He asked me to go there for a trial and I did well so I was offered YTS terms on £27.50. Imagine that. It was nothing and there was another guy I went on trial with – a centre-back – who was making four times that as a postman.

He didn’t want to take the cut in wages no matter how much I tried to persuade him. I took the risk and a few months later I was at Liverpool!

I wonder about the Academy structure now compared to the apprenticeships we used to do. Believe me we were hungry to succeed.

We had Cyril Knowles as our manager at Hartlepool and he loved his cars. He would send us all running – he was mad about it – and if you won you would get the next day off training, but you’d have to clean his car inside out.

At the time we thought that was a great prize, but looking back I think I’d have preferred to train.

I cleaned the professional’s boots. I scrubbed Joe Allon’s boots and it gave you a grounding. By the time I’d finished in the game some of the flashiness of the Academy kids was coming in. They were turning up in brand new Audis and cars I could only dream about on £27.50-a-week. Fair play to them for earning the money and making the most of the chance but it does dull you.

I was sharp, I wanted to get on and money didn’t really matter. I never spent a penny more than £27.50: I had a couple of pairs of trainers, a couple of pairs of jeans and I was playing football every day at 18 years old. What was there to complain about?

Everyone talks about these Academies and the facilities are second-to-none but I worry about the raw material. Are kids playing the game in the same numbers any more? I very much doubt it.

I have a 13-year-old son and I’m always on at him to go out, get off his Playstation and play football. I bet a lot of other parents have the same battle. Mobile phones and games consoles have changed things and it’s a big challenge for the people at the top of the game to engage kids again.

I coach an under-13 team in Essex called Colbrook Royals. We train once a week and then play on a Sunday. When I was at Redheugh we used to live in the Boys Club: when we weren’t playing football we were playing tennis, pool, cricket, whatever.

At the end of the night we’d get taken back by one of the old boys, Evin Bryson, in his Ford Escort van, six of us squashed in the back. It would never be allowed to happen now. I’d love to have the lads in four times a week because it would make them better and keep them fit but it’ll never happen. The days of being carted around the North East in a battered Ford Escort are over!

I’d love to get involved in youth football again but like a lot of my peers you get discouraged by the cost of the coaching badges.

Financially, I need to do my TV pundit job and that prevents you from putting in the time, money and effort to get involved even though you’re brimming with ideas. A lot of good voices with ideas are getting lost to the game that way.


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