In the latest of my interviews with former Blades heroes I have spoken to a player from a slightly earlier era to those that I have spoken to before. He joined United as the club was at its lowest ebb and played a key role in the team’s immediate revival. As United won the 4th Division title, goalkeeper Keith Waugh played all bar one league game earning the respect of his fellow players and being chosen for the PFA Divisional Team of the Season.
His career also took in spells at Peterborough United, Bristol City, Coventry City and Watford and garnered league and cup medals alongside Wembley success.
As his twitter username (@blackcatkw) suggests, Keith is a big Sunderland fan. Growing up in the city and representing Durham Schoolboys.
"The county borders differed back then! I played local school football and progressed to county football. I did well for Durham and I was invited to international trials for England schoolboys. Sadly I didn't make it. However I was noticed by my home town club. I signed schoolboy forms with Sunderland and then as an apprentice at Sunderland in the summer of 1973, just as I left school at 16. As you can imagine it was a terrific time to join the club, a poignant time for Sunderland fans, on the back of the Cup final victory over Leeds."
As a regular at Roker Park prior to signing, I ask if he made it to Wembley to support his team?
"Yes, I got two tickets through being associated with the club. It was quite strange as my mum and her family were all Sunderland fans, whilst my dad and his family were all Newcastle supporters. It was fun growing up in my family, I can tell you. I actually took my dad to Wembley with my spare ticket and my mum and all the rest of her family queued for tickets at Roker."
It was a family influence that led to Keith being a goalkeeper.
"Well my dad had always played in goal in local football and I heard his stories of being a keeper and so I naturally followed in his footsteps. Watching Sunderland as a lad I idolised Jim Montgomery, he was my hero and I tried to model myself on Monty. Then when I joined the club he was the goalkeeper"
“My strength was shot stopping, I was known for having good reactions. I guess my weakness was commanding my area and dealing with high balls. The criticism for this bugged me at the time; I’m not that bad I used to think. People always had an opinion and as a keeper you worked on all aspects of your game, but when one mistake can prove fatal that sets people’s viewpoint.”
Sadly, Keith never made a breakthrough at Sunderland.
"I mainly played junior and reserve team, football. I was always going to struggle to knock a club legend like Jim out of the team. I was released at 19 and in reality I could have no arguments about it. When Bob Stokoe told me I felt hurt by it, but I could see it was probably for the best at my age. It was very sad, I always wanted to play for my hometown club, but sometimes you have to move on to progress your career."
It was a big time in a young player's career and Keith was facing a career defining decision about what to do next.
"I was facing the likelihood of moving away from home and integrating into a new club. That was assuming I would find a club, something I was a bit concerned about. I was 19, without any first team experience. My name was circulated and I was lucky enough to go for talks at one or two clubs; Crewe and Grimsby. I was travelling back on the train from Blundell Park and I called my mum from Doncaster Station. "You haven’t signed anything have you?" she asked. "Because Peterborough are interested and would like to meet you." I got back home and met with Posh Assistant Manager John Barnwell at a Newcastle hotel where we discussed future plans. I then went down to meet Noel Cantwell, who was in charge at London Road. I felt comfortable with them and so I signed.”
This was the summer of 1976 and Peterborough were then in the old 3rd Division.
"I loved the set-up at London Road and immediately felt comfortable. Eric Steele - now coach at Manchester United - was the goalkeeper at the time and was reasonably well established. It was my job to work hard and try and put pressure on him for his place and see how things would progress."
In the end, Keith didn't have to wait long for his opportunity and it went nearly as well as he could have hoped, apart from the score line.
“It was mid-October 1976 and we had conceded 6 at Preston North End on the Saturday. In the week after the Preston game Noel Cantwell approached me to say I was going to make my debut the following Saturday, away at Brighton & Hove Albion. It was incredibly exciting and a potentially tough match, as Brighton were top of Division 3 at that time and I think they had scored 7 the week before."
"It was a bit worried, thinking about making my debut against a team doing so well, when we were having a bit of a hard time. I remember it feeling so different, I was used to playing in large football grounds, but they were usually empty for youth and reserve team matches. The Goldstone Ground was a proper, old fashioned football ground, large banks of terracing on several sides. I think the crowd was around 20,000 and they generated a great atmosphere. The other thing that sticks in the memory is the distinct smell of a football stadium."
"I was extremely excited going on to the pitch and didn't really feel the nerves. I felt that I had a decent, steady game and despite our 1-0 defeat I got decent write ups in the match reports. It was a good introduction to league football. I was in the team and it was up to me to keep my place. I got a great lift from my performance and I didn't want to lose the feeling. I wanted to forge a career as a professional footballer."
Keith successfully established himself in the first team at London Road and went on to spend 5 years there.
"After a couple of seasons I was linked with moves. I think Ipswich (then under Bobby Robson) and Tottenham had reportedly been watching me. It was great to hear yourself linked with big clubs, but you never knew if anything was going to come from it."
"In my final season at Posh we had a successful cup run, reaching the FA Cup 5th round where we lost 1-0 to Manchester City, who eventually lost to Spurs in the replay in the final thanks to Ricky Villa. It was a full house at London Road, a cracking atmosphere. I guess that increased exposure, at what was then a 4th Division club, helped raise my profile further."
With Keith coming to the end of his contract a call from old Sunderland team-mate Ian Porterfield led to a move to Bramall Lane.
“Ian knew me from my days at Sunderland and had just taken over as manager (United had suffered final day relegation and entered the 4th Division for the first time in their history) and I had a call from him inviting me down for talks. I felt at home straight away, arriving at Bramall Lane and thinking "Phwoar! This is for me!" I’d been linked with 1st Division clubs, but everything about the place said anything but 4th Division; the infrastructure, the support, the team that was being built and I was really bought into Ian's plans to take the club back to the top. I thought here was a club who I could go up through the leagues with. I had no hesitation in signing."
Porterfield had been given an unprecedented 10 year contract by Chairman Reg Brealey, who was keen to see his impressive on/off pitch plans come to fruition. United had a large number of players from the North East in the team at the time and this helped Keith settle.
“It helps you settle and bond as a team. There was a strong Sunderland connection as well – thanks to Ian Porterfield’s recruitment. Mick Henderson, Kevin Arnott, Joe Bolton and John McPhail were all in the squad. John played with me at Bristol City and I still see him occasionally when I go to Sunderland matches.”
In Part 2, we talk about successful and disappointing times with the Blades and Wembley success with Bristol City.