1920 - 2012
Johnny Watters, the man who tended to the injuries of generations of Sunderland players for the best part of thirty years, has sadly died at the age of 92.
As a footballer, Johnny was no mean performer himself having served Celtic in his younger days and he was the last survivor of the team that faced Rangers in an Old Firm derby that attracted a record crowd of over 130,000. During the war he served in the Royal Navy and then trained as a physiotherapist before joining Sunderland in 1955.
Johnny was one of the club’s great characters and his popularity with players and staff was legend at Roker Park as Jim Montgomery recalls: ‘Johnny was an absolutely magnificent character – anybody you spoke to would have a different story about him. Johnny always had his pipe in his hand and I remember one day the door of the treatment room suddenly opened and in walked Alan Brown our manager who hated smoking. Johnny immediately slipped the pipe into his pocket but as Brown stood there talking, you could see the smoke gradually coming out of Johnny’s pocket!’
Sunderland’s goalkeeping legend also recalls that it was Johnny Watters who first persuaded him to join his local club and begin a career that would last a record 623 first-team appearances: ‘I’d been to Burnley for trials but just after I got back Johnny turned up on our doorstep with my old St Hilda’s School teacher Alfie Lavender and asked me to sign for Sunderland. I was only 15 when I went to Roker Park but from the start Johnny looked after me brilliantly. If you were on the treatment table and somebody like Stan Anderson or Charlie Hurley walked in, Johnny would say ‘Go and have a bath,’ and you would have to wait while the senior players were given treatment.’
Jim also remembers that as well as looking after the Sunderland playing staff, Johnny also had his private clients: ‘You would go in on a Sunday morning and there would always be a bottle of whiskey or a leg of lamb, gifts from people he’d treated but he never took any money.’
Johnny’s Roker Park career came to an end when he retired in 1983 but he still kept in touch with the countless players he’d nursed back to fitness over the years and he will always be fondly remembered as one of Sunderland Football Club’s greatest servants.