John Fraser

1938 - 2011

Everyone at therokerend.com was saddened to hear that former Sunderland winger John Fraser has died in a nursing home in Southern Ireland, aged 72.

John had been suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for a number of years.

During a visit to Wearside in August 2010, John’s wife Joan kindly agreed to do an interview regarding John’s career and she told us that in spite of his severe health problems, John still had fond memories of his time at Roker Park back in the 1950’s.

Therokerend.com always welcomes information on the whereabouts of former Sunderland players and we were delighted when John Fraser’s wife Joan contacted us on a recent visit to Wearside. Sadly, John was unable to make the journey from their home in Tramore near Waterford in Southern Ireland due to severe health problems.

‘John is suffering from the advanced stages of Alzheimer's Disease and the past few years have been extremely difficult for us,’ says Joan, ‘However, I know he still retains a great affection for Sunderland - he loved playing at Roker Park alongside the likes of Charlie Hurley who he always referred to as a ‘true gentleman.’

John was born in Belfast and was signed by Sunderland from Glentoran as a replacement for Irish international winger Billy Bingham who had been transferred to Luton Town.

Image right:
Sunderland AFC at Villa Park 1959-60 season.

He made his debut wearing the number seven shirt in the 1-0 victory over Huddersfield Town at Roker Park on 28th February 1959 and his impressive performances in the Sunderland first team earned him international recognition when he was capped by Northern Ireland in a ‘B’ international against France later that year.

‘I used to watch John from the Roker Park terraces and was introduced to him by another Sunderland player, Jimmy Potter,’ recalls Joan, ‘There were quite a number of Irish lads at the club in those days, the likes of Ian Lawther, who sadly died recently, Amby Fogarty, Jimmy O’Neill and Martin Harvey who I went out with briefly before meeting John.’

Image right:
Training at Cleadon 1960.

John and Joan were married in 1960 shortly before John severed his ties with Sunderland and headed south to join Portsmouth. There followed a spell with non-league Margate before he moved back into league football at Watford where he and Joan became great friends with an Irish youngster who was to become one of the greatest goalkeepers in the English game.

Joan recalls: ‘I remember John coming in and telling me about this young Irish goalkeeper they had at the club who was terribly homesick and was about to pack his bags and head back to Ireland. We decided to invite him to stay with us and he eventually settled down and was soon in the Watford first team. That youngster was Pat Jennings who, as everyone knows, went on to become a footballing legend but fame didn’t affect him at all and he always remained a smashing lad.

‘I’ll always remember seeing him on the ‘This is Your Life’ programme at the height of his fame when he made a point of stating that his career would never have happened if it hadn’t been for John and Joan Fraser looking after him when he was at Watford. We hadn’t seen him for years but he never forgot us, but that was typical of Pat, you really couldn’t meet a nicer guy. A few years ago we bumped into him quite by chance at a Pro-Am golf tournament in Ireland and when he spotted us he gave us both the biggest hug you could imagine!

After leaving Watford John and Joan emigrated to South Africa where John continued his playing career with Durban City before moving into coaching and eventually management. After retiring from the game he developed a plumbing business which he ran until he and Joan decided to move to Southern Ireland to be close to their family. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary earlier this year.

Interview by Brian Leng.