Jimmy Shields: An appreciation

By David Bull time Fri 10 Jan Club

Club historian David Bull remembers Jimmy Shields, who has died, aged 88...

In July 1956, as he looked forward to his first full season in charge, Ted Bates needed reinforcements that he had no money to buy. So, having borrowed from the Supporters Club, he headed north, accompanied by his wife, Mary.

The ostensible purpose of their journey was a holiday at Whitley Bay. But, having arrived at their hotel, Ted “dumped” Mary, as she put it, and drove to Sunderland to spend the supporters’ loan on Jimmy Shields.


Shields Jimmy AtS
Accompanied by club officials and members, the secretary of the Supporters' Club, Mr Poole, welcomes Jimmy Shields to The Dell. (Photos courtesy of Duncan Holley)

Derry-born Jimmy had arrived at Roker Park two years before, from Crusaders, having represented the Irish League in 1953. And he scored for Northern Ireland’s amateurs against Wales, shortly before he signed for First Division Sunderland. 

He had not played first-team football there, when Ted Bates risked £1,000 to bring him to Third Division Southampton.

Jimmy had seen himself as an inside-forward, but Bates wanted him at No.9 with Derek Reeves deposed to No.8. Johnny Walker, who wore No.10 or No.11 that season, rated Jimmy as “a real hard-grafting, run around, enthusiastic, typical tearaway centre-forward.” 

Jimmy certainly thrived at No.9, scoring on debut and bringing his tally, on Boxing Day, to 14 in 24 League matches. And he’d been capped by Northern Ireland against Scotland in November.

It’s no wonder, then, that he has looked upon the first half of that 1956/57 season as “the best I ever played in my whole career.” This spell included his “best-ever” match – at home to Colchester in September – when his late winner, from 20 yards, was hit with such power that, when the ball flew back off the stanchion, there were those, including Jimmy, who thought he had hit the post. 

And, as Terry Paine and John Sydenham made their debuts at the season’s end, Jimmy responded with four goals in the last four games.

The arrival of the precocious, mickey-taking Paine was a new challenge to Jimmy’s Irish humour: “Don’t they sell Northern Ireland caps in Woolworth’s, Jimmy?” asked Terry; and did George Young [the legendary colossus at centre-half for Scotland] give you a kick? “Two” said Jimmy, holding his own: “one on the knee; one on the ankle.”

But his manager was less interested in dressing-room banter than in his on-field investment. Writing in 1992, Bates confessed to “being a very relieved young manager, when Jimmy justified the expenditure by scoring 18 goals in his first season.” And yet Jimmy started 1957/58 in the Reserves, with Reeves restored as first choice No.9. He obliged with four goals in the first four games but, in scoring the last of those goals with his right foot, he broke his left leg, as it collided with the shoulder of Luton’s keeper. His season was over. 

With Reeves and Charlie Livesey both among the goals in 1958/59, Jimmy would have just three more outings, scoring twice, at the turn of the year. One of those goals commemorates the last time the Football League would play on Christmas Day.

It was, though, time to move on – to Southern League Headington, just before they changed their name to Oxford United. Jimmy hardly featured there. He returned to Sunderland, where he resumed his original trade as a joiner, while playing for a while at South Shields in the Northern Counties League.

He revisited The Dell in 1993 for a dinner to honour the man who had abandoned his wife to sign him. 

ROBERT JAMES SHIELDS
26th September 1931 – 9th January 2020

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