Full Name: Paul Anthony Sugrue
Born: 06 November 1960, Coventry
Transferred from: Middlesbrough, December 1984, Free Transfer
Previous Clubs: Kansas City Comets (USA), Cardiff City, Manchester City, Nuneaton Borough
Pompey Debut: 29 December 1984 v Sheffield United (A) (L 1-4)
First Pompey Goal: n/a
Games: 4 (2+2 All league)
Final Game: 11 January 1986 v Fulham (H) D1-1)
Transferred to: Northampton Town, March 1985, Free Transfer
Subsequent Clubs: Newport County, Bristol Rovers, Bridgend Town, Finland
Coventry born Paul Sugrue started his football career under the watchful eye of Tottenham and Derby legend Dave Mackay as an apprentice at Walsall. Unfortunately he was unable to secure a professional contract and upon release signed for local non-league side Nuneaton Borough.
It was during his time at Nuneaton that he was spotted by another legendary manager, Malcolm Allison.
Allison had recently been appointed manager of top flight Manchester City and asked to build a team capable of challenging for the First Division title. Sugrue was offered a contract and eagerly accepted, but upon arrival at Maine Road he found a club full of de-motivated internationals and lower division players struggling to make the grade.
Results at City were poor and after just six league appearances in Sky Blue, Sugrue found himself classified, like a number of Allison new recruits, as a mediocre and unsuccessful signing so when Cardiff City displayed an interest in his services he showed no hesitation in moving down a league and signing for them.
Unfortunately Sugrue’s career also failed to flourish at Ninian Park and after managing just five appearances he headed for the greener grass of the United States. No sooner had he joined the Kansas City Comets however, he was offered another chance back home in England, this time in the North East.
Having finished bottom of Division One the previous season Middlesbrough, under boss Bobby Murdoch, were trying to re-establish themselves in the top flight and saw Sugrue as the strong inside-forward who could provide some much needed fire power. Sugrue made his Boro debut in a 0-2 defeat at Cambridge in December 1982 and although Boro were to experience another disappointing campaign, in which Murdoch was asked to resign (only to be replaced by Malcolm Allison), Sugrue at least took the opportunity to establish himself as a first team regular.
But all was not well at Boro and serious financial problems (that were to later result in the club being wound up and the gates to Ayresome Park being padlocked) were looming. Allison was pressured into off-loading star players and come March 1984, after claiming that it would be ‘Better for the club to die than to linger slowly on its deathbed’ he was sacked and Jack Charlton appointed caretaker until Willie Maddren was formally offered the managers position.
Despite this managerial merry-go-round Sugrue remained a virtual ever present during his time at Ayresome Park until that was in December 1984, he was tempted with an offer by Portsmouth manager Alan Ball that would secure his future.
Canon League Division Two Pompey were riding high and pushing for promotion but Ball was not happy with his strikers. Despite numerous chances to form a partnership with Nicky Morgan, Mark Hateley replacement Scot McGarvey had failed to deliver and with fans favourite Alan Biley (frustrated by the managers insistence to continue with McGarvey) having requested a transfer, Ball needed cover. In the space of a few December days the World Cup winner had signed Sugrue and Walsall’s Dave Bamber and it was not long before one of the new boys was to get their chance.
With Nicky Morgan suffering with a reoccurrence of a hip injury and Biley unable to walk due to back trouble, Ball pitched the untried partnership of McGarvey and Sugrue up front for his sides visit to Sheffield United, but in what turned out to be Pompey’s heaviest reverse of the season, Sugrue, the new strike partnership and Pompey as a team flopped to a 1-4 defeat.
Having failed to make the most of his opportunity Sugrue looked on as Biley’s transfer request was rejected and Morgan’s injury remedied. Sugrue was to spend the rest of the season in the reserves.
Nearly a year passed before he experienced further first team outings; twice coming off the bench before finally making his second (and what transpired to be his last) start for the club in a 1-1 draw at home to Fulham in January 1986. Again he failed to impress and come spring he was on the move.
Brief spells at Northampton, Newport, Bristol Rovers and Bridgend followed but all proved fruitless before he eventually settled for regular lower league football in Finland. Sadly it was not long before a knee injury all but ended his playing career and he was on his way home.
Sugrue’s return to England saw him manage his home town side Nuneaton Borough, but after seeing the club through a difficult period of liquidation, further misfortune struck when as a result of a car crash he broke a vertebrae in his back and being unable to perform, had to step down from his position.
A return to college to acquire his coaching qualifications followed involvement with Bobby Gould coaching the FAW under 14’s and allowed him to set up his own youth soccer school. A brief time in management with the Inter Cardiff youth set-up also followed, until they went bust in 2000.
Successful periods as a pub landlord and Merthyr Tydfil’s Vice-Chairman and manager (during which time he secured the services of ex-Liverpool striker Ian Rush as Technical Football Advisor) followed but unfortunately trouble was just around the corner for the Welsh outfit as finances became tight and cheques began to bounce.
Sugrue’s was heavily criticised for his outspokenness of the situation and he would frequently hold what the press labelled ‘public slanging matches’ with Merthyr’s supporters over internet forums.
In January 2007, ambitious plans to move the British Gas Business Southern League Premier Division club to a new stadium on the back the £275m Merthyr Village project were rejected by the Welsh Assembly’s planning committee and the club slumped into decline. Further outspoken comments and an enforced 40% cut in wages for the players did little to ingratiate Sugrue to the community and in May 2007 he resigned both his positions stating that the club needed to be freshened up and taken on to another level.
Sugrue’s last known whereabouts was in January 2009 when together with former Welsh international Mark Aizlewood he was delivering Emergency First Aid training to secondary school students on behalf of the Welsh Schools Authority.
Other Interesting Facts:
Sugrue was once quoted a saying that his move from Boro to Pompey was a ‘nightmare’ and ‘the biggest mistake of his career’. He also claimed that despite Alan Ball being a boyhood hero of his, they never saw eye to eye from day one.
Sugrue’s contract negotiation at Fratton Park took just 17 minutes between commencement of discussion and signing the contract.
In 1998 Sugrue led an Inter Wales Vets team to Wembley in the Umbro Vets Pro Trophy where they beat Liverpool 1-0. As manager, coach, player, physio minibus driver, kit washer and sponsor he was presented with the trophy by none other than Pele!
Season by season games played via PompeyRama
Vital Pompey Author Chix
Statistics provided by: PompeyRama.com
Date: May 2009