'He was top class' - Sunderland AFC legend Martin Harvey dies at age 78

The former Sunderland and Northern Ireland footballer Martin Harvey has died at the age of 78.

The defensive midfielder, or wing-half, was born in Belfast in 1941. He made his SAFC debut just over 60 years ago in October 1959 against Plymouth Argyle at Roker Park.

He would go on to make 358 appearances for the club before he was forced to retire through back and knee injuries at the age of 30, a few months before Sunderland lifted the 1973 FA Cup.

He never played for any other club.

In the late 1960s he was part of a formidable back five with goalkeeper Jimmy Montgomery, Cecil Irwin, Jim McNab, Charlie Hurley and Len Ashurst.

Harvey, who could also play at full-back, still holds the record as the player with the most appearances for a UK country while with Sunderland, earning 34 caps for Northern Ireland.

He was good enough to replace England international Stan Anderson at Sunderland, and Danny Blanchflower in the Northern Ireland side.

He was quick, a good passer of the ball and a great tackler.

Tributes have been paid to Martin Harvey following his death at the age of 78.

Following his retirement from playing, he joined the coaching staff at Roker and was given a testimonial game against Newcastle United in April 1975.

He was briefly manager of Carlisle United and, between 1981 and 1984, he was assistant manager at Plymouth Argyle.

He also worked as Northern Ireland’s assistant manager to another former Sunderland star, Billy Bingham.

At the 1982 World Cup, the pair guided the side to winning their group after a famous 1-0 victory over the host nation Spain.

Former teammate Jimmy Montgomery said: “Martin was a terrific player.

“He was top class and a great lad as well. He read the game so well and always made time for himself on the ball.”

The SAFC club website said: “He was a class act for the club throughout the sixties and a class act off the pitch for his entire 78 years.

“Martin Harvey was a tremendous servant of SAFC and will always be very fondly remembered.”