Charlie Buchan was a prolific goalscoring star for both Sunderland and Arsenal, but if it wasn’t for a brief spell at Leyton in the 1910-11 season, he may never have been spotted, and gone on to have the impact he had. He also had a successful career in football journalism when his playing career finished.
At six feet tall, weighing 12 stone 3 pounds and with an eye for goal that few could rival, Buchan had all the attributes to be one of the best. His talents, however, were not consigned to the football field.
Few will know that Buchan was also a war hero, fighting and surviving in three of World War One’s bloodiest battles. We take a look at Buchan’s remarkable career and also his time fighting for his country where he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery.
A Superstar of His Day
Buchan started his career as an amateur, playing for Woolwich Arsenal and Leyton FC. While at Leyton, 19-year-old Buchan was spotted by Sunderland. He signed for the club for £1,200 in March 1911. The striker excelled on Wearside with many declaring him as the best footballer in the country.
Few defences and goalkeepers could stop Buchan; however, one goalkeeper, who Buchan himself described as the best keeper he played against, stopped him and Sunderland from winning their first FA Cup final in 1913. The side to defeat Sunderland that day was Aston Villa. More than 120,000 fans squeezed into the stadium at Crystal Palace to witness Villa win 1-0.
His record while on Wearside was exceptional. In 411 appearances, Buchan scored 222 goals. 30 of those came during the 1912-13 season as Sunderland won the league title and reached the FA Cup Final. Buchan ranks second in Sunderland’s record goalscorers list.
Such was Buchan’s popularity at Sunderland, legend has it that someone would walk around Roker Park and Sunderland’s town centre with a sandwich board attached to them advising that Buchan would be playing that day. It could another 5000 onto the attendance.
Charlie Buchan: War Hero
World War One halted Buchan’s football career, a career that would have undoubtedly produced many more goals and England appearances had the game not been suspended.
Buchan began life in the war with the Grenadier Guards. He quickly escalated to Lance Corporal where he would fight in the bloodiest battles of the war. Buchan fought at The Western Front at The Somme, Cambrai and Passchendaele. He would survive all three, a feat in itself considering the number of soldiers who lost their lives.
His bravery during these devastating times earned him the rank of second lieutenant and also the Military Medal.
In 1925 and at 33-years-old, Sunderland decided to part ways with their fan favourite. Much to the dismay of fans and the player himself. Buchan rejoined Arsenal, the club he began his career with as an amateur. Sunderland wanted £4,000 for their prolific forward; however, due to his age, Arsenal were unwilling to pay that much. An agreement, however, was made. Arsenal would pay Sunderland £2000 with another £100 for every goal Buchan scored during his first season.
Believing they had the better of the deal, Arsenal were more than happy with the arrangement. Buchan would score 21 goals during his first season giving Sunderland a total transfer fee of £4,100. £100 more than Sunderland had originally asked for.
Buchan would spend three years with the Gunners before retiring from playing in 1928. He finished his Arsenal career with 56 goals in 120 starts. He also captained the side in their famous 1927 FA Cup Final defeat to Cardiff City. The only time the FA Cup has left England.
After hanging up his boots, Charlie Buchan remained influential within the game. He began as a football journalist and commentator. His magazine ‘Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly’ became the top-selling football publication in the world. It first went into publication in 1951 and remained so until 1974, 14 years after his death.
Buchan was also one of the founding members of the Football Writers Association, it was his idea to begin the Footballer of the Year award. Buchan died in 1960 at the age of 68 in Monaco.
60 years on from his death, Charlie Buchan is still remembered and will always be remembered as one of the best footballers of his era, a Sunderland legend, an Arsenal star and a war hero.