Date: 13th December 2007 at 8:50pm
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Aston Villa boss Martin O’Neill has spoken of his childhood love of Sunderland ahead of Saturday’s trip to the Stadium of Light.

While O’Neill is often considered a life-long Celtic fan (especially by the supporters of the Parkhead club!), the boss has revealed the performances of Sunderland legend Charlie Hurley had him hooked from a young age.

O’Neill had to make do with following the Mackems on the radio and via the newspapers and never made the journey to Roker Park as a child – but confessed the sparkle he had then has never left him.

The Birmingham Mail quoted O’Neill as saying: “The sparkle never leaves you but it (the passion) has to do with growing up and becoming a professional.

“Because of where I was brought up and the type of background in Ireland, where you were Celtic or Rangers, I was a big Celtic fan.

“But in England, when everyone was choosing their side, mine was always Sunderland. They’re my old team. I supported them as a kid and Charlie Hurley was my hero.”

Unsurprisingly for a man with O’Neill’s memory, the boss can recall several Sunderland games from his younger days – losing against Bury on Boxing Day 1962, losing against Chelsea 1-0 to miss out on promotion in front of 62,000 fans and losing in the FA Cup quarter final against Manchester United after three replays in 1964.

Despite his childhood love of the club, however, O’Neill reportedly turned down the chance to manage Sunderland when he was offered the chance 18 months ago – though the romantics among us may like to imagine that he would not have been able to refuse the offer if the club were still at Roker Park.

Hopefully Sunderland will suffer another loss at the weekend, which would perhaps in keeping with most of O’Neill’s memories of them – though it is rather ominous that when he first went to Roker Park as a player with Nottingham Forest in 1972, his side were on the wrong side of a 4-1 scoreline.

But enough of the past – it’s time for Martin O’Neill to make some new memories as he leads Villa back to winning ways against a struggling team who no longer have what they used to in years gone by.