SIXTY-FIVE years ago, on Saturday, October 29 1955, Len Shackleton, 33 years of age, soccer genius, clown, goalscorer, cricketer, was still holding down a place at Sunderland FC, and was in their team which drew 0-0 at home to Everton.

In February 1948, Sunderland had paid a then British record fee of £20,050, to bring Shack from Newcastle to Roker Park, yet he and the Black Cats won nothing. The closest they came to silverware was a third place finish in Division 1 in 1950, and two FA Cup semi-final appearances in 1955 and 1956.

Sunderland finished ninth in Division 1 in the 1955-56 season with 43 points, 17 behind champions Manchester United.

The following season, 1956-57, when Shackleton retired because of an ankle injury, they were third off bottom, and then they suffered relegation to Division 2 in the 1957-58 season. Perhaps their demise might have come sooner without the flamboyant Len?

He scored 97 goals in 320 games for Sunderland, but probably would not get a game today. His attention-seeking antics would have today's manager/coach reaching for the diazepam tablets.

Shack would pass the ball to a team-mate, but put enough backspin on the it to make the ball return to him. He would sit on the ball, and invite the opposition to take it from him.

Sunderland fan Keith Belton recalled a game against Middlesbrough: “There was a gale force wind and Middlesbrough, who were hanging on, were guilty of serious time wasting.

“They won a corner which Wilf Mannion went to take. The ball would not stay still in the wind and Mannion used up more time trying to keep the ball still before taking the kick.

“Shackleton ran half the length of the field, took the ball off Mannion, used the heel of his boot to stamp on the ground and make a small hole, or indentation in the turf, for the ball to lie in."

Shack was just the same playing cricket, where he represented Wearmouth Colliery at club level, and Northumberland in the Minor Counties. He would pretend to miss a slip catch, turn round as if to watch the ball running to the boundary, and then put his hand into his pocket and produce the ball.

An England selector was once asked why Shack only won five England caps. The selector said: "Because England play at Wembley Stadium, not the London Palladium."

Len claimed that 13 was his lucky number.

Here's why: his name, Len Shackleton, consists of 13 letters, he first played for England schoolboys at 13 years of age, he was transferred from Bradford Park Avenue to Newcastle for £13,000 and scored six goals on debut against Newport in a 13-0 win, and in his third game for Sunderland he scored in the 13th minute in a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United.

Shack was often outspoken - one of the reasons he left Newcastle was that he fell out with the directors.

He was a brilliant sports journalist, and famously wrote a book with a chapter headed “The average director's knowledge of football” and a blank page beneath it.

After he’d finished playing, he hosted a sports round-up on local TV. One evening when Sunderland were top of the Second Division with Allan Brown as manager, he was asked about Brown's performance in the managerial chair, and replied: "He's good, anyone who can get that load of rubbish to the top of the Second Division has to be good."

Len Shackleton died on November 27, 2000, aged 78.