Len Shackleton: ‘The Joker of Roker’

Shack learned his trade at Arsenal & Bradford, became a footballer at Newcastle, but it was Sunderland that got under his skin – Shack loved Wearside.

Shack – thedaisycutter.com

Leonard Francis ‘Len’ Shackleton was born in 1922 and came from very modest beginnings. The 1920s are sometimes referred to as the ‘roaring twenties’ over in the United States. However, back in Britain, the 1920s were defined by depression, deflation and a steady decline in the great Britain’s former economic pre-eminence.

By the time Shack was beginning to play football, Britain’s economy was struggling. This was particularly apparent in the coal industry. The declining industry led to lower wages and increasingly bitter trades disputes causing a general strike in 1926. Miners went on strike to gain better pay and conditions and were joined by other trade unions. However, the general strike was only partial and led to the defeat of the miners. During the general strike, the middle class enthusiastically filled in for jobs helping to break the strike and increase a sense of class and social division.

Shackleton would eventually come to be among these miners when he first came to the North-East, working as a Labourer in Hazelrigg Colliery – ‘the clown prince’ knew what it was to be a working-class man in the North-East, and it was this as well as flamboyant playing style that endeared him to the predominantly working class community in Sunderland.

Like most kids in his generation, Len’s parents felt this economic instability in Britain. His parents couldn’t even afford to buy him a proper football kit. Shack commented upon being unable to afford ‘real football boots’ his Uncle John ‘bought some studs and hammered them into an old pair of shoes.’ This gesture would stay with Shack and gave him a deep love and appreciation of football and a drive to do well.

The Joker of Roker – thedaisycutter.com

Shackleton could play at both the inside and outside forward positions. He scored 134 goals in 427 league and cup appearances in just over 11 seasons in the Football League, and before that scored 171 goals in league and cup 209 appearances during wartime football. His individualistic style was a joy to watch and his gift at controlling a football made him one of the most technically gifted footballers of his generation.

After a brief youth spell with Arsenal, he re-joined his former youth team Bradford Park Avenue in 1940, only to have his footballing career interrupted by the Second World War. Following Allied victory. Shackleton signed for Newcastle United for a record fee of £13,000 in the October of 1946.

Yes, you read correctly. The Len Shackleton, Our hero, Shack, donned the black & white stripes. Of course, the Wear-Tyne rivalry was not as nearly as bitter as it has become in modern times. Nevertheless, Shackleton was on course to become a Geordie Messiah by scoring six goals against Newport County upon his arrival at the club.

The greatest of all Geordie legends, Jackie Milburn, described:

On his debut against Newport County he scored six goals, a Division Two record, and put the last one in off his backside. Ever the showman, Shack always preferred to get applause for some daft trick rather than scoring a straight-forward goal.

Shack was no ordinary player, and the fact that a man as respected as Jackie Milburn was thought to single him out for praise tells you just how magnificent he was with a ball at his feet.

Milburn also quipped:

Len Shackleton was a master craftsman and thanks to him I got among the goals. I clicked with him because I expected the unorthodox. If he ran one way, I ran the other, and sure enough the ball always found me. On the other hand, Len’s quick-witted humour often caused me to laugh outright and lose control of the ball.

There you have it – by Milburn’s reckoning, Shack was equal to him. His quality was indisputable.

As much as I respect the words of such a talented footballer, it would be loathe of me to allow a Geordie the last word on Shackleton. But fear not – the praise for Shackleton was universal.

The legendary Stoke City and Blackpool outside-right Stanley Matthews was widely regarded to be the best British football player of his generation – his words carry much weight and his opinion of footballing matters of the day was undisputable. Matthews stated that Shack was‘unpredictable, brilliantly inconsistent, flamboyant, radical and mischievous; in short, he possessed all the attributes of a footballing genius which he undoubtedly was.’

Matthews placed more value on Shack than the short-sighted Geordies. Following a row at board level and after just two years in Newcastle, Shack was sold to their bigger rivals Sunderland in the First Division for the record fee of £20,050 and is said to have taken an illegal backhand payment in doing so. He had scored 26 goals in 57 appearances for the Tynesiders.

Shackleton was one of many big-name players signed by the club for a total outlay of around £250,000 during the post-war era, earning Sunderland the nickname of the ‘Bank of England’ club. And Len – regarded by the Mackem faithful as ‘the joker of Roker’ – stated that ‘joining Sunderland was the best thing I ever did’. He proceeded to become the shining light in the flickering embers of a Sunderland side in decline.

The Clown Prince failed to win silverware in his time on Wearside but featured in two FA Cup semi-final sides and narrowly missed out on a First Division Championship medal in the mid-1950s.
An ankle injury in 1957 eventually brought Len’s flamboyant career to an abrupt end. He made 348 appearances for Sunderland and scored 101 goals.

Much like Bobby Gurney, Raich Carter and Brian Clough – Shackleton was overlooked for international honours by the England selectors, despite being universally acknowledged as a player of international quality. Len made only 5 caps for England, the most famous coming against the then World Champions, West Germany, in 1954. Sadly, his style was dubbed too individualistic by the historically-conservative and southern-centric Football Association.

Len Shackleton shakes hands with the Duke of Gloucester at Wembley-http://gimmefutbol.blogspot.co.uk

Shack opened a barber’s shop in the town during his time in Sunderland, illuminating his entrenchment in our culture and history. On retirement, he became a sports journalist. He moved to Grange-over-Sands, in Cumbria.

Shack’s autobiography, The Clown Prince of Soccer, became celebrated for its ninth chapter, entitled ‘The Average Director’s Knowledge of Football’. A blank page lay underneath. Such distain towards directors endeared him to another Sunderland legend, Brain Clough. It is written that Shack even helped to fix Clough up with his first forays into football management.

Len Shackleton passed away November 28th 2000. He was aged 78. Testament to his talent as a football player and skill as a journalist, Shack received obituaries in The Telegraph and The Guardian. A true Sunderland great.

 I leave it to Shack himself to round off:

Even though I was born in Bradford and now live in Cumbria, I still consider the North East to be home. I love the place and the people are smashing. Newcastle people always tell me that I’m biased towards Sunderland but really I’ve nothing against Newcastle – I don’t care who beats them.

Leigh Richmond Roose: Sunderland’s maverick sweeper-keeper

“Think Paul Gascoigne with a higher IQ, then throw in George Best’s playboy excesses for good measure.” – Spencer Vignes.

Remembrance of one Leigh Richmond “Dick” Roose in Sunderland is rather scant. I’m willing to bet that if his name was put to a group of Sunderland fans on a match day not many would recognise his name – not entirely surprising when you consider that the Welshman kept goal on Wearside over one hundred years ago.

 Roose had an incredible career before joining Sunderland. He was, at one time, considered the best goalkeeper in Britain. Roose was described as “The Prince of all goalkeepers” in Athletic News and has been subsequently dubbed as “Football’s First Superstar” by his biographer, Spencer Vignes.

Roose had a brush with Sunderland prior to joining the club. On February 10th 1906 Roose’s Stoke City lost 1-0 to Sunderland at Roker Park. Whilst enjoying a post-match meal, the Stoke players found themselves the recipients of a torrent of abuse from a Sunderland fan. Raising from his chair, Roose went over to the man and punched him in the face. The case was brought to the Football Association and Roose was banned for fourteen days.

The hilarity continued when Roose was chosen as Ted Doig’s replacement and was signed by Sunderland in January, 1908. Almost as soon as he began to turn out for the Wearsiders, rumours began to circulate that the club were acting illegally in their payments towards him.

 Football in this period was still an amateur sport, meaning that football clubs were only permitted to pay a player’s expenses, players were not permitted to receive a salary.

The Football Association requested that Roose submit a list of his expenses for the 1907-08 season. Roose made a mockery of the FA displayed disdain towards the amateur system by listing his expenses as including: ‘a Pistol to ward off opposition” along with a “coat and gloves to keep warm when not occupied” and “using the toilet (twice)”.

Roose was also famed for his luck with the ladies. The Daily Mail dubbed him “London’s most eligible bachelor”. In 1909 he began a high profile and controversial with the married music hall star, Marie Lloyd. Lloyd would often be seen in the crowd when Sunderland played in London and Roose was a regular at Lloyd’s concerts.

According to a 1939 Sunderland Echo article Roose was able to pickup a fully inflated football with one hand / Wales Online

 

As well as being a maverick off the pitch, Roose’s unusual playing style wowed crowds up and down the country. Decades before the term ‘sweeper-keeper’ became vogue, he would spend much of his time outside of his penalty area. In Edwardian times, it was within the rules of Association Football for goalkeepers to handle the ball outside of their box. Law 8 stated:

The goalkeeper may, within his own half of the field of play, use his hands, but shall not carry the ball.

Roose developed his game accordingly and would bounce the ball up to the half-way line to launch a successful attack with a well-placed kick or throw. As Spencer Vignes explains in his book detailing the goalkeeper’s exploits:

This was perfectly within the letter of the law, though few goalkeepers risked doing it for fear of either leaving their goal unattended or being steamrollered by a centre-forward. It became a highly effective, direct way of launching attacks and Leigh used it to his side’s advantage whenever possible.

Roose’s maverick playing style made him a firm favourite at Roker Park – he kept goal for Sunderland in their stunning demolition 9-1 of Newcastle at St. James Park in 1908, solidifying him as a club legend.

However, the FA were less than impressed. In 1912, the FA changed the rules and restricted goalkeepers to handling the ball only in their own box. The rule change was a direct response to Roose’s successful tactic.

He would also turn his back on play to tell jokes to the fans, and perform gymnastics from the goal crossbar while the ball was at the other end of the field. Traits that were not in keeping with the Victorian ideals of gentlemen amateurism which underpinned Edwardian Association Football. Amateur players of the period were expected to follow the“Corinthian Ideals” of fairness and honor in competition which were valued above victory or gain. Leigh Roose challenged these conventions.

Roose left Sunderland following a broken wrist sustained in another game against Newcastle in 1909, and as a result the Mackems decided he would not be unable to regain full fitness and decided not to employ him for the 1910-11 season. That year he played games for Celtic, Huddersfield Town and Aston Villa before going on to join Arsenal as a player-coach in December, 1911.

Roose was extremely highly thought of on Wearside, a testimonial was arranged in his honour which, according to the Sunderland Echo was oversubscribed and £40 was raised for Roose (£4,421 in today’s money).

The Welshman returned to Roker Park with Arsenal in 1912 and dazzled the Sunderland faithful with some stunning saves. Roose evidently felt a strong connection to the Mackem faithful. At the end of the game he threw his Arsenal jersey into the Sunderland crowd and spent over 20 minutes walking around the perimeter of the pitch shaking hands and talking with spectators.

Roose transferred his footballing skills to the Somme and served gallantly in the First World War, winning the Military Medal for bravery. His supremely accurate and effective grenade throwing skills meant that Roose was promoted to Lance Corporal in September, 1916.

Tragically, in October, 1916 during an attack on the German trenches at Gueudecourt Leigh Roose was killed. Former amateur footballer, Gordon Hoare saw him running towards the enemy at full speed in No Man’s Land, while firing his gun. Soon afterwards, another soldier saw Roose lying in a bomb crater. His body was never recovered.

Former Wales and Everton goalkeeper, Neville Southall, speaking to Wales Online in 2016 best sums Roose up:

What makes you climb out of a trench and run towards a machine gun knowing that you are almost certainly going to die? The more you think about it, the madder it gets, and yet he did it. You’ve got to be a special person to be able to do that.

A stark reminder that we must remember and honour Leigh Roose and his comrades sacrifice. Roose’s name is commemorated on a plaque at Aberystwyth University and is among the 72,195 missing servicemen on the Thiepval Memorial.

Remembering the fallen in the First World War is of imperative importance. The First World War was essentially, as Sebastian Faulks describes, a ‘holocaust of young men’ which could have been avoided.

We must not forget the closeness of the three principle monarchs of the age. Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany; King George V of England; and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia. Wilhelm and George were first cousins, George and Nicholas were also first cousins, and Wilhelm and Nicholas were third cousins. There is also evidence to support the claim that Queen Victoria died in the arms of her eldest grandson – Wilhelm. Millions of young men, like Roose, died at the behest of an interrelated European aristocracy.

Sunderland AFC must endeavour to remember Leigh Roose and by extension honour the human sacrifice in the First World War.

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and Welsh Newspapers Online for providing the opportunity for independent research on Leigh Roose’s exploits. I must pay tribute to the research and works of Spencer Vignes and John Simkin who make remembrance of Leigh Roose’s footballing career and life possible. Also, a nod to Richard Callaghan who wrote about Roose’s exploits for Roker Report last year.

Leigh Roose was aged just 38 when he was killed in the First World War.

OPINION: ‘Sunderland’s hierarchy is an absolute shambles’

Sunderland’s loyal cohort of fans have been continuously let down, not only by managers and players, but also by decisions made at board level too.

Ellis Short has made multiple flawed appointments at and must take his share of the responsibility for his glaring mistakes. The actions of Margaret Byrne and Martin Bain – both installed by the elusive American – have left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans and have contributed to a general lack of positivity around the club.

Decisions made by the club’s bigwigs in recent years have essentially bred the conditions for Sunderland’s most recent sh*tstorm of a season which has seen our side relegated from the Premier League after a ten-year spell in the big time.

Sunderland v Manchester City - Premier League
The loyal fans have been continuously let down. 
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Margaret Byrne is a prime example of a member of the Sunderland board who has let our beloved club down in a big way. She was aware of the damning evidence that lead to Adam Johnson’s conviction for child sex abuse, yet she chose to completely mislead Sunderland fans into believing the club knew him to be innocent and permitted Johnson to play. Essentially, she made a mockery of the our loyal support and, in turn, damaged the club’s integrity.

Her punishment for such a grotesque error of judgment was to be compensated handsomely, a figure revealed upon the public release of the club’s accounts last month – this whilst fans in an extremely economically challenged area of the country pump revenue into the club year on year through ticket sales and merchandise. Byrne accepted full responsibility in the gross mishandling of the Johnson situation and signed a confidentiality agreement which makes one wonder what other shady dealings occur between the directors in the annuls of the Stadium of Light.

Byrne also explained that chairman Ellis Short had been aware only of the ‘broad nature’ of the allegations against Johnson and ‘not the detail I was personally privy to.’ Byrne allowed Short off the hook so to speak – whilst simultaneously complying to keep her mouth shut as to avoid any further PR disasters.

Take stock of the fee Byrne received and the circumstances which led to her leaving the club – bearing in mind Sunderland’s debt at this point time was around £140m, and with such wonderful financial acumen from Ellis Short, it’s no wonder Sunderland are in the mire. Short must shoulder his share of the blame.

Rotherham United v Sunderland - Pre-Season FriendlyPhoto by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images

But the buck doesn’t stop with Byrne and Short. Sunderland’s new chief executive, Martin Bain, hasn’t done much to endear himself to supporters either.

While survival was still possible, Bain fostered a defeatist attitude by announcing that staff at the training ground and the Stadium of Light that redundancies were imminent. Large numbers of staff were offered the option to take voluntary redundancies via email.

Smooth from a man who reportedly netted somewhere in the region of £630,000 during his time at Glasgow Rangers FC. Obviously, one must acknowledge that Bain’s instruction to reduce debt came directly from Short; however, one must question the integrity and morality of a man that chooses to carry out orders of redundancies whist receiving such a fat pay cheque.

The distressing news came in the week where Sunderland’s under-performing players were sent on an all-expenses paid ‘training trip’ to New York. Another PR disaster, which exposed the club’s hierarchy as being totally out of touch with the community in which the clubs exists. A community that, in the same week as Bain’s announcements, turned out to the tune of ten-thousand to watch their millionaire heroes in an open training session at the Stadium of Light – not to mention the eighteen-thousand spectators that turned up to see Sunderland’s Under 23’s in their European final later that same season.

The fans deserve so much more.

The New York debacle becomes an even bigger farce when you consider Sunderland only managed to muster one win since the trip. Realistically, it must have cost a small fortune to fly twenty-two players and multiple staff to America, including expenses for training facilities among other things. The whole situation makes one question the business acumen of the man in charge of our club.

Maybe if the club hadn’t made such a mess of the Johnson situation, or had perhaps refrained from a transatlantic jolly, then the money used to buy Byrne’s silence and a glorified knees up could have been used to keep on the ground-level Sunderland AFC workers.

You know, the ones responsible for the excellent day-to-day running of our club.

It must also be noted that the culmination of the proposed staff redundancies would make little difference to Sunderland’s £140m debt, and these workers are likely to have families to support. They won’t have the luxury of a Byrne-esque payment to comfort them when they find themselves out of work in the name of streamlining a heaping pile of financial sh*te.

Sunderland v Burnley - Premier League
Ironic – Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Some sections of Sunderland’s support have suggested rather flippantly, that Sunderland should ‘sack the players’ as to allow said redundancies to be cancelled. Although this view is somewhat unrealistic and populist, we cannot blame these fans for their frustration and anger. Any genuine Sunderland fan that seeks to patronise this view does not understand the history of the community they claim to be part of.

The recent actions of the club’s hierarchy make one, at times, somewhat uncomfortable to be a Sunderland fan and makes it extremely difficult for fans to buy into the clubs cries of ‘Unity is Strength’ and ‘Keep the Faith’.
All in all, Sunderland’s off-field failings have been just as farcical as the pathetic situation on the pitch. Despite Moyes’ sacking buoying many fans, one cannot see Sunderland’s situation improving away from the football field any time soon. And, as usual, it’s the fans that must bear the burden.

A Tale of two Cities – Sunderland and Swansea share more than just a footballing bond. (Featuring an interview with ex-pro, John Cornforth)

Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images

Swansea sits around three-hundred miles – give or take – from Sunderland, and to travel from one to the other will take approximately seven hours. Yet despite existing at opposite ends of the United Kingdom the two cities and their football clubs share many parallels.

Both Sunderland and Swansea are post-industrial cities. Sunderland built ships and dug for coal; Swansea was once central to the copper industry. Both have known decline and share a predominately working class mentality.

Both Sunderland and Swansea based their new homes on or near industrial sites. Sunderland on the Wearmouth Colliery overlooking the River Wear, while Swansea play their games West of the River Tawe, near the old copper works.

The Liberty and the Stadium of Light are relatively new builds; Sunderland moving into their new home in 1997 while Swansea moved to the Liberty in 2005. Despite a 20,000 difference in capacity the two grounds even look rather alike; both coloured white while also sharing a scaffold-like style. The Liberty resembles a miniature Stadium of Light.
In South Wales, Swansea fall behind neighbours Cardiff in terms of investment, cultural capital and facilities much like the comparison often drawn between Sunderland and Newcastle in the North-East. However, up until 2017, Sunderland and Swansea had previously managed to overcome any inferiority complex by remaining in the Premier League thus far, while Newcastle and Cardiff play in the Championship.

On the pitch this season both clubs have found themselves struggling, unable to remain relevant as they languish at the wrong end of the table fighting relegation. Sunderland have of course fallen victim to the fat lady’s song, but Swansea still have it all to play for.

This weekend’s fixture will be an important game for the Welsh club who are quite simply fighting for their Premier League lives; however, despite the importance of this weekend’s result the histories of these two great clubs will remain.

Swansea City v Arsenal - Premier LeaguePhoto by Michael Steele/Getty Images

John Cornforth – born in Whitley Bay – started his career at Sunderland in 1985. Over six years Cornforth appeared thirty-two times in red and white before a move to Swansea City in 1991.

And it was at Swansea where Cornforth made a brief foray into international football, representing Wales on two occasions, qualifying through his Welsh paternal grandmother. Whilst representing Wales at international level was a huge achievement,
Cornforth has always remained close to his roots in the North East of England.

With this weekend’s game with relegation-threatened Swansea on the horizon, we caught up with the former Sunderland midfielder to get his perspective on the two clubs and the areas that they represent.

Cornforth explained:

Sunderland and Swansea are both working class areas situated by the beach. The people of Sunderland and Swansea are very similar – they’re working class and love their football team. Great places to play. 

And when asked about any amusing anecdotes about his time at Roker Park stated that there were ‘too many to mention’ but told the story of two Welsh lads, Sean Mills and Steve Jones, signing for Sunderland.

I was in charge of jobs for apprentices, I gave the two new lads a bucket and sponge each and told them to clean the floodlights. Thirty minutes later my coach comes up to me screaming “CORNY, have you seen those dozy Welsh f*ckers and what they’re doing?” 

I went to investigate and they were hanging off the floodlights armed with bucket and sponge washing the lights! I got an almighty bollocking.

John also recalls the odd feeling of playing against Sunderland for Birmingham and returning to Swansea with Peterborough:

I played at Roker Park for Birmingham and it was strange, we lost 4-1 and I hit the bar. Playing at the old Vetch was even stranger given the length of time I spent at the club. We won 1-0, I didn’t celebrate and my name was sung by Swansea fans throughout the whole game. My manager Barry Fry said it was the best reception he’d ever heard for a returning player.

 It’s a shared love for football by people from a working-class background that binds the folk of Swansea and Sunderland, and back when John represented both clubs it perhaps rang even more true – working hard all week to watch your team play on a weekend was a form of release, something noted by Cornforth when reminiscing the old days:

Sunderland’s crowds at Roker Park were bigger but the atmosphere at the old Vetch was electric. Both sets of fans are totally loyal, through thick and thin.

John Cornforth http://www.sunderlandafcformerplayersassociation.com

Having lived in Sunderland for most my life before moving to Swansea to study, I’ve noticed that both cities share the same extreme passion and attitude towards football. Football is the dominant form of religion-like-practice to the people of Swansea and Sunderland – a way of life. Both cites see their stadiums a replacement cathedral to which both lack in the religious sense.

Swansea and Sunderland also sit amongst the most economically challenged areas in the United Kingdom. The 2016 EY Report found youth unemployment in Wales to be around 17.4%, with Swansea experiencing extreme highs of 27.3%. The same report showed the North-East’s youth unemployment rate to be 18.3%. To put these figures into context, UK youth unemployment stands on average at 14.4%. Sunderland and Swansea are suffering similar economic hardship.

The two football clubs now provide increased sources of pride coupled with much needed escapism for the inhabitants of the two struggling cities.

General Views of UK Sporting VenuesPhoto by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

It remains to be seen whether or not Swansea can escape Sunderland’s fate of relegation this season, and although I’d never dream of wanting another team to beat the mighty Sunderland, I do however hope that Swansea stay in the Premier League.

Much like Sunderland, the city and its people deserve a team to be proud of in times of austerity, cuts and general global political instability.

Eighty years on: Sunderland’s 1936/37 FA Cup triumph – Carter’s men topple Preston!

The year 1937 saw change in current affairs, politics and pop culture on both sides of the Atlantic. Franklin D. Roosevelt is President to seven million unemployed in the United States, an enquiry begins into the Hindenburg Disaster and John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ is published. In Great Britain; Wimbledon is broadcast by the BBC for the first time and King George IV ascends to the throne. But, most important of all worldly affairs is the fact that Sunderland AFC are victorious in their pursuit of the Football Association Cup for the first time in the club’s history.

1937 was a funny old year in the North-East too. Plans for a £55,000 revamp of the Sunderland Town hall were announced. Binn’s Limited had stores in Sunderland, Newcastle and South Shields. Coxgreen Council School finally closed its doors with its few remaining pupils transferring to a new £10,000 school at Penshaw. West Herrington based workmen unearthed a pair of skeletons sparking a dramatic police investigation into potential murder – until it was found that the bones were a century old.

imgur.com – Carter holds the FA Cup followed by Hall and Gurney.
But it is May 1st, 1937 which marks the 80th anniversary of Sunderland’s first FA Cup win. Sunderland’s Cup run was by far and away the most newsworthy story in the North-East that year – bringing a tremendous amount of civic pride to Wearside. Sunderland had craved cup success since the club’s creation in 1879, leading to the FA Cup becoming a Holy Grail to Sunderland fans. As ever, Raich Carter summarised the town’s relationship with the Cup:

The fact that Sunderland had never won the Cup was a terrible thing for the North. Every year was to be Sunderland’s Cup year and there was always great disappointment when they were knocked out.

It was a real vintage and skilled Sunderland team that won the Cup in ‘37 and remembrance has not been as forthcoming as that experienced by the FA Cup winning team of 1973. This is partly due to time, and the astounding underdog story of Stokoe & Co’s victory from the old Second Division.

The road to Wembley back in 1937 saw Sunderland come out 3-2 winners against Southampton at The Dell in third round – a long and by no means easy trip. Sunderland also came from 2-0 down on a frosty afternoon to force a fourth-round replay with Luton. 52,000 spectators at Roker Park then witnessed Sunderland see off Luton with goals from Len Duns, Jimmy Connor and Raich Carter cancelling out a strike from Luton’s Payne.

Jimmy Connor suffered an injury against Luton which has been compared to the injury Brian Clough sustained on the same ground 25 years later. Like Clough, Connor’s career was over. Connor was a brilliant forward with a fantastic shot and tremendous dribbling ability; a tragic and most unfortunate sacrifice in Sunderland’s quest for FA Cup glory.

Sunderland disposed of Swansea in the fifth-round, beating the Jacks 3-0 at Roker Park. In the quarter-finals, Sunderland were drawn away to First Division Wolves, a formidable outfit led by the superb centre-half Stan Cullis. Sunderland managed to hold out for a replay with another goal from Len Duns making the score 1-1. The Roker Park replay is the stuff of legend. Raich Carter commenting in 1950 that the tie “gave me a heart attack.” The tie saw no goals until the 86th minute despite Sunderland’s pressure. Then, as is the “Sunderland way”, disaster struck Wearside. Completely against the run of play Tom Galley silenced 61,800 spectators and put Wolves in front with barely any time remaining. Some Sunderland fans even headed for the exit, convinced Sunderland had blown their Cup campaign once again.

Up again steps Mr. Robert Gurney…

A Thompson throw in was received by Carter who returned the ball; Thompson, the wing-half, found Bobby Gurney who had managed to escape the clutches of Cullis. Gurney controlled the ball, turned and hit a low weak shot. With the Wolves keeper unsighted the ball found its way into the net. To extra time! Sunderland took the lead with a goal from Duns only for Wolves to equalise within two minutes, meaning a second Cup replay after what must go down as one of the most thrilling matches ever to have been played at the old Roker Park.

The third Sunderland-Wolves tie took place in Sheffield. Raich Carter was reported as being only 75% fit, yet he played as if his life depended on it. Well, he was from Hendon after all. Carter, with his leg heavily strapped, scored the second in a 3-0 victory. The young captain had inspired Sunderland into the semi-finals in what he described as a “marathon tussle.

Third-Division South’s Millwall were to be Sunderland’s opponents in the semi’s, yet Sunderland took little comfort in the superior league standing. Millwall were the 1936/37 FA Cup giant killers having gained three First Division scalps on their way to the semi-final. Millwall threatened to cause another major upset by scoring in the first ten minutes of the semi-final at Huddersfield’s Leeds Road ground. Gurney equalised for Sunderland and Patsy Gallacher scored the winner, he later described it as “the greatest and most important goal I ever scored.” Sunderland were at last through to the final! The excitement on Wearside really was something to behold, reports even state that police were drafted in to control a crowd of 5,000 excited Sunderland folk who had had gathered outside the Sunderland Echo office eager for news of the tie.

britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk – Sunderland Echo – May 1, 1937. Page 1.

The final at Wembley was a thoroughly Anglo-Scottish affair. Sunderland fielded five Scotsmen including Alex Hall and Patsy Gallacher with legendary manager Johnny Cochrane also hailing from north of the border. Sunderland’s opponents in the final, Preston North End, also employed a Scottish manager in Tommy Muirhead. Muirhead started seven Scotsmen for the final with the most notable being the prolific number nine Frank O’Donnell and future Liverpool manager, Bill Shankly.

The Sunderland line up at Wembley in full was as follows: Mapson (GK), Gorman, Hall, Thompson, Johnston, McNab, Duns, Carter (C), Gurney, Gallacher and Burbanks. Sunderland faced a formidable Preston team of Burns (GK), Gallimore, Beattie, Shankly, Tremelling (C), Milne, Dougal, Beresford, F. O’Donnell, Fagan and H. O’Donnell. Testament to Sunderland’s achievement in 1937 is that Preston proceeded to win the FA Cup in 1938, for they were a superb footballing side in their own right.

britishnewspaperarchive.com – Sunderland Echo – May 1, 1937. Page 9.
Approximately 93,000 spectators crammed into Wembley that day, the aforementioned Frank O’Donnell fired Preston into the lead just before the interval. At half-time a marching band trooped up and down the Wembley turf providing little comfort to the downhearted Sunderland fans. Up until this point the team who had scored first at Wembley had always won the Cup. The upcoming second half was to be another test of character for the Sunderland team.

But the Sunderland public travelling en masse to London from the North-East needn’t have worried. Sunderland had two local goal scorers in the team both hell bent on returning to Wearside with the Cup. In the dressing room Hendon born Carter stirred his Sunderland teammates and attempted to settle their nerves:

We have to be more in the game. We have got to make the ball work more, find the man more. Don’t be nervous. Let’s play football as we can play it and we shall be all right.

Hailing from Silksworth, former miner Bobby Gurney equalised on 52 minutes – a commentator exclaiming: “that’s a goal that will give them something to talk about in the shipyards” – the most important goal of Gurney’s long and illustrious Sunderland career. Game on! Gurney was best man to Raich Carter at Carter’s wedding in the days before the final. Always confident, full of self-belief and cocksure, captain Carter fired Sunderland in front on 72 minutes. Carter was mobbed by his teammates and the Roker Roar lasted for several minutes afterwards with choruses of the song ‘Blaydon Races’ sung with gusto. Roared on by a huge Wearside presence at Wembley, the superb Eddie Burbank’s killed Preston’s hopes by scoring in the last ten minutes.

imgur.com – King George IV meets the Sunderland team.

After 53 years and 140 cup-ties, Sunderland had finally captured the most coveted prize in English football after years of failed attempts and near misses.

The significance of Sunderland’s FA Cup was recognised throughout the country. On May 3rd, the returning Sunderland party left King’s Cross to an enthusiastic send off in a pullman train that was covered in red and white colours. As the train drew North, crowds cheered, waved and packed full the station platforms of Grantham, Doncaster, York and Darlington. The locomotive also stopped at Newcastle train station and were cheered by a large crowd and congratulated by Newcastle’s Lord Mayor, John Grantham.

The train left Newcastle for Monkwearmouth station where a huge crowd waited for a glimpse of the victorious heroes. Carter commenting:

The crowds at Wembley, the crowds at King’s Cross, the crowds en route – they all paled into insignificance against the tumultuous reception as we drew into Sunderland…By comparison it had been quiet in the station. Stepping outside was like stepping on to an alarm signal. Suddenly everything went off. The tugs and ships in the river were hooting and blowing their sirens, railway engineers shrilled their whistles, bells rang and rattles crackled, there was shouting and cheering. It was like a thick concrete wall of deafening din. Then the cheering resolved itself into a Sunderland roar: ‘Ha’way The Lads!’ And the cry was taken up and surged round, echoing and re-echoing through the crowd who spread further than the eye could see. ‘Ha’way, ha’way, ha’way!’ cried half a million throats.

The Sunderland team toured the town in an open top bus to wild, continuous cheers of “Ha’way the Lads”. Roker Park opened to the public and 30,000 turned up to catch a glimpse of Carter, Gurney and co. A crate of beer which had been taken to the unsuccessful 1913 final and not drank following a disappointing loss was consumed with renewed vigour!

flickr.com – Raich Carter with Newcastle Lord Mayor, John Grantham.

The previously mentioned Bill Shankly became a footballing behemoth. As player and manager Shankly won the FA Cup and First Division three times each, the Charity Shield four times and the UEFA Cup once – making him a God in footballing terms. Yet, with all his knowledge and experience he still held the Sunderland team of the 1930’s in the highest regard. Shankly once explained:

In many ways, the Sunderland team of 1937 played the same brand of Total Football as the great Holland team of the 1970s. It was a frightening experience to visit Roker Park during the 1930s because Sunderland were such a terrific outfit.

A fitting tribute to the skilled technical football exhibited Sunderland team of 1937. The club would do well to further remember the heroes of the 1930’s, the fact there is no statue for manager Cochrane or the local lads Carter and Gurney is a source of embarrassment; especially given that the trio also won the Division One Championship and Charity Shield. Goalkeeper Johnny Mapson played over 385 times for Sunderland yet receives little attention despite having refused a transfer to Manchester City due to his admiration for the club. Likewise, Patsy Gallacher scored goals for fun: 100 in 273 appearances. They deserved to be remembered properly, and their gaping omissions prove that the club could do so much more to remember our terrific past.

This article is dedicated to Jarrow born goalkeeper, James Horatio Thorpe. Jimmy Thorpe would’ve undoubtedly kept goal for Sunderland at Wembley had he not passed away mid-way through the title winning season of 1935/36, due to injuries sustained in a match against Chelsea at Roker Park. Jimmy Thorpe just 22 years of age when he died.

I must also pay tribute to Paul Days, Mark Metcalf and Frank Garrick who make remembrance of the 1936/37 team possible with their research and writings – and to the brilliance of those local lads Carter and Gurney, without them Sunderland’s history would be far less rich.

ryehillfootball.co.uk – RIP Jimmy Thorpe
I leave you with yet another quote from Carter, and I hope it resonates in your soul as it does in mine:

This was my home town; these were my own folk. I was the local boy who had led the team to victory and brought home the Cup for which they had been waiting for fifty years. What more could any man ask? My happiness could never be more complete. It was worth winning the cup just for this.

(Roker Report) Why I love Sunderland AFC #6: “There’s a superb sense of togetherness and community”

My Dad wasn’t around when I was growing up and my Grandad had little to no interest in football. For years and years, I had to make do with second hand information on the playground at Richard Avenue Primary School from the kids lucky enough to visit the Stadium of Light. Sunderland AFC was the stuff of dreams for much of my infancy and I was desperate to be a part of this enigmatic world filled with such wonder.

However, one day in Year Four a gift from the Gods fell into my lap. Sunderland were offering discounted tickets to primary school kids and their choice of adult. I returned home that night and proceeded to beg my Mam to take me. I’m sure in all reality I really didn’t have to, for she’s a wonderful woman and would have taken me anyway; but such was my desperation, I pleaded and begged for her to take me.

With my birthday being on the 4th of October and the game on offer falling on the 18th, Mam happily agreed to take me as treat for turning nine. I was delighted and extremely excited; this was it, my first Sunderland game!

We journeyed over to the Stadium of Light where the Sunderland team facing Walsall that day was: Mart Poom, Darren Williams, George McCartney, Gary Breen, Alan Quinn, Joachim Bojorklund, John Oster, Jeff Whitley, Colin Healy and Marcus Stewart.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard that noise. The mass explosions of raucous laughter, disgust, joy, anger, ecstasy and passion. With 33,000 supporters in attendance that day I remember being completely overwhelmed. A little lad stunned into a silent state of shock at the sheer scale of the stadium and its deafening noise.

Sunderland v IpswichPhoto by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

Aside from the pure awe of such a momentous occasion, I distinctly remember George McCartney suffering some kind of facial injury during the first half – I think there may have even been blood involved. While McCartney was being treated on the touchline, a rare moment of quiet engulfed the stadium. As the silence enveloped the crowd, I remember a real, typical Sunderland gadgie standing up from his seat full of gusto and intent. He bellowed down to the touchline ‘Oi George, Oi McCartney!’, McCartney glanced up to the stand and Mr. Gadgie shouted, ‘I bet you still have no problem getting the girls though!’ McCartney chuckled and embarrassingly shook his head in disbelief, those fans in earshot of Mr. Gadgie burst out laughing – including my Mam!

It was a real trivial moment but one which I will take with me to the grave. An example of Sunderland wit and general daftness; my first taste of ‘football banter’ in all its glory. We have a good sense of humour up in the isolated North-East and the McCartney incident is the first time I remember this being expressed in footballing terms. It really was a glorious occurrence, one of those ‘you had to be there’ moments.

In truth, as far as I can recall, the match was rather dull, both teams were wary with Walsall playing more slightly more defensively. My nine-year-old mind wandered from the players on the pitch to the crowd and the stadium. I’d never seen that many people in one place. I’d never experienced so much colour, so many adults shouting, screaming and even swearing! The crowd seemed to be its own humongous being, moving and shouting in unison. I was fascinated, hooked from that point forever more.

As half-time approached fans started to leave their seats seeking refreshments from the concourse; my Mam – desperate for a coffee – and I followed the masses heading for the concession stands below. As we walked down I heard from behind me the mightiest of roars; Marcus Stewart had just put Sunderland 1-0 up in the 43rd minute. Bodies flew everywhere, the ground shook, beer flew and strangers hugged. Caught up in the euphoric outburst of joy I found myself totally absorbed, I was swept up in this outpouring or pure, raw emotion… except I hadn’t seen the goal, I had missed it.

Wigan Athletic v SunderlandPhoto by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

I’d spent years dreaming of a Sunderland goal at the Stadium of Light and I’d bloody missed it! At the time, I didn’t realise the gravity of the situation, but nowadays it is a constant source of embarrassment to me and amusement to my friends. After all the dreaming and longing I had missed my first Sunderland goal.

The missed goal still haunts me to this day. I still haven’t seen the strike and it appears I never will because I can’t find it on YouTube or anywhere else on the internet. The game did finish 1-0, however, so at least Sunderland had been victorious in my first game, I suppose.

Another junior Mackem was in attendance that day. Meeting for the first time on a Steels minibus to Villa Park in 2013 I got talking to fellow Roker Report writer, Micky Lough. Walsall was Micky’s second game and we shared a lot of the same memories. Micky managed to witness Stewart’s goal, and I would be lying if I said that this fact doesn’t irk me! This common ground did however forge the basis of a friendship that still exists to this day. The connection between Sunderland fans really is something to behold, there’s a superb sense of togetherness and community – something you just don’t find anywhere else.

The reason I love Sunderland AFC? For me, it’s the connection between fans coupled with the fact that I’m still – and forever will be – chasing that bloody Marcus Stewart goal.

Bobby Gurney: A Forgotten Sunderland Hero

Sunderland v Leeds, Boxing Day of the 1935/36 season. The game is poised at 1-1 with four minutes to go and with Sunderland’s one hundred percent home record at risk, up steps Mr. Robert ‘Bobby’ Gurney…

Captain Raich Carter lifts the 1937 FA Cup. Bobby Gurney (Furthest on the right) scored in the 3-1 win against Preston North End.
 SAFC.com

Just inside the penalty area one Robert Gurney had received the ball, and hooked it away into the right-hand side of the net. Albert McInroy stood speechless with disgust and annoyance, while one gentleman in the grandstand turned to throw his arms around the neck of his wife and kiss her… Once again Gurney had done the seemingly impossible.

The game ended in a 2-1 victory, leaving Sunderland five points clear at the top of Division One with their 100% home record firmly intact. Such was the importance of Gurney’s contribution, Argus in the Sunderland Echo stated that ‘There is only one Bobby Gurney’. Sunderland secure their sixth Division One title that season. Gurney finished joint top scorer with 31 goals alongside Raich Carter.

‘Wor Bobby’ was a Sunderland goal scoring phenomenon – a supremely talented local lad hailing from Silksworth. Gurney played as centre-forward scoring 227 goals in 390 appearances for his hometown club, top-scorer for seven consecutive seasons and scorer of Sunderland’s first ever Wembley goal.

Gurney’s playing style was unorthodox however, and his abilities saw him dubbed a ‘complete centre-forward’ by the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail. Besides being remarkably quick, Gurney – ever the opportunist – lead opposition defences a merry dance with his constant wanderings, frequently beating goalkeepers with his splendid shot.

Despite still being Sunderland’s record goal-scorer, winning the First Division in 1936 and FA Cup in 1937, little has been written about Gurney’s exploits. Outside of the North-East he is largely unknown; no biography of Gurney exists, he does not even feature in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (a site profiling important British individuals who have shaped local and national history and culture).

To put this into perspective; Gurney’s Sunderland contemporary and close friend Raich Carter has received much attention, including an excellent biography and extensive description of his career in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. It is a real disgrace that even on SAFC.com Gurney is only afforded three of the shortest paragraphs imaginable in tribute to his glittering career.

 https://ashleypreece90.wordpress.com

Internationally, Gurney only made a single appearance for the England national team in his career – such was the disappointment on Wearside following Gurney’s constant omission, despite numerous trials, Argus in the Echo was left wondering ‘If International trials are held only to give members of the FA a day out’.

Raich Carter sacrificed his own talents while playing for England to service the ‘star individualist’ Stanley Matthews, illuminating a clear parallel between the industrial North-East existing to fuel London. If Carter’s England exploits represent ‘carboniferous capitalism’ then the constant omission of Gurney by the national team selectors – despite his outrageous goal scoring talents – demonstrates the beginning of a clear theme of rejection towards Sunderland players for international honours and more general political apathy shown towards the region.

Kevin Phillips, Brian Clough, Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe amongst others have been overlooked by England despite displaying prolific goal-scoring on Wearside. The case of Gurney’s rejection coupled with Sunderland’s past and present political situation causes one to wonder whether Sunderland have ever truly featured in the minds of policy makers and national team selectors.

 scoopnest.com

The North-East was reported as being ‘naturally delighted’ when Gurney was finally picked to represent his country in his one and only appearance in 1935 by the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, poising the rather loaded question, ‘was there ever football honour more richly deserved?’, suggesting that Gurney had been for a long time wrongly overlooked due to a southern player bias.

Gurney was not underrated by Sunderland fans. Admiration and appreciation for Gurney’s footballing ability was consistently apparent amongst fans – they adored Gurney and the team in which he played.

Following the 1935/36 Division One win the Sunderland players attended a performance with runners-up Derby County at the Sunderland Empire Theatre on the 6th of May 1936. The gathering crowds desire to pay tribute to Gurney and his teammates meant that extra policemen were required to control them. Inside the Empire a informal stage gathering occurred. Local lad Bobby Gurney addressed the adoring public alongside captain Alex Hastings, illuminating his importance to the local community.

Gurney reciprocated the idolisation of the Sunderland fans, making the loving relationship between Gurney and Sunderland a definite two way street.

Having studied countless editions of the Sunderland Echo, one thing that initially stands out is how embedded Bobby Gurney seemed in the local community. In 1935, Gurney accepted an invitation to be guest in an event in Weardale, to which 1,000 people were expected. In the same year, Gurney acted as linesman in a benefit game for George Witwham, who had suffered a fractured leg playing against Murton Wanderers for Silksworth. In 1939, Gurney turned out at Ashbrooke Cricket Club in another benefit match for a professional cricketer named Hutchinson. Benefit matches tended to be played when then low-paid sportsmen retired or suffered a serious injury to help aid them financially.

Gurney mirrored the tough ideals and never-say-die culture of the Wearside people. Four minutes into an FA Cup tie in 1939, Gurney collided with the Blackburn goalkeeper and had to be carried from the field by ambulance men. Gurney suffered concussion, a fractured leg and torn achilles. Despite his horrific and no doubt painful injuries, Gurney bravely returned to the field of play before being withdrawn at half time. Such was the sympathy towards Gurney, many fans waited to greet him when he returned to Sunderland from Blackburn. The passionate scenes at Sunderland train station almost moved Gurney to tears. He stated in the Echo that the ‘enthusiasm which greeted me was most touching’. Gurney, like his team mate Carter, had a deep connection to Sunderland.

Gurney’s leg break, coupled with the advent of World War Two, meant that Blackburn was to be Gurney’s last Division One appearance. He remained at the club until 1946, starring in guest matches and friendlies during the war.

After leaving his beloved Sunderland, Gurney remained in football. In 1948 he was elected to the Council of Durham Football Association (DFA) before going on to manage the local teams of Hartlepool, Darlington and Horden Colliery FC.

Even when Gurney had retired he continued his activity in the local community, delivering a talk on football-tactics to members of the Sunderland Technical School Old Boys’ Association in 1946. His role in the DFA allowed Gurney to present another football-tactics lesson to the Boys Brigade at Grange Road Methodist Church Hall in 1949. Gurney even joined a team of writers at the Sunderland Echo Football Edition in 1946 – he was clearly a proud Sunderland man, involved passionately in every aspect of the city.

Above all else, Gurney was viewed by the people as a genuinely nice person. His community involvement and apparent pleasant personality confirm this; and this was backed up by Argus in the Sunderland Echo, who commented:

The man who cannot get along with Bobby Gurney would create a row in an empty house.

Bobby Gurney represents the truest of Sunderland legends, and his career deserves more remembrance than it has – or rather has not – received. Undoubtedly, the club and the supporters probably should pay more attention to the likes of Raich Carter and Bobby Gurney. They deserve to be celebrated just as much as legends like Jimmy Montgomery, Bobby Kerr and Ian Porterfield.

In a time of poor performances and potential relegation, the study of Bobby Gurney provides me with a fresh sense of pride, strengthening my love for our great football club and our resilient city.

Bobby Gurney passed away in April 1994, aged 86.