Yet, when the 1957-58 season drew to a close with the club sitting second bottom of the First Division, Sunderland supporters experienced that sinking feeling for the very first time.
This fall from grace for one of the country’s greatest football clubs came on the back of the 1957 illegal payments scandal which saw the club fined £5,000 and the Chairman and three directors suspended from football.
It was a sorry end to a period during which the club’s big spending approach saw Sunderland dubbed the “Bank of England Club”. Indeed, Trevor Ford’s arrival in 1950 for £30,000 broke a world transfer record and seemed to herald exciting times ahead for the club.
Sadly, the “Bank of England” approach failed to pay dividends for Sunderland, during a decade which must have been all the more frustrating for the Roker Park faithful given that it also saw Newcastle win the FA Cup three times.
Still, Sunderland were one of the most established top flight clubs, finishing 4th in the league as recently as 1954-55 and reaching FA Cup semi-finals in 1955 and 1956.
1957-58 saw Sunderland win ten games, drawing twelve, whilst losing their remaining twenty fixtures. This gave Sunderland the same number of points as 20th placed Portsmouth and 19th placed Newcastle, but a significantly lower goal average (0.556 goals as against 0.830 and 0.901 respectively) saw the club relegated for the first time since joining the Football League in 1890.
Leadgate born inside forward Alan O’Neill was the club’s top scorer that season, notching 13 goals in 32 league games, but his contribution was not enough to keep the side in the division. Len Shackleton also played his last game for Sunderland, and last game as a professional footballer in 1957, an ankle injury on the opening day of the season leading to his retirement shortly after.
One can only speculate as to the contribution that a thirty five year old Shack might have made to Sunderland’s season, but with Don Revie’s 12 in 39 the only other significant source of goals in the side during that season it is not difficult to fathom one of the key reason’s for the team’s demise.
Sunderland would remain in the second tier for six seasons, finally gaining promotion back to the top-flight in 1963-64.
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