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How Sunderland’s record home defeat by Saturday’s visitors Birmingham City proved catastrophic

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Sunderland’s record-equalling home defeat in 1958 proved catastrophic as the club plummeted into the Second Division for the first time in its history. Author Mark Metcalf returns to tell the tale.

The Sunderland team of 1957-8
Paul Days

Sunderland’s record defeat is 8-0, a feat they have ‘achieved’ on four occasions against Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham United, Watford and Southampton. All these matches were played away and ultimately the actual defeat had no major implications as they did not prevent the Wearsiders winning the League or cause the club to be relegated at the end of the season. In comparison, Sunderland’s record-equalling home defeat against Birmingham in April 1958 did prove fatal.

Sunderland had joined the Football League in 1890 and by 1958 they had played all their League games in Division One, a record unequaled by any other club. It was a proud achievement and one that was printed on the front of the home programmes for the 1957-58 season.

As Sunderland began 1958 their record home defeat was a 6-1 humbling by local rivals Newcastle United on Boxing Day 1955. Stan Anderson, playing at right half that day, reckoned:

... it was a fluke. I still maintain there wasn’t much between the sides apart for the finishing of Jackie Milburn, who was at his magnificent best. The statistics show we had nine corners and Newcastle five. We took nine goal kicks and they took 13.

Sunderland had their revenge later in the 1955-56 season when they beat Newcastle, the FA Cup holders, at St James’ Park in the quarter finals of the FA Cup. The path to Wembley though was to be blocked by Birmingham City who scored three goals without replay against Sunderland at Hillsborough in the semi-final.

Sunderland started the 1957-58 season badly and new signing centre half Charlie Hurley failed to immediately fit in. His first two games, away to Blackpool and Burnley respectively saw Sunderland beaten 7-0 and 6-0. It took Alan Brown’s side nine games before they recorded an away win when they beat Birmingham City 3-2 at St Andrews.

Birmingham’s St Andrews ground in the 1950s

When Sunderland played the return home fixtures against Blackpool and Burnley in February they lost 4-1 and 3-2 respectively. The conceding of eleven goals in 1957-58 against Blackpool is the most Sunderland have conceded in a League season against one side.

Bottom of the table after losing at Preston on 1 March 1958, Sunderland began a fight to stay up when they drew 3-3 at home to Sheffield Wednesday the following weekend. A Don Revie goal at White Hart Lane saw the Wearsiders return with both points and Sunderland then beat WBA 2-0 at home before taking a point from each away game at Chelsea and Manchester United, where the away side were much the better side, on Easter Friday.

The following afternoon Sunderland faced Birmingham City at Roker Park before a crowd of 34,184. Two days later they were set to face a Manchester United side that following the Munich tragedy on 8 February had needed to be refashioned and who had yet to win a League match.

Roker Park

Sunderland were blown away by the Blues, who roared into a 4-0 lead after 15 minutes. On two minutes Bryan Orritt was left unmarked and headed Harry Hooper’s cross past Bill Fraser. Hooper made it two on nine minutes. George Aitken then failed to control the ball to allow Peter Murphy to net before the Sunderland defender then made a wayward pass that was snapped up by Orritt for his second of the game, and Birmingham’s fourth. Sunderland were at sixes and sevens and in truth the scoreline of 0-4 at the interval flattered the home side who were overrun by a Birmingham side that hit long balls rather than try, as Sunderland did, to pass the ball through the mud.

The West Midlands side made it 5-0 on fifty minutes when a run by Eddy Brown took him beyond Aitken and Reg Pearce and Gordon Astall finished off the attack in style. Revie reduced the arrears on 74 minutes but with three minutes remaining Brown made it a record equalling home defeat to leave the away side 6-1 victors.

The defeated side stayed a place above the relegation zone but despite taking the lead in the following match against Manchester United through Ambrose Fogarty, Sunderland lost the match when Colin Webster netted twice.

The following Saturday saw Manchester City, who beat Birmingham City 3-1 in the 1956 FA Cup final, overcome a spirited Sunderland side 3-1 at Maine Road. The defeated XI fell to bottom place in the table and despite two victories in the final two matches of the season Sunderland were relegated for the first time in their history.