clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Man City equal Sunderland’s 125-yr most top-flight wins record; here’s the 1891-2 story of glory

Manchester City clocked up a 13th straight top-flight victory yesterday to equal a record held jointly by Sunderland and Preston for 125 years, along with Arsenal’s 2001-2 side and Chelsea’s last season.

Sunderland won 13 consecutive Division One games in the 1891-92 season - in a run that stretched from November to April - and saw victories over Burnley, Notts County, Darwen, Everton, Wolves, Bolton, Accrington, Preston North End, and Aston Villa. The eventual league winners also did the double over Derby County and Stoke City.

The run has been a record ever since, as Sunderland matched Preston’s own sequence of results in the same season, and until yesterday had only ever been matched by Arsenal in 2001-2 and Chelsea in 2016/17.

Here’s the story of how that glorious Sunderland season panned out.


In 1890/91 Sunderland had finished their first ever league season in seventh place. The second half of the campaign had been much better than the first, with seven victories and just one defeat in the final ten fixtures.

The squad was strengthened with the arrival of forward James Hannah, who went on to become one of Sunderland’s greats, and Donald Gow. Like in the first season, the Newcastle Road side started badly and after four games Sunderland were in last place.

With Johnny Campbell and Hannah starting to combine well up front things improved dramatically. Four consecutive games were won, including a 5-2 success at Stoney Lane, the then home of West Bromwich Albion.

Newcastle Road

Sunderland lost 3-1 at Blackburn Rovers on the first Saturday in November but after that were unbeatable - at least in the League.

Hannah drove Sunderland ahead after just five minutes at home to Derby County, but the real star was Campbell who scored four, equaling his feat from the previous season against Bolton. Derby left beaten 7-1.

Burnley in the 1890s were nicknamed ‘the Butchers’ and they maintained their reputation for been vicious opponents when they visited Sunderland. The penalty kick had been introduced at the start of the season and Hugh Wilson drew the home side level with his third of the season, before John Smith hit the winner.

The start of the season had seen the referee given complete control of affairs on the pitch and the chief official, Mr Stacey, was given a torrid time by Burnley’s players.

Sunderland easily beat Stoke 3-1 away where the home keeper Bill Rowley had a fine game. The home side were forced to play in Amber and black due to a new ruling, later scrapped, that only one style of kit could be used by one club during the season and the red and white stripes had been allocated to their opponents.

Sunderland made it four in a row by beating Notts County 4-0 before thrashing bottom placed Darwen 7-0 at home, with James Millar scoring three. This success meant that Sunderland had won every home League and FA Cup match in 1891.

J M Campbell of Sunderland 1982

Sunderland had arranged to play two matches over Christmas, and on 25 December 1891 they played at Anfield for the first time and comprehensively beat League Champions Everton 4-0. Until the summer of 1891 Everton played at what would later become Liverpool FC's home.

Some Evertonians had clearly had a little too much to drink and a number came on to the pitch towards the end of the game but were quickly ushered away. The following day, at Molineux, Sunderland fell behind to a Wolverhampton side but were soon ahead and won 3-1. And, when news of the result reached home via the telegraph system, there was real jubilation amongst Sunderland fans who now entertained real hopes of a first title success when the League season resumed in March, a break being taken for the FA Cup, then the number one competition in the world to take place.

In the FA Cup, Sunderland made it through to play Aston Villa in the semi final but played very poorly and were beaten 4-1 by the Villans before a 28,000 crowd at Bramall Lane. Villa and Sunderland were to become great rivals over the next few seasons.

Sunderland remained in third spot on 1 March 1892 by beating Bolton 4-1 at home and then travelled to Accrington, the only one of the original twelve league members in 1888/89 that do not exist today, to beat the home side 5-2.

The Sunderland side of 1891-2

Preston North End came north as League leaders but were crushed 4-1. Despite a severe snowstorm, a 12,000 crowd assembled for what was then the biggest gate of the season. At 2-1, the away side remained in with a chance but a cracking John Scott goal was followed soon after by a David Hannah goal as Sunderland moved into second place with games in hand, one of which was at Derby.

Playing on the Racecourse Ground, the away side seemed set to end a ten match winning run but with five minutes remaining centre half John Auld snatched the winner from a corner.

Next up was Aston Villa, who had been beaten by WBA in the FA Cup final, at home and what a match this proved to be. Campbell drove his side ahead but with just five minutes left John Devey scored for the Villians. The goal was met with total silence amongst the crowd. On 88 minutes a Gow free kick found Gibson who swung over the ball and when it was headed home by James Hannah the crowd went wild, something they repeated two minutes later when the referee Mr Cooper sounded the final whistle and Sunderland left the field top of the League for the first time ever.

A thirteenth consecutive Sunderland victory was achieved in the following match when two James Hannah goals and two Campbell goals saw off Stoke 4-1 at home. In the following game at the Castle Ground, Sunderland missed a penalty and lost 1-0 against Notts County.

In just their second season of League football, Sunderland clinched their first League title with two matches to spare when Blackburn Rovers, who had travelled overnight by train, left Newcastle Road beaten 6-1. The star of the show was Campbell, his three goals in this match helping to make him the top scorer in the League, a feat he also achieved in 1892/93 and 1894/95.

Having won every home game during the season, Sunderland finished off the season with two further away victories at Darwen and Burnley. The campaign had been a major success, with 21 League wins and 5 defeats, and the new Champions finished 5 points ahead of second placed Preston North End.

The election of Sunderland into the Football League for the start of the 1890/91 season had been a roaring success and the Wearsiders were now set to become one of the most famous names in football - and, in the following season, Sunderland amazingly went on to do even better.


Mark Metcalf was due to have published in October a book on Sunderland 1890-92, but it has been decided to issue two books on 1890/91 and 1891/92 next year. Mark’s highly successful book on the Sheffield Wednesday and England legend from this period in Fred Spiksley - called ‘Flying Over an Olive Grove ‘ - remains on sale at the ALS shop and via www.spiksley.com.