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The Glory days: One of the finest games in Sunderland’s history was played against Birmingham

Sunderland historian Mark Metcalf looks back at a game played between Sunderland and Birmingham in 1936 that had massive implications in our hunt for the League title.

Sunderland have faced Birmingham City on many occasions at St Andrews, but one game stands above any other and that took place on Easter Monday 13 April 1936.

Three days previously league leaders Sunderland had beaten Birmingham City 2-1 before a 41,500 Roker Park crowd. The scoreline failed to do justice to the Wearsiders who twice hit the woodwork, missed a host of chances and were frequently denied by an inspired Harry Hibbs, who was a fine goalkeeper who made 25 international appearances for England.

When Patsy Gallacher had headed Sunderland ahead after just two minutes it raised hopes that this most brilliant of sides would finish the day by breaking a hundred League goals for the season, his effort making it 96.

The away side snatched a shock equaliser on 15 minutes when Fred Harris, pivoting quickly, turned the ball beyond eighteen-year old Johnny Mapson, who was making only his second of what ultimately proved to be 382 first team appearances in the Sunderland goal. Just over two months earlier the whole town of Sunderland had been left shocked when regular keeper Jimmy Thorpe had died after sustaining a number of injuries during the home game against Chelsea on 1 February 1936.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Arsenal v Sunderland - Highbury
Sunderland goalkeeper Jimmy Thorpe died of injuries sustained in a game with Chelsea in 1936
Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

Sunderland took both points on Easter Friday 1936 when Raich Carter hooked the ball beyond Hibbs and Gallacher, looking suspiciously offside, made sure by heading it into the net. The success meant that the winning side travelled over the Pennines that night knowing that if they beat Bolton Wanderers the following day that the First Division title was theirs, even though Sunderland still had a further four games to play once the match at Burnden Park had ended.

Sunderland grabbed an early lead through Carter but finished the game losing 2-1 to Bolton Wanderers. Most of the match was played in midfield, and in a game of few chances Bolton took the two they created with Jack Milson and Jack Atkinson scoring.

Two days later Sunderland, with Gallacher missing due to injury, took the chance to clinch the title, the club’s sixth, which brought them level with Aston Villa as the most successful League club ever at the time.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Sunderland
Raich Carter
Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

Many reporters afterwards remarked they had never seen Sunderland play better as they showed they were worthy champions by winning 7-2. Carter was the inspiration and his constant prompting and probing had the home defence in knots. Frank Clack in the home goal played the match of his life and thus prevented the away side establishing a new all-time League away victory to beat Sunderland’s 9-1 thrashing of Newcastle back in December 1908.

Bobby Gurney put his side ahead on 13 minutes and it was Sunderland’s 99th League goal in the season. Only once previously - in 1892-93 - had 100 goals been scored in a season. Birmingham equalised through Joe Loughran on 31 minutes but five minutes later Carter smashed home the ball to make it 100 goals!

Birmingham were not finished though and the 21,693 crowd saw the home side again equalise, this time through Albert Clark on 41 minutes.

Utility man Cecil Hornby had been signed from Leeds United at a cost of £1,000 in February 1936 and he only went on to make 13 first team appearances for Sunderland. Playing at inside right he scored his first goal for his new side when he cleverly headed home Carter’s cross to put Sunderland 3-2 ahead at the break.

On 55 minutes the away side made it 4-2 with a goal credited to Gallacher. Yet in fact the final touch was made by Carter, who afterwards said he had only touched it to make sure it crossed the line and therefore it should - and was - given to his colleague.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Sunderland Photocall Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

Eight minutes later Carter created another goal for Gurney, who snatched his fourth on 75 minutes when he guided a Bert Davis corner beyond Clack. With four minutes to go the irrepressible Carter presented an unmissable chance to Scottish international Jimmy Connor who completed the scoring. It was Sunderland’s third 7-2 success in the League in 1935-36.

Despite having watched their side humbled, the home fans applauded Sunderland from the pitch. Among the crowd was a small party of Sunderland fans who had travelled through the night to watch this thrilling event. The fans were invited to join the players at a nearby hotel where they heard the Sunderland chairman, Sir Walter Raine, congratulate the players on their brilliant season.

Within an hour of the game finishing, Sunderland received a telegram of congratulations from the old champions Arsenal. In a season when each victory earned two points, Sunderland, despite losing the final two games, went on to win the League title by eight points. A total of 109 League goals were notched.


Mark Metcalf wrote a book titled TOTAL FOOTBALL with Paul Days on the Sunderland AFC 1935 to 1937 side.

Vintage art prints featuring Raich Carter hoisting aloft the FA Cup at Wembley in 1937 can be purchased by clicking here.