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Flawed footballers, food fights & fracas: A history of Sunderland v Sheffield Wednesday!

Mark Metcalf once again joins us for a look at the tumultous early history of Sunderland's clashes with Sheffield Wednesday.

Flying Over An Olive Grove

Fred Spiksley played for Sheffield Wednesday between 1891 and 1903, a period when Sunderland enjoyed its most successful period, winning four League titles in 1891/2, 1892/3, 1894/5 and 1901/02. During the same time, Wednesday won the FA Cup in 1896 and League in 1902/03, when Sunderland finished second.

Wednesday and Sunderland thus played many big games against one another on four grounds - Olive Grove, Hillsborough, Newcastle Road and Roker Park. Some of these games, particularly those in Sunderland had a habit of turning riotous.

The sides first faced each other in the League on 29 October 1892. The Wearsiders had thrashed Aston Villa at Perry Barr on 17 September 1892 and afterwards William McGregor dubbed them the “Team of All the Talents”. The week before the game with Wednesday, Sunderland had beaten West Bromwich Albion 8-1 with Johnny Campbell scoring twice. The Scot finished as top scorer in Division One in 1891/92, 1892/93 and 1894/95.

Mark Metcalf

Campbell once again opened the scoring against Wednesday. After gaining possession on the halfway line he raced away before beating Bill Allan with a surprise snapshot that gave the ’keeper no chance. Sunderland ’keeper Ted Doig, who always wore a cap because he was embarrassed about being bald, also had no chance when Alec Brady equalised with a long dropping shot. Jock Scott restored Sunderland’s lead but after Brady, a former Sunderland player, equalised, A. R. Hall scored the winner from a free kick that saw the Olive Road ground erupt. Sunderland’s defeat failed to prevent them racing to the title and they finished with eleven points more than second-placed Preston.

In 1896, Sunderland, the reigning League Champions travelled to Olive Grove to face Wednesday in the second round of the FA Cup, which was the Trophy all Wearsiders were desperate to see their side win.

The teams ran out to a tremendous roar and the game started frantically before Wednesday began dragging the Sunderland defence out of position and shots rained in on Ned Doig’s goal. From a half-cleared corner, the normally reliable Robert McNeil, the Sunderland right back, was too slow in closing down Spiksley and, taking advantage, the Wednesday man chipped the ball to the back post where Lawrence Bell headed the first goal. With Ted Doig performing heroics, this looked like being the home side’s only reward in a first half they had dominated. However, on 44 minutes Bell made another scintillating break.

As the Sunderland defenders were sucked towards him he fed the ball beyond them to Spiksley:

... who with a really brilliant run and shot put on the second goal for the home side amidst enthusiastic cheering.

Sheffield Telegraph, 17/02/1896.

Sunderland had been outplayed in the first half and understood that they needed to keep much better possession of the ball. The Wednesday players had to work hard to close down the away side. In doing so the effects of the hard game against Aston Villa began to take their toll.

Ned Doig
PA Images via Getty

Sunderland reduced the arrears when Jimmy Millar’s quick throw-in to Johnny Hannah put several Wednesday players out of position. Hannah drew Jimmy Massey out of goal and squared the ball to Millar who pushed it into the empty net on sixty minutes.

Sunderland were now right back in the tie and their chances increased considerably when a high tackle by Hugh Wilson on Spiksley left the winger out of the game. It was now the turn of Jack Earp and his lieutenants, Tom Crawshaw and Ambrose Langley, together with the support of Harry Brandon and Jimmy Jamieson, to defend for their lives. They did so with great resolution and when the final whistle sounded the home side were in the final eight of the FA Cup. The cheers of the home fans could be heard right across Sheffield. Wednesday went on to win the FA Cup beating Wolves 2-1 in the final with Spiksley scoring the Wednesday goals. His first is probably the quickest ever in the final.

The sides met again in the 1898 FA Cup on what proved to be the final FA cup tie at Newcastle Road. Work was under way at nearby Roker Park, which would become Sunderland’s home for the next 99 years.

PA Images via Getty Images

Having beaten Wednesday twice earlier in the season the home fans were in a confident mood and a 17,893 crowd turned out for the big occasion.

Sunderland had undergone their own special training at Gosforth for a match that was keenly anticipated and demonstrated why the decision to move to Roker Park was the correct one as by 1.45pm, one hour before kick-off, Newcastle Road was full to capacity with the gates locked. Hundreds of spectators that had been turned away were determined to see the game. At each end of the ground people climbed on each other’s shoulders and scrambled up 20ft high walls before reaching down and assisting their helpers to gain entry and then leaping into the packed crowd. It was a miracle nobody was killed.

The away side was cheered on to the pitch by their supporters, many wearing blue and white favours. The home fans were in great voice and after cheering for their own favourites a number began to abuse Langley, who had previously played extremely vigorously when the sides had met.

Getty Images

Sunderland attacked with the wind at their backs and from the off the away side were pegged back. Massey rushed out to prevent Hugh Wilson scoring and then made two brilliant diving saves. Meanwhile Langley had managed to further anger the Sunderland crowd with some robust tackling. One supporter threw his breakfast can at the Wednesday full back and when it hit a policeman he, displaying not the slightest degree of surprise, simply pocketed it. No doubt it would come in handy for his lunch.

High balls into the Wednesday goalmouth was Sunderland’s preferred option but all they did was prove that Crawshaw was the greatest header of a football in the English game with Langley not far behind. Corner after corner was headed clear and when Sunderland did get the ball and Wilson ran clear, Crawshaw timed his tackle perfectly to come away with the ball.

The Wednesday goal was finally breached when Peter Boyle’s 30-yard free kick beat Massey, but the ’keeper knew it had not touched anyone, so there was no alarm and the game restarted with a goal kick.

When Wednesday did get forward an overhead bicycle kick by Harry Davis was brilliantly saved by Doig amid huge cheers. W Dryburgh was then denied by a last-ditch Peter Boyle tackle as Wednesday began to dominate possession and Doig did well to save a A Kaye effort. With the interval only minutes away Langley prevented Hugh Morgan getting his shot away and this prompted another bout of jeering, booing, hissing and missile-throwing at the Wednesday man. Langley ignored the abuse as he left the pitch at half-time.

Spiksley played for England too
Victorian Football

On the return when Spiksley did get away he was hauled over. Minutes later a terrible Philip Bach challenge on the Wednesday player left him writhing in agony convinced the kick he had received to his arm had left it broken. There was a two-minute delay while the doctor examined the severely bruised arm after which the England international continued despite his obvious discomfort. Minutes later he hit a great shot that Doig tipped over.

Doig also fisted away a shot from Dryburgh as the game entered the final ten minutes at which point, true to tradition, the Sunderland flag on the flagpole was lowered as a signal to players and fans that time was running out. On 82 minutes the goal that the away side deserved arrived when Brady and Spiksley combined to send Kaye clear.

The Sunderland defenders chasing him down but the Wednesday centre forward held them off before dinking the ball over Doig. As the ball nestled in the net the Wednesday fans let out an explosion of noise while, in stark comparison, the Sunderland fans and players stood disbelieving in stunned silence. Sunderland were beaten and the better team had won.

Many in the crowd were unhappy with the result and were looking for someone to blame. Their target was Langley and when the game ended a number of home fans were threatening to spill on to the pitch and get their hands on the Wednesday man. Fortunately there were sufficient policemen on hand to protect the Wednesday players by escorting them to the safety of the dressing room.

In view of the hostility towards Langley, the Sunderland executive thought it wise if the crowd didn’t see him again after the match. Unruly elements had gathered around the main entrance shouting “Where is he – the bastard.” Langley left by the back door with a police escort. Sunderland hired a hansom cab to take him to the hotel where they had hired a private room and laid on food, drink and refreshments for the Wednesday party. The rest of the Wednesday players left Newcastle Road an hour late and after running the gauntlet of the Sunderland mob they were taken by a circuitous route through Sunderland as they shook off any remaining pursuers. On arrival at the private dining room they found Langley sitting quietly in front of a roaring log fire sipping tea and consuming buttered toasted muffins.

Sunderland first faced Wednesday at Hillsborough on 13 April 1901. Victory would have set the away side up for the title. The Sunderland side’s success was based on a solid defence who conceded just 26 goals in 34 League games.

Up against right back Andrew McCombie, Fred Spiksley had the beating of his opponent and from his cross, Harry Chapman set up Andrew Wilson for what proved to be the only goal of a wind-affected match. Sunderland’s defeat allowed Liverpool to win their first Division One title.

Two seasons later, Wednesday and Sunderland were locked with Aston Villa in their own battle to win the title.

On 21 March 1903, Wednesday played at Sunderland, who had won nine and drawn two of their previous League games. A crowd of 22,000 was inside Roker Park for a real thriller which was decided when Wilson beat his Scottish compatriot Doig in the Sunderland goal with a magnificent twenty-yard shot early in the second half. The first had seen neither side able to exert any authority, with few chances created as the game became a fierce affair largely conducted in the middle of the pitch.

The crowd were angered by referee Mr Armitt from Leek when he disallowed a goal for a challenge on Jack Lyall that saw the ’keeper bundled into the net. The referee was booed, heckled, jeered and sworn at and even pelted with oranges; the game only continued after consultation between the referee and his linesmen. The win put Wednesday in top place.

Not that the Wednesday players initially had cause for wild celebrations because after the match had ended some of the home fans gathered outside the main stand on a road that was being repaired. Picking up stones, Sunderland supporters pelted the Wednesday team’s wagonette as it departed Roker Park on its way to the railway station. It was something of a miracle that no-one was seriously injured as the players threw themselves on to the floor of the conveyance as rocks hammered off it. Those that missed smashed windows of nearby houses. The police, who also came under attack, helped take the referee out of the exit on the opposite side of the ground.

While the glaziers worked overtime the fans’ actions forced the FA to order that Sunderland’s next home match, against near neighbours Middlesbrough, should take place away from Roker Park. It was played at St James’ Park but that did not handicap the Wearsiders who won 2-1 to maintain their title challenge.

In the event it was playing at Newcastle in the final game of the season that cost Sunderland the title when they were beaten 1-0 and thus finished a point behind Wednesday, who won the title for the first time in their history.