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On This Day (21 Oct 1959): Sunderland take on Austrian league leaders in Roker Park ‘friendly’

ON THIS DAY (1959): Alan Brown’s full-strength team faced off against Rapid Vienna – just days before their longest away trip of the season. And the Austrians didn’t take too kindly to the footballing lesson the Roker side inflicted upon them.

Charlie Hurley Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

On this day in 1959, over 12,000 supporters headed to Roker Park to watch Sunderland hammer Austrian league leaders 5-2 – with all of the goals coming in a remarkable first half, which caused much consternation in the Austrian ranks.

After beating Derby County at home just a few days earlier, Sunderland were sitting in 7th position in the Second Division, and Alan Brown made just two changes to his starting XI, with John Goodchild and Alan O’Neill coming in for Jackie Maltby and Ernie Taylor.

By today’s standards the prospect of playing a full strength side in a mid-season friendly seems to be bordering on the ridiculous, however it was a relatively common occurrence during these times, with only two competitions to play in – the league and the FA Cup.

What seems even more strange is that it was the team’s second friendly in an October that already had five league fixtures (a home game against Swiss side Winterthur was abandoned midway through the second half for fog, with Sunderland leading 3-0) and following this Wednesday night clash the team would travel to Plymouth Argyle before facing Liverpool at home.

On the bench was 16-year-old Nick Sharkey, who had scored 116 goals for Silksworth Juniors the season before – and had bagged eight in a Northern Intermediate League game against Scunthorpe while the first XI beat Derby.

In the Rapid side was Gerhard Hanappi, one of the best – if not the best Austrian player of his generation. Hanappi notched up 93 appearances for his country throughout his career, and 333 games for Rapid, scoring 114 goals.

Footballplayer Gerhard Hanappi in the Stadium of Rapid, Vienna, Photograph 1961
Gerhard Hanappi in the Stadium of Rapid, Vienna

Interestingly, after retirement from football, Hanappi became an architect and designed the Weststadion – the new home ground for Rapid. After his death in 1980 it was renamed the Gerhard Hanappi stadium.

Still, all of this was a long time in the future on 21 October 1959, as Sunderland, skippered by Charlie Hurley lined up like this:

Wakeham, Irwin, Ashurst, Anderson, Hurley, McNab, Goodchild, Fogarty, Lawther, O’Neill, Grainger. Subs: Harvey, Sharkey.

Sunderland stormed into an early lead thanks to the recalled O’Neill, who shot past keeper Zeman after being set up by Grainger.

Reiter equalised for Rapid before Grainger himself, and a minute later a Stan Anderson penalty was saved by Zeman.

Goals from Fogarty and Lawther followed – replied by Bertalan – before O’Neill out away Sunderland’s second penalty of the night a minute before half time.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Charlton Athletic v Sunderland
Lawther notched against Rapid
Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

Sharkey and Harvey game on as subs for a second half that turned into a bit of a scrap. Newspaper reports said:

Later, the game’s entertainment value declined sharply, and the Austrians can take the blame.

They made it abundantly clear that a 5-2 defeat weighed too heavily on their shoulders.

The Austrians tried to do everything but win friends.

Hoeiti was booked after fouling Grainger, and several of his colleagues allowed themselves to get far too hot under their collars.

The angry Austrians still failed to match Sunderland for football, effort, ideas or correct sports behaviour.

In the second half, an ankle injury was sustained by captain Hurley. He was replaced by McNab, who himself had been withdrawn at half time.

Whether it was the result of the Austrian’s determination to keep the scores down, or simply one of those things isn’t clear.

What is clear is that Charlie was ruled out of Saturday’s long trip as a consequence – and at Home Park it gave the opportunity for Martin Harvey – who’d impressed as a second half sub against Rapid – the opportunity for his debut in a game that finished goalless.

Fellow sub Sharkey had to wait a few months longer – he was given his debut the following April in a 1-0 home win over Scunthorpe.