On March 6th 1937, Sunderland were drawn away to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the Quarter Final of the FA Cup – the trophy that we, of course, won that season, eventually beating Preston North End 3-1 in the final at Wembley Stadium.
In the week leading up to the 6th round tie, the Sunderland players and staff stayed at Bushey Hall, preparing for the big game away from the north-east.
On the Monday evening, however, something rather strange occurred.
Out of the blue, a letter arrived for Sunderland’s 20-year-old goalie Johnny Mapson. It bore a London postmark, outrageously stating to Mapson that if Sunderland did not lose the game with Wolves that Mapson would be hanged.
Then, later in the week, another letter for Mapson arrived.
Indicating that the message had come from ‘The Syndicate’, Mapson was informed that if Sunderland did indeed lose the game, there’d be a hefty handout with his name on it waiting at a post office in Wolverhampton on the Saturday night.
“Ground will be wet – easy to slip” read the letter, indicating that if Mapson wanted to chuck the game, the conditions of the pitch would give him a handy excuse to throw a goal or two in and ensure that the tie went in favour of the home side.
But Johnny was an honest person. Clearly shocked, he informed the club’s manager, John Cochrane, who alerted the local authorities and the press to the issue.
Cochrane, however, wasn’t convinced that the letters were legitimate. He believed that the whole thing was a hoax – a ruse likely invented by a plucky Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter hoping to put the shits up Sunderland’s young goalie.
Perhaps he sent it with the intention of intimidating our 20-year-old goalkeeper.
Undeterred, Sunderland – led by Cochrane – went into the game on the Saturday with their heads clear.
In front of a colossal crowd of 57,715, Mapson played out of his skin for the Rokermen, making save after save in a game that played out in horrendous weather conditions. The Lads escaped back to Wearside with a 1-1 draw, and the prospect of a replay with Wolves back at Roker Park.
Mapson, of course, was not hanged by the mysterious Wolverhampton supporter. He kept goal for the follow-up game four days later on a Wednesday in front of 61,796 at Roker, conceding twice in a dramatic tie that went to extra time. Wolves opened the scoring the 86th minute and thought that they had won it, but Silksworth’s own Bobby Gurney netted the equaliser in the dying seconds to take the game into extra time.
Len Duns gave Sunderland the lead five minutes after the restart, but Wolves weren’t prepared to give up, and scored again just two minutes later.
With neither side able to settle it, the tie went to a second replay, five days later at Hillsborough.
In front of almost 49,000 supporters, Sunderland dominated from the off, running riot and winning the game 4-0. Goals from Gurney, Raich Carter, Patsy Gallagher and a penalty from Charlie Thompson sent Sunderland into the Semi Final at the third attempt – with Millwall standing between them and a place in the Final at Wembley.