On this day in 1890, a number of Sunderland legends, including 20-year-old Johnny Campbell, made their competitive debuts in an FA Cup defeat away at Blackburn Rovers.
At the time, Sunderland weren’t in the Football League, which had been established two years before. However, the team had gained a formidable reputation in the game by beating League sides in the FA Cup – and a tie against Blackburn, one of the country’s best teams, proved a stern test.
Tom Porteous, John Auld, Davy Hannah and Campbell, as well as Stevenson, John Harvey, Jock Smith and John Scott, all made their official club debuts in this game, which ended up being the club’s last official game before joining the Football League.
It was a hugely-anticipated game, and ended up being a controversial affair...
The team had departed Sunderland by train at 3.30pm on Friday, the gathered crowd cheering them off. They were met off the train at 10pm at Blackburn by ‘the whole scallywag population of Blackburn’, according to Sunderland Echo reporter, who was left unimpressed by the waiting crowd.
The veriest North-country roughs are nature’s noblemen compared with these Lancashire tatterdemalions.
An inspection of the pitch before the game revealed the field to be muddy, and sand, which had been spread in the goalmouths had been liquified by overnight rain, however an expectant crowd – including many from Sunderland – had gathered in Blackburn for the much-anticipated game.
While waiting for the teams to arrive, there was a fanfare of ‘fog horns, rattles and other instruments of torture, industriously maintained by a section of the excursionists’. A crowd of between 8000-12,000 was estimated to be in attendance.
The teams arrived on the field in their now traditional colours, and at the third attempt the coin toss was successful – on the first two occasions the coin landed edge up in the mud.
Sunderland lined up:
Kirtley in goal, Porteous and Oliver at backs, Stevenson, Auld and Gibson at half backs, Havie and Smith (right) Campbell (centre) Scott and Hannah (left) forwards.
Rovers took the lead midway through the first half, Townley putting ‘the leather through the uprights’; the referee allowing the goal despite Sunderland protests of offside.
Sunderland equalised after some concerted pressure through Hannah, but Townley put Blackburn back in front.
After Harvie was ‘sent spinning to earth’ on his way to goal, a freekick was aware to Sunderland – the resultant move saw Scott beat the home defender Brandon to the ball, and notch the equalising goal.
A Sunderland goal was ruled out for handball, and another controversially disallowed for offside – Campbell being judged offside after the keeper parried his shot back to him.
The rules of the FA Cup at the time stated 30 minutes extra time should be played, however an angry Sunderland manager Tom Watson ran onto the pitch at the end of the game – closely followed by a policeman and a ‘ticket-taker’ – a steward in modern terms.
After the game, Watson said he was instructing captain Auld to refuse to play extra time given the state of the pitch – the centre of which was little better than a ‘quagmire’ by this stage.
The referee, while ‘making note of the objection’ proceeded with the game – both teams, exhausted, moved the ball around very slowly, and falling over whenever a run was attempted.
There was further controversy during extra time. Sunderland’s Gibson robbed Lofthouse of the ball, taking a touch or two and then passing to Campbell – but not before Lofthouse kicked Gibson ‘violently in the stomach’.
Gibson ‘fell like a stone’ and scenes of ‘wild alarm’ followed, with players crowding around and spectators entering the field – and, while Lofthouse found himself at a ‘storm of abuse’ the referee failed to even award a foul.
Upon the game’s restart, Lofthouse was awarded a freekick in almost the same position as he’d kicked Gibson, and Walton scored for Rovers following a goalmouth scramble, while a goal for Barton sealed the game at 4-2.
After the game, an appeal was lodged to the FA about the state of the field, with Sunderland demanding a replay. The result, however, was allowed to stand.
The game did, however, prove Sunderland were good enough to go toe-to-toe with the country’s best, and the following season we did get some form of retribution.
We were the first club to join the Football League after its founder members, replacing Stoke ahead of the 1891-92 season (on condition that we reimbursed other team’s travel expenses – all other members were in the midlands or north-west).
We welcomed Blackburn to Newcastle Road in November, emerging 3-1 winners, with Johnny Campbell bagging two and Millar scoring the other.