Sunderland, once a garrison town of the Scottish Army during the English civil war, is the proud home of our football club, which was founded by a Scottish teacher, James Allan.
That club was transformed in the early 1890s by an influx of Scottish players, who quickly turned the northernmost team allowed into in the English structure – one only permitted entry into the Lancashire and Midlands-dominated Football League after agreeing to pay the travel expenses for visiting teams – into three-time English champions.
During this period, Sunderland played a series of friendly matches against the evangelists of Scottish football, Queen’s Park FC, who have a good claim to be the most important club in the history of the game.
Founded by migrants from northeastern Scotland in 1867, and named after the local recreation ground where they practiced, Queen’s Park organised – and provided all of the Scottish players for – the first international match between England and Scotland at the West of Scotland Cricket Club in 1872, after which the popularity of the game flourished in the burgeoning industrial metropolis of Glasgow.
It was the first club to adopt the Association Rules outside of England and Wales, and they took the game codified by the Old Etonians, Old Carthusians, the Corinthians, and assorted other English gentry along with the Sheffield clubs, and adapted the laws to ensure that football was played skilfully on the ground, rather than in the air, particularly by insisting on a two-player offside rule. They also refused to allow tripping or hacking in their early games, and eliminated the Fair Catch, or making a “Mark”, that still persists in the Rugby Union and Australian Rules codes.
From this basis, they developed the Scottish passing game, which was considered far superior to that of the dribbling and charging, almost rugby-like, style of the English public schoolboys who dominated early football. The influence of way of playing has cascaded down the ages and throughout the world; Scottish coaches took football to the rest of Europe and the world beyond. Indeed, it was in one of Queen’s Park’s training sessions that the game we know and love was truly developed, as described by Richard Robinson in the club’s official history in the 1920s:
In these games the dribbling and passing, which raised the Scottish game to the level of a fine art, were developed. Dribbling was a characteristic of English play, and it was not until very much later that the Southerners came to see that the principles laid down in the Queen’s Park method of transference of the ball, accompanied by strong backing up, were those which got the most out of a team. Combination was the chief characteristic of the Queen’s Park play.
They originally joined the English Football Association and regularly competed in the English FA Cup, before instituting the Scottish FA Cup – the oldest soccer trophy still in existence (the original FA Cup having gone missing a month before the game we feature today).
They might now be a third-tier side playing in front of a few hundred fans, in the mid-to-late nineteenth century they developed, in three stages, Hampden Park – the second iteration of which was the venue for the match 126 years ago – and entertained crowds pushing 100,000 for big Glasgow clashes in their day.
The podcast Football Travel by Outside Write of 4 October, 2021, has an excellent interview with Richard McBrearty from the Scottish Football Museum, which sets out this pioneering role in great detail. It’s well worth 40 minutes of your time.
Queen’s Park: Anderson, Sinclair, Smith, Gillespie, McFarlane, Allison, W Stewart, D Stewart, McColl, Gray, Lambie
Sunderland: Doig, Gow, Gibson, Wilson, Dunlog, Johnston, Gillespie, Harvey, Hartley, Campbell, Hannah
Sunderland traveled north for this fixture as English Champions and, remarkably, on this occasion fielded a team comprising entirely Scottish players, having imported the cream of the talent from north of the border over the preceding half-decade. They had already beaten Heart of Midlothian in the ‘World Championship’ match in April of the same year, and were clear favourites going into this game.
The autumnal weather took its toll even before kick-off at 3.45pm, with the pitch sodden after the rain had fallen all morning. Still, a large crowd of locals gathered for the occasion; admission was sixpence for men and sixpence more for the posh seats, ladies were able to attend for free.
Sunderland started unbelievably well, and even though the game was evenly contested and the howling wind assisted the home team, Jimmy Hannah’s sharp-shooting saw him open the scoring on five minutes, but it was all square after nine minutes with David Stewart getting the equaliser.
A minute later, however, Sunderland forward Jimmy Hartley had a goal controversially awarded by the referee, Mr Wright, when Queen’s ‘keeper Kenneth Anderson, who would join the Black Cats the following year, had seemingly stopped the ball on the goal line.
Queen’s Park disintegrated at that point, the refereeing decision, in the words of the Scottish Referee news-sheet the following Monday, having “upset the equilibrium of the team and robbed the game of all its charm for them and for the spectators as well.”
So upset were the home side by the injustice that Hannah scored two more quick goals, on 11 and 14 minutes, to complete one of the fastest hat-tricks in Sunderland AFC history.
Although Willie Stewart pulled one back for Queen’s on 30 minutes to make it 4-2 at half-time, the referee prevented the game from becoming a contest once more when he “disallowed an apparent, clever, and legitimate goal” scored by William Lambie. This incident provoked the biggest talking point of the game in the form of an encroachment by one of the 10,000 strong Glaswegian support, according to the match report:
It is not often spectators invade the playing pitch at Hampden, yet so angry were they at the referee’s decision that one bold individual, putting his feelings into action, raced onto the field of play and threatened the referee. Happily his action went no further, and he walked away at the sight of a burley policeman.
At the close too, the best people in the covered stand hooted and jeered at Mr Wright, who, taken altogether, had a very uncomfortable afternoon. These is one effect of referring we desire to emphasise in view of what occurred, and this is its effect on spectators. Their opinion was that the referee completely spoiled what would have been an otherwise beautiful game, and they retired disgusted with him and with football. It will be a pity if the support and sympathy of the spectators is alienated from the game by the very officials who are set over it for its proper government
Hartley scored Sunderland’s fifth in the second half, and the game was all but done and dusted. Perhaps in a sign that this matchup was seen as part of an ongoing series between the two clubs, the report of the match makes a point of tallying up the number of goals and games won by each side since their first encounter five years ago in 1890.
After this victory, Sunderland were a game ahead, with four victories to Queen’s Park’s three, having scored 11 more goals. By the time of our final friendly encounter in 1898, Sunderland had secured two more victories and a draw, and the gulf between the clubs was clearly established.