A crowd of over 36,000 packed into Middlesbrough’s famous old ground on an October Saturday afternoon to see this much anticipated local derby, with the home side looking to cause an upset against the reigning league champions, Johnny Cochrane’s Sunderland.
The day before, the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail had built the game up nicely:
North-east teams figure in some of the most attractive fixtures in to-morrow’s Football League programme. The outstanding attraction is at Ayresome Park, where Middlesbrough meet Sunderland in the big North-East “derby”. This is one game which never fails to furnish an abundance of thrills, for there are more important things than merely a couple of points at stake.
How prescient these words would turn out to be. With an intimidating forward line comprising of Len Duns, Raich Carter, Bobby Gurney and Jimmy Connor, scoring was never really an issue early in the 1936-37 season. However, the campaign had got off to a sluggish start with only one point picked up on our travels, with heavy defeats to Arsenal and Derby County and another loss away at Huddersfield in the game preceding this Wear-Tees clash.
Middlesbrough were no mugs, and fielded players of the calibre of Scotsman Benny Yorston, who had made the switch from Roker Park to Ayresome Park two years earlier after scoring 25 goals for the Rokerites.
With such attacking prowess on the pitch, it’s little surprise that the assembled masses witnessed a quite extraordinary goal-fest - one that set a record that still stands for the most goals in a competitive game involving Sunderland AFC in our 142 year history.
It was all action from the very start, with Len Duns spurning a chance in the opening minute after a ball in from the left, but it was the home side that got the scoring started early, grabbing a two goal lead within the first six minutes of the match. Both came from mistakes at the back for the Lads, the first allowed George Camsell to take advantage and slot home past Johnny Mapson, the second was Collin’s error in not clearing the ball and Tim Coleman ran through unopposed to score.
Sunderland rallied quickly, with Charlie Thomson creating a series of chances with good play, which saw Carter hit the bar before Duns had a shot well saved. It was Duns who would make the breakthrough on 15 minutes after Connor’s cross was deflected into his path by Yorston.
Gallagher, Thomson and Gurney then missed clear-cut chances to equalise for Sunderland, and we went 3-1 behind on 22 minutes, Camsell grabbing his second of the match after yet another error from the champions – this time Mapson was at fault for not stopping the forward’s shot after defensive weakness had allowed him through.
Sunderland came back once more, the pressure building on the ‘Boro goal before eventually Gurney scored on 29 minutes, running onto a fantastic long ball from defender John Feenan and finishing cooly. The equaliser followed two minutes later, Duns again on the scoresheet, converting a Connor corner from his inside right position with a magnificent strike.
3-3, but the half wasn’t finished there – Middlesbrough pressed hard to retake the lead, but it was Sunderland who went in at the break in front, with Duns returning the favour and crossing for Connor who headed home to make it 4-3. Breathless stuff indeed.
The second half was only a little less dramatic - Sunderland, made it 5-3 on 47 minutes through Carter but threw away the lead they’d worked so hard to build, having been 3-1 down. First Camsell completed his hat-trick on 51 and then Ralf Birkett brought the score to five-all on 64 minutes. And that’s how it finished – with 10 goals shared between the two teams.
Argus, writing in the Sunderland Echo & Shipping Gazette the following Monday, evicerated both defences as well as having choice words about referee Ernest Pinckstone of Birmingham. However, I think these two section of his report sum up the game perfectly:
The greatest game in all the 53 meetings of the two clubs. This phrase has been applied to Saturday’s game at Middlesbrough. I have seen most of the 53 games and if goals represent greatness then this latest meeting deserves the classification it has been given.
However, on reflection, this was clearly a game of defensive and goalkeeping errors as much as attacking prowess.
The match was a graveyard of goalkeepers’ hopes. Neither Mapson nor Cumming will forget it for many a day to come. It seemed to me that they were unnerved by the rapidity of the attacks, and I could recount at least four of the goals that might reasonably have been saved from entering the net. Errors by those in front of them cost two or three more, but the pace was such a “cracker” that errors were bound to creep in, and I think it best to recall the good things the defences did and forget the faults.
Something clearly wasn’t working for us at the back that season, with 63 goals conceded away from home in the league. ‘Boro would end up finishing one place above us in Division 1, but it mattered little as this legendary pre-war side would go on to lift the club’s first ever FA Cup at the end of the season and cement their place in history as one of the greatest Sunderland teams of all time.