Sunderland, up until our relegation from the top flight in 1958, were thought of as one of the greatest football clubs in the history of the game.
Six league titles, one FA Cup, and known as the ‘Bank of England club’ due to our high-spending, we were a brute force in English football once upon a time.
Sadly, by the time the 1960s rolled around, we were a middling second division side; a shadow of our former selves, though we still possessed some truly great players.
Ambrose Fogarty, Stan Anderson, Len Ashurst, Charlie Hurley and Jimmy McNab all formed part of the Sunderland squad that went into the 1960/61 season, hoping to not only climb out of the second tier, but also launch an assault on English football’s latest competition - the League Cup.
Stanley Rous - a former referee, and the secretary of the FA at the time - came up with the idea of the League Cup, a secondary competition set up to benefit the sides that had already been knocked out of the FA’s premier cup competition, the FA Cup.
Rous's idea was implemented by Alan Hardaker, the secretary of the Football League, as he felt it could make up for the revenue lost by clubs in being eliminated from the FA competition early - at a time when matchday attendances were dwindling.
Hardaker felt that whilst interest in the game was fading, the Football League could be at the forefront for making change that would eventually attract supporters back to the terraces:
It must be obvious to all of you that the time has come to do something, and it is up to the Football League to give the lead. I hope the Press will not immediately assume that the League is going to fall out with the F.A. or anybody else... the time has come for our voice to be heard in every problem which affects the professional game.
During the late 1950s, clubs up and down the country installed floodlights at their grounds, and with that in mind, the League Cup was introduced specifically as a tournament that would be played midweek under floodlights.
Sunderland entered at round two having been given a bye in the first round, and were drawn away at third division strugglers Brentford - a favourable tie, or so you’d think.
Played under the lights at Griffin Park, 10,400 supporters attended the game as a strong Sunderland side - propped up by the aforementioned Ashurst, Anderson, Hurley, McNab and Fogarty - faced off against Malky McDonald’s team on the back of a 1-1 draw at Roker Park against Rotherham.
SUNDERLAND XI: Wakeham, Nelson, Ashurst, Anderson, Hurley, McNab, Hooper, Fogarty, Lawther, McPheat, Dillon.
The Lads had been in a rotten run of form, and hadn’t won a single game since the fourth game of the season - almost two months prior - when they beat Stoke City 4-0.
Despite taking on lower league opposition, the game didn’t give Sunderland the confidence boost we needed - and we lost in rather dramatic circumstances.
The home side took a shock lead to give Sunderland a wake-up call in the fourth minute when Jim Towers scored their first, but we dominated for the rest of the first half - Willy McPheat equalising just a minute later, before goals from Ian Lawther and Ambrose Fogarty gave us a comfortable lead before the break.
Sadly, that’s as good as it got for Alan Brown’s side, and Brentford reemerged for the second half with renewed energy and optimism.
Dennis Heath gone one back just seven minutes after the break, and as their pressure mounted, they were rewarded with a further two goals to give them the lead, both coming from Johnny Rainford, who scored on 68 and 75 minutes to punish Sunderland’s weak defence. In fact, the Birmingham Daily Post reported that if it wasn’t for the good defensive work of Charlie Hurley, the scoreline could have been doubled.
“Sunderland Flop After Leading 3-1” read the headline in the Journal the next morning, with writer Alf Greenley commenting that the only real highlights were the wing performances of Willy McPheat and John Dillon, who had a hand in all goals and with more luck could have damaged Brentford more.
The manner of Sunderland’s collapse against lower-league opposition - particularly on the back of such a terrible run of results in the league - was a source of immense embarrassment for Alan Brown and his side, who knew they had to do something soon if they were going to turn a corner.
Harsh words were said, and having cleared the air, the squad worked hard to improve their rotten form.
Days later we managed a 1-1 draw with Liverpool, sparking an unbeaten run that carried on until February - eventually losing away to Huddersfield when we were sat 5th in the table.
All these years later, it still feels as though the club goes through the same rhythms and patterns - chucking decent leads, going out of cups to lower league opposition, big winless runs followed by big winning runs... ‘doing a Sunderland’, sadly, is in our DNA!