The 1954-55 season saw Sunderland mount a serious title charge and reach the FA Cup semi-final. Unsurprisingly, that meant a series of huge crowds attended Roker Park during the campaign and the gate of 66,654 that witnessed that season’s derby remains the third-highest home attendance the Lads have ever played in front of.
On some occasions, teams might freeze in front of a big attendance but this match proved to be a classic, with the Lads never really able to shake the visitors off despite some excellent spells of football. In fact, Sunderland may not have even gone on to win had Joe McDonald not been able to block George Hannah’s early shot on the line.
Magpie goalkeeper Stewart Mitchell was kept busy throughout the game and was beaten for the first time just after the half-hour mark when Ted Purdon finished off a Billy Bingham cross. Bingham had a great game, and shortly afterward doubled the lead with a shot from outside of the box.
Despite clearly being second best in the first half, Newcastle got themselves back into things shortly after the break.
Although a Sunderland fan as a youngster who had briefly played for the club during the Second World War, Jackie Milburn was already a Tyne icon and he produced a brilliant finish to blast the ball past Willie Fraser.
Len Shackleton went close moments after that following a trademark run and he later forced Mitchell into a fine save following another moment of magic, but in between those attempts, Bingham had enjoyed more luck when he headed home Billy Elliott’s cross following some impressive work on the wing.
Purdon and Bingham finished the season as Sunderland’s second and third best scorers respectively, but it was Ken Chisholm that topped the charts, and he got in on the act during the 64th minute following more skills from Shackleton to set him up.
Newcastle fought gamely and four minutes later pulled a goal back through Bobby Mitchell, who scored from the spot following a disputed handball decision, but they couldn’t force a third and Bill Murray’s men were able to make sure of a satisfying win.
Victory put the Rokermen top of the Football League and when a Charlie Fleming brace in the St. James’ Park return in February gave Sunderland a double over their rivals they remained fully in the championship hunt. The title push started to fade, however when it looked like an all north east final could be on - and attentions switched to the FA Cup - those hopes were dashed when Sunderland lost to Manchester City at the semi-final stage.
Whilst Newcastle went on to win the trophy that season, both clubs soon fell into decline.
By the time of the 1963 iteration, the Wear-Tyne derby was a Division Two affair.
Thankfully for Sunderland though, their spell in the second tier was coming to an end and victory against Newcastle was part of a 24 league game run in which only three games were lost that set the Lads well on the way to a first-ever promotion under Murray’s replacement Alan Brown.
The run did end in a narrow loss on Tyneside later in the season, but it was to be the final defeat of the 1963-64 campaign. Sunderland had looked like Division One material throughout, not least against their near neighbours when the ‘Roar’ was at its electric best under the floodlights during a famous night match at Roker on this date.
Colin Taylor did give the visitors the lead after they started the game well, but Sunderland battled back, quite literally in the case of Charlie Hurley who had to leave the pitch to get stitches, and two minutes before half time they were level.
Following the sad news of Len Ashurst’s death last month several supporters recalled his long-range equaliser in this match, and whilst there was more than an element of luck with it nobody in red and white was complaining at the time.
Wearing a larger boot than normal due to having a broken toe, Ashurst later admitted that he was attempting to cross the ball into the box rather than have an effort on goal, but it went into the net all the same. From then on the Lads pushed hard for a winner, and with just under ten minutes left George Herd obliged with a brilliantly hit half-volley.
The run of derbies on the 9th of October was made even more remarkable for the fact that Sunderland didn’t play anybody else on this date for twenty years between 1944 and 1964.
Prior to the 1948 fixture (which ended in a 1-1 draw after Shackleton cancelled our George Hair’s early goal), Sunderland’s last fixture on this day had been a 1943 Football League North win at Darlington.
With the 1963 derby day triumph coming on a Wednesday and 1964 being a leap year it meant Sunderland were then in action on this date again just two years later, when a trip to West Bromwich Albion in 1965 ended the sequence.
Including a charity match in 1907 and a heavy defeat in 1920, the 9th of October has seen a total of five Wear-Tyne derbies over the years. The 1954 and 1963 vintages are still fondly remembered by Sunderland fans in 2021.