In the days before Sunderland was a league club, the FA Cup – or the English Cup, as it was then known – was the pinnacle of a fixtures calendar comprised of friendly games and local cup competitions.
Until the 1887-88 season, Sunderland had failed to progress past Round One – Redcar knocking the team out in both the 1884-85 and 1885-86 seasons.
The following season, 1886-87, Sunderland were drawn against Newcastle West End, a team that played at St James Park, and one half of the ‘United’ team that was formed a few years later.
In a game at Newcastle Road, Sunderland’s then home ground, Sunderland won 2-1 in extra time – however, typically, Newcastle complained. They kicked up a fuss about the ‘bad light’, and the game was declared void by the FA. A replay was ordered – bizarrely at St James’ Park – and Newcastle West End emerged one-nil winners.
So, when the two teams were once again drawn together at Sunderland, there was a fair amount of revenge on the cards, which had been building for 12 months.
The Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette reported:
The ill-feeling created by these matches was manifested a few weeks later, when the teams again met at Sunderland in a match for the benefit of an injured player when, amidst great excitement, Sunderland won by the narrow majority of one goal. That the strong feeling had not died out with the lapse of a season was amply demonstrated a few weeks ago, when an ordinary fixture between the clubs was played at Newcastle. Most miserable weather on that occasion failed to dampen the ardour of the followers of the local team, a large crowd of whom travelled to Tyneside to “cheer and protect” their champions.
Again, Sunderland won by a single goal, and again West End declared the better team had lost, and many heated arguments ensued that evening, and, in fact, every time supporters of West End or Sunderland club meet.
Sunderland had to overcome another controversy to reach the Second Round this season, in fact. The First Round tie against Morpeth, which Sunderland won 4-2, had to be replayed after full back Peter Ford had played despite not being registered.
When looking back through the newspaper archives, it’s clear to see football was really taking hold in the north east, with fans the number of fans travelling prompting the railway companies to put on special services.
The Echo reported:
That the North-Eastern Railway Company are gradually awakening to the fact that football has a strong hold in this district was proved by the running of an excursion train from Newcastle specially for this match, and that Tynesiders were anticipating a hard match was evident from the large numbers who availed themselves of the opportunity afforded by the company.
The team left Newcastle at 1.30pm, and upon its arrival at Sunderland a large number of the passengers went straight to the Newcastle Road ground, in order to secure a good ‘stand’ from which to witness the game, Others remained behind to welcome the players, who came in a saloon carriage attached to the 1.40pm train, and adjourned to the headquarters of the local club – at the Royal Hotel – to ‘don their jerseys’.
Sunderland lost the toss, and the game began to cries of ‘play up Sunderland!’ and ‘go on West End!’ Sunderland’s Sammy Stewart shot over the bar, while William Kirkley in the Sunderland goal saved a goal bound shot, conceding a corner.
Reuben Smith shot over for Sunderland, while Smart headed over for the visitors.
It was end-to-end stuff – West End’s Swinburne cleared a goalmouth scramble that looked destined to be a Sunderland goal, before the away team broke clear, forcing a ‘magnificent’ save from Kirkley, but from the resultant ‘confusion’, Don McColl gave the away side the lead.
Smith came close to equalising, but half time was called with West End in the lead, and cries of ‘dirty play’ from the home fans.
The second half began with a lot of intent from Sunderland, who were roared on by the majority of the crowd. Debutant Peter Ford for Sunderland put in a ‘splendid shot’ which raised the hopes of the crowd, but to ultimate disappointment.
The general impression appeared to be that it was a goal, and then disappointment was all the greater when it was seen the ball had gone not under but over the bar.
Nets, of course, hadn’t yet been introduced.
With spectators ‘cheering’ and ‘counter-cheering’ with ‘utmost vehemence’, the game was end to end, with Newcastle ‘showing better form’ and adopting ‘win at any cost’ tactics.
West End’s Joe Smart then handled the ball, for which Sunderland were awarded a free kick. Unlike today, this was an indirect free kick, and Joe Richardson’s shot, which went straight in, was disallowed.
With seven minutes remaining, however, Sammy Stewart scored the equaliser in ‘the cleverest manner possible. The home crowd’s enthusiasm ‘burst out afresh, hats being waved in the air and some of the players manifesting their delight in the most extravagant of antics.’
The teams decided to play an extra 15 minutes each way (the light, presumably, was OK this year), and Halliday scored a second for Sunderland from a corner in the first half of extra time.
At half time, Sunderland changed formation, putting an extra man in defence, but Sunderland kept attacking, and Sammy Stewart scored a third to send the Sunderland fans home happy – and a miserable train journey awaited the Novocastrian contingent.