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On This Day (25 December 1914): Bobby’s best day in a Sunderland shirt sees the Magpies beaten

Although World War I had begun almost a month earlier, the 1914-15 Football League season was still played out in full. It proved to be a frustrating campaign for Sunderland, but on this day 107 years ago they still managed to deliver fans the perfect Christmas day present. 

A 6-0 victory at Tottenham Hotspur the week before – and a record of four wins from their last four Christmas Day fixtures – presumably meant that Sunderland travelled to take on Newcastle United in good spirits. The short journey to St. James Park was made harder by poor weather, however, and the game was to be played on a rock solid frozen pitch.

One man who didn’t seem to mind the difficult conditions was the versatile Bobby Best, whose match-winning display was the difference between the two rivals.

Originally from Northumberland and able to play across several positions, he often struggled to nail down a regular place but when given a chance could be very handy indeed. His record of 25 goals in 94 appearances was nothing to be sniffed at, and he secured his place in Sunderland history with three fantastic derby day goals.

The Best man, as seen in All The Lads

Playing centre-forward, Best opened the scoring in the early stages after being fed by Charlie Buchan. The hosts then wasted a glorious opportunity for an equaliser when Frank Hudspeth missed the target with a 20th minute penalty, and the Magpies were made to rue that error as Sunderland scored twice more before the interval.

Both efforts were real Christmas crackers too – Best weaving his way past several defenders before tucking the ball away and Buchan finding the target with a fierce shot from the edge of the box.

The Lads continued in a similar vein in the second half and soon pulled further away.

Best completed his hat-trick shortly after the break when he won possession and once again beat goalkeeper Jimmy Lawrence, and the win was put beyond all doubt when George Philip made it 5-0 on 70 minutes.

This was Philip’s debut season at the club, although the Scot was not able to build on an impressive return of 22 goals in 37 league games following the decision to put football on hold from 1915-16 onwards to help focus on the war effort.

George Philip, also taken from All The Lads

A heavy defeat on home soil is the last thing Newcastle fans would have asked for on Christmas Day, but in true festive spirit their visitors gifted them some consolation with a couple of own goals. Goalkeeper Leslie Scott and defender Harry Ness both put into their own net to make the final score 5-2, but Sunderland were still the clear winners and deservedly so based on their performance.

Perhaps though the Lads were too generous to their neighbours, as 24 hours later came the reverse fixture at Roker Park and a 4-2 win for Newcastle. This time it was Sunderland that failed from the spot, with Jackie Mordue seeing his penalty saved by replacement stopper Bill Mellor despite already scoring in the game, and Best showing just how quickly your fortunes can change when he also fluffed a spot kick.

Charlie Buchan, who scored in both Christmas derbies in 1914, as seen in Black Cats Masterpieces

A win apiece over Christmas and Boxing Day probably brought some much-needed harmony to the region given the general mood; at the same time Sunderland and Newcastle were playing football against each other, the Christmas truce meant that troops stationed along the Western Front were doing the same.

The 1913-14 season concluded four months later with Sunderland finishing 8th in the First Division, and with professional footballers starting to sign up to the forces it would be another five years before the next Wear-Tyne derby in the Football League.


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