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On This Day: 21 Feb 1948 - “Clown Prince” Len Shackleton scores on his Sunderland home debut

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On this day back in 1948, Sunderland struggled to beat ten-man Huddersfield - who held firm for over an hour with a makeshift goalie - as a club legend marked his Roker Park debut with a goal.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Sunderland Training Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

In the bitterly cold winter of February 1948, as the country struggled to rebuild following the devastation of the Second World War in the face of rationing and austerity, Sunderland AFC smashed the British transfer record to bring one of the game’s true superstars of the time, Len Shackleton, to the club.

The fee paid by the Black Cats to second division side Newcastle United was £20,050 - the equivalent of the daily wages of over 14,000 skilled workmen at the time - as Sunderland began the spending spree that would have them dubbed “The Bank of England” team in the 1950s. Shackleton - who famously held those who owned and administered clubs in utter contempt - had fallen out with the Magpies’ Board of Directors, who were forced to cash in on their prized asset despite having fired them to the brink of promotion to Division One for the first time in a decade and a half.

A true mercurial wit as well as an outrageously talented technician, “The Clown Price of Football” was always good for a quote, including the classic line:

I’ve no bias against Newcastle – I don’t care who beats them!

Len Shackleton Photo by MSI/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

A week before making his home debut, “Shack” had a baptism of fire in a disastrous 5-1 away defeat at Derby County, in game in which Sunderland’s all-time record goalscorer Raich Carter haunted his home town club by scoring four times for the Rams. So as the crowds gathered at Roker Park a week later, despite some truly terrible winter weather, the club were in real danger of relegation to Division 2. But gather they did, as 26,000 fans welcomed one of the brightest talents that post-war football had to offer as he made his way onto a frozen and windswept pitch.

The game itself was a bit of a slug-fest, albeit with Shackleton making an impact from the very start. It was his cross from a dribbling run from inside right that preceded the major talking point from the game. As both defence and attack scrambled for the loose ball inside the six yard box, Huddersfield goalkeeper Bob Hesford fell awkwardly onto Sunderland’s Frank Bee, and it was the ‘keeper who came off worst from the incident.

Both men had to leave the field, Hesford being carried off with a broken leg whilst Bee would have treatment for a bloody nose and concussion. This was an era when no substitutes were allowed, so both teams struggled on with 10 men and goalkeeping duties fell to Terriers forward Jim Glazzard, with Peter Doherty switching wings as a result.

Len Shackleton Photo by MSI/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Frank Bee would return to the fold after the bleeding from his face had been curtailed, but Sunderland still made hard work of what should have been a nailed on victory. Both teams battled the elements as much as one another, and half-time came and went without the deadlock being broken. It wasn’t until 20 minutes before the end of the game, by which time the home crowd had swollen to over 33,000, that Bee proved his haziness had been temporary and gave the home side a vital lead. Ten minutes later the man of the moment, Shackleton, put the game to bed with his first of his 100 goals for his new club.

The result took Bill Murray’s Sunderland above Huddersfield Town in the league, and we would go on to win four of the remaining six home fixtures in the 1947-48 season, narrowly avoiding dropping from the top flight for the first time in our illustrious history.


Starting XIs: Sunderland: Mapson, Stelling, Hudgell, McLain, Hall, Wright, Duns, Bee, Turnbull, Shackleton, Reynolds Huddersfield Town: Hesford, Hayes, Barker, Smith, Hepplewhite, Boot, Bateman, Doherty, Whittingham, Glazzard, Metcalfe