In the early years of the twentieth century, Sunderland AFC were one of the strongest professional football teams in England, and in 1902 had won the fourth of the club’s six League titles. This gained them an invitation to play in a long-forgotten annual charity match that pitted the champions of the Football League against the creme of the nation’s amateur game. And so, 118 years ago today, Sunderland met the greatest amateur side of the time - the Corinthians - at White Hart Lane in Tottenham.
Corinthian Football club had been formed in 1882 by the idealistic gentleman amateur Nicholas Lane Jackson with an ethos of fair play and honourable conduct, famously refusing to either score or defend penalty kicks due to their refusal to believe any true sportsman would either foul in the box. In the game’s early period, they effectively became the England national team and their evangelising tours of Europe and the Americas were crucial in the global spread of the game, a legacy enshrined in the name of the great Brazilian side Corinthians Paulista and in the pure white colours of Real Madrid.
The Sheriff of London Charity Shield had been created by Sir Thomas Dewar five years before and sanctioned by the Football Association, with all proceeds from the match would be distributed to good causes. Corinthians had won the honour in 1900, but lost out to Aston Villa and Spurs in 1901 and 1902.
Yet this still an age when the well-heeled amateur gentleman was able to compete on a relatively equal footing with the professional sportsman. Sunderland had played Corinthians on a regular basis in friendlies since they first met at Newcastle Road in 1895, but in this encounter, the opponents were missing the great England cricketing legend C.B. Fry, who’s footballing career had been brought to an end through an injury sustained playing as an amateur for Portsmouth earlier that season.
The absence of Fry’s defensive abilities may have been the telling factor in the game, which took place in front of a modest crowd in the capital. Playing in the customary 2-3-5 formation, Sunderland’s team was packed full of Scottish talent, especially at the back, and had legendary goalkeeper Ned Doig between the sticks. Defences had the better of the first half, only the Wearsiders really offering any threat on an awfully muddy pitch, with attempts Billy Hogg, Whitley Robinson and Jimmy Millar all failing to beat G.E. Wilkinson in the Corinthians goal.
Alex Mackie’s Sunderland came out stronger in the second half, with Millar, twice assisted by Arthur Bridget, getting a brace in the first 20 minutes after the break. Although Joe Hewitt added a third goal with four minutes remaining, and Sunderland, according to Ryehill Football’s excellent overview of the game and the Shield completion itself, put on a jolly good show for the ladies and gentlemen assembled for the occasion:
After the match Lord Kinnaird, President of the Football Association presented the Shield to the Sunderland captain after a “wonderful display by his team”.
This was Sunderland’s first and only appearance in a competition that Corinthians would go on to win the following season, beating Bury 10-3, which itself would be the last time the amateur side would beat the professionals in such a competitive fixture. In 1908 the Sheriff of London Shield was replaced by the FA Charity Shield, which then evolved over time from the first year, in which the previous season’s Football League and Southern League winners competed, into the FA Community Shield we know today.
Our last fixture against Corinthian FC was a 2-0 victory at Roker Park in 1934. They were later merged with another amateur side from London, the Casuals FC, in 1939, to form Corinthian-Casuals, which exists to this day in the southern Isthmian League.