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Charlie Hurley

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On This Day (18 April 1964): Sunderland promoted for the first time after last minute winner

The Black Cats ended a six year stint in Division Two with a home victory against Charlton Athletic. What are your memories of this classic Sunderland side from the 1960s?

Charlie Hurley - captain and legend
| Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

The chants of chanted “Char-lie... Char-lie... Char-lie” from over 50,000 Sunderland fans rang out around Roker Park after the final whistle this day 57 years ago, as Sunderland clinched their first ever promotion after six seasons in the second division. Not satisfied with one lap of honour, supporters called for an encore and the players eventually reemerged from the dressing room to carry their warrior-captain aloft as they traced the the perimeter one more time.

This game, sealed with a last minute winner in the final home game of the season, really set the benchmark for how to do promotion properly. After a string of six games unbeaten, beginning with a vital 4-0 win against rivals Preston North End and culminating in a 0-0 draw at away at the Dell the previous week, a return to the top flight for the Black Cats was all but guaranteed before Charlton Athletic and Sunderland took the field.

Sunderland sat in the second automatic promotion spot, four points above third placed Preston with two games to play, and with a vastly superior goal difference. But mathematical impossibility is what’s required, and that’s what was delivered by Alan Brown’s men that afternoon.

Brown had stated that it would take at least five years to rebuild the Wearsiders after their first relegation from the top flight in 1958, and he wasn’t wrong. Charlie Hurley was his signing, and the man around which the club was rebuilt in the early 1960s. Two consecutive third-placed finishes in the preceding seasons had been tough for Lads fans to take, but the disappointments of missing out made the eventual triumph all the sweeter.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Sunderland Photocall
Alan Brown, Sunderland manager
Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

This was far from the greatest performance of a great season, Sunderland started sluggishly and Charlton took the lead on 17 minutes when Eddie Firmani hammered home a drive from 16 yards out after a clever one-two with Roy Matthews.

But two lucky breaks allowed Sunderland to get back into the game. First an injury on 30 minute to Charlton’s full-back John Hewie left him hobbling for the remainder of the match, and then, two minutes before the break a huge deflection off Brian Tocknell looped George Herd’s shot over ex-Sunderland ‘keeper Peter Wakeham and into the Charlton goal. The equaliser was a “big slice of luck” according to club legend Len Shackleton, writing in The People the following day.

A draw would have been enough to see the Lads over the line, but they were still chasing Leeds United for the Division 2 Championship trophy and the home faithful roared the home side on to a sweet victory. And so it was that Johnny Crossan scored in the final minute of the game to send the crowd into raptures, crashing the ball home for the perfect end to a great season for Sunderland.

To look back on this game now from our vantage point in 2021, where Sunderland have twice experienced crushing promotion near-misses against Charlton in the last quarter century, is to remind ourselves that history echoes rather than repeats itself.

We’ve put past disappointments behind us before, and we’ll do so again; indeed we could yet get the chance to right some promotion wrongs against the Addicks this year at Wembley.

STARTING XIs (with Len Shackleton’s Player Ratings from The People, 19/4/64)

SUNDERLAND: Montgomery 7; Irwin 8; Ashurst 7; Harvey 8; Hurley *9; McNabb 8; Usher 5; Herd 7; Sharkey 6; Crossan 7; Mulhall 5

CHARLTON ATHLETIC: Wakeham 7; Hewie 6; Kinsey 7; Bailey 7; Tocknell *8; Edwards 7; Kenning 7; Matthews 6; Firmani 7; Peackock 5; Glover 5


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