Sunderland: Fraser, Hedley, McDonald, Anderson, Daniel, Aitken, Bingham, Shackleton, Purdon (Fleming 10), Chisholm, Elliott Unused Subs: Wood, Hudgell, Bone, Morrison
Montreal All Stars: Gill, Momesso, Mucelli (Pearson 30), Hughes, Meynes, Drake, Bincolletto, Kratochvil, Szylo, Lazzaroni, McMahon Unused Subs: McAuley, Gerretto, Pavelka.
It’s a very modern story. The biggest, richest, clubs in the world jetting off on out-of-season tours to the new and expanding overseas football markets, looking to build their brands and rake in some hefty appearance fees along the way. What is today an integral part of the global commercial strategy of Liverpool, Manchester United and Real Madrid was also how, in the 1950s, Sunderland’s ‘Bank of England’ team spent a large part of each May.
Previous seasons had concluded with tours of Turkey (1950), central and eastern Europe (1951), and Scandinavia (1953), and the 1955 tour took the club to the fallow ground of North America, where they were joined by fellow English Division One side Huddersfield Town.
The Black Cats’ schedule included four exhibition games against the Terriers in New York, Manitoba, Toronto and Detroit, and one against Germany’s FC Nuremburg at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, in what was a reprise of their previous encounter at the end of Sunderland’s pioneering 1909 tour of central Europe.
These games against the other established European sides proved close yet entertaining affairs, with all but one ending in score draws. However, the locals were also to provide unexpectedly tough opposition for Bill Murray’s Sunderland.
In their final game in New York on 25th May, Sunderland had beaten an American All-Stars team 4-1 in the Bronx, and then the squad made their way north to Quebec to face off against the cream of Montreal’s soccer fraternity, the Montreal All-Stars. The occasion of the visit of one of the leading European clubs was sufficiently exciting to bring together their top players under a single umbrella to represent their city as a whole.
Association football north of the 49th parallel in the 1950s was dominated by ethnically-based clubs representing the Ukrainian, Jewish, Scots, Ulster, Italian and Hungarian “New Canadian” immigrant communities, many of whom had escaped the poverty and trauma of war-ravaged Europe to make new lives and careers in the comparatively safe and prosperous Canadian cities of Toronto, Ontario and Montreal.
It was Jewish sports club Hakoah Montreal that provided the backbone of the All-stars side, complemented by others such as diminutive but skilful Venice-born forward Giovanni Bincoletto of Italia Montreal, who was known as ‘Twinkle Toes’ by the Canadian footballing public.
Bincolletto had migrated across the Atlantic in 1951 at the head of a group of Italian professionals looking to help establish a functioning soccer league in Canada. He eventually settled in Edmonton, Alberta, and, although football never did fully take off in a sports culture wedded to ice hockey, baseball and grid-iron, he would later go on to have a career as part of the Italian diplomatic mission to the country in the 1970s and 1980s.
The game itself attracted a disappointingly low attendance of around 6,000 to the Delorimier Stadium, with local soccer fans seemingly uninterested in one-off fixtures between confected XIs and English sides playing a relaxed in post-season mode. Even the presence of the famous Len Shackleton, described in the local press as akin to the great Stanley Matthews who had visited the city a few years previously, wasn’t enough to bring in the punters. However, stay-away supporters were to be left ‘red-faced’ according to the local press as the cosmopolitan Montrealois gave the Wearsiders a stern test and an end-to-end game that provided six goals.
Sunderland were quick out of the blocks; Billy Elliott crossing from the outside left position for Ken Chisholm, whose shot deflected off Andy Menyes and past the experienced Bill Gill in the Montreal goal on six minutes. The hosts then gave the tourists a scare, as Tony Lazzaroni tried to dribble the ball past the whole Sunderland defence before his shot was cleared by ‘keeper Willie Fraser, and then Stefan Szylo’s shot passed only inches over the Sunderland bar.
The Lads’ second came from slick combination play between Billy Bingham and Shackleton, with Bingham getting on the scoresheet, and he scored again with a header from an Elliott corner on 24 minutes – although there was a large hint of obstruction against Gill in the Montreal goal.
Nevertheless, the home team were far from out of it, and their pressure on the Sunderland goal was rewarded as Bill Drake, substitute Les Pearson and Bincolletto combined to provide Ukrainian Ota Kratochvil with a chance, which he powered home from 20 yards out. The game stood poised at 3-1 at half time.
The second half saw a concerted spell of dominance from the All-Stars, with Sunderland pinned in their own half, but the visitors broke away to score a fourth on 70 minutes, Chisholm getting his second with Elliott the provider once more.
Montreal were not done yet and scored the best goal of the game through Lazzaroni, who smashed it in from 20 yards after the ball broke free from a goalmouth scramble. In the closing stages, Sunderland missed a penalty, with Gill saving brilliantly from Stan Anderson who blasted his spot-kick, and the game finished with a very respectable scoreline for the home side.
Szylo was presented with a ‘Most Valuable Player’ trophy after the game, and the performance of the local heroes was enough to earn them plaudits from Norman Gillespie writing in the following day’s Montreal Gazette:
Montreal All-Stars covered themselves in glory yesterday... as they held the famous Sunderland team of the English first division to a 4-2 score. In the second period Montreal had a definite edge in territorial play. But for lack of punch in the front line when the chips were down they might have won the game. The English players were very evidently ruffled and gave referee Frank Rattigan quite a going-over at times when the going got tough.
Today, Sunderland AFC have a large and growing number of fans across the Canada and the rest of North America, with the North American Supporters Association (NASA) holding regular meet-ups in cities across the continent. Maybe you have friends or family who were at this game, or maybe you remember the other matches played on the tour? We would love to hear from you if that’s the case.