It had been a pre-season of change at Sunderland, who had finished one place and six points behind title winners Aston Villa in the top flight during the previous campaign.
After the ‘Team of All Talents’ had their application to join the Football League finally approved in 1890, Sunderland began the 1890-91 season as a league club, finishing a respectable seventh place in our inaugural season.
Things got an awful lot better the following season, as we claimed the title ahead of Preston in 1891-92, and then again in 1892-93.
After finishing runners up the following campaign, changes were deemed necessary to ensure the club regained its status as English football’s best: a new management committee was appointed and a number of players were dispensed with.
Porteous, Dalton, Scott, Gibson and Dale left, while Johnston, McCreadie, McNeil, Goodchild and McNaughton were brought in.
Pre-season signs had been good, with the Sunderland Daily Echo reporting: ‘the old hands showing themselves to be as clever as ever while of the new men it may safely be said that they are likely to prove decided acquisitions.
Sunderland started the season on home turf at the Newcastle Road ground against Derby County, who’d finished the previous season in third place. But, as expectant crowds rolled into the ground for the 3pm kick off, disappointing news had reached club officials.
A telegram relayed the news that the referee Mr Kirkham from Darwen had missed his connecting train at York, and wouldn’t reach Sunderland until just before 5pm.
Referee! Can anyone referee?!
The teams had been warming up when the news reached the club, and by 3.30pm the enthusiastic crowd began to get impatient. A search for a replacement referee had been undertaken, however, and a Mr John Conqueror of Southwick was accepted as a suitable replacement by both sides, and ended up starting the game as 4pm approached.
Sunderland started the game in a manner befitting a team with aspirations of a top-of-the-table finish, establishing a three-goal first-half lead courtesy of goals from Johnny Campbell, Jimmy Hannah and Tommy Hyslop.
Unbeknown to the watching crowd of around 9,000, the ‘real’ referee Mr Kirkam finally arrived at the ground as the players were off the field for half-time.
As the Sunderland Daily Echo reported:
It was well on to five o’clock when the players returned to the field; they loitered for a considerable time outside the clubhouse, and it was guessed that a ‘hitch’ had occurred somewhere, and people began to ask whether it was a League match at all. The utmost dilatoriness was displayed on resuming, some of the players sprawling about the grass, while others assembled in little groups and held consultations, taking no notice of repeated injunctions to “How way my lads!”.
It transpired that a new game had been ordered by the late-running referee, who’d declared the first half void: a decision which brought ‘loud expressions of disapprobation, and the onlookers groaned and hooted’.
Right, let’s start again!
Both teams were evidently aggrieved. Sunderland started the ‘real’ first half displaying more spirit and fight than they had done in the ‘friendly’ that had been played earlier, while the ‘Peakites’ as Derby County were then known, protested every decision vociferously, ‘riling the crowd that cheered vociferously when the Wearsiders took up the pressure and fairly bombarded the Derby goal.’
Jimmy Hannah opened the scoring again on four minutes, tapping in after McCreadie hit the crossbar, and Gillespie putting the ball away after Campbell had driven the ball home. The goal seems to have been awarded after Gillespie put it back into the goal, but the record books have Campbell as the confirmed scorer.
Sunderland were rampent. Derby keeper Jack Robinson kept the score down with a string of fine saves before failing to keep a Miller shot from crossing the line.
As the game progressed, the visitors lost more and more of their temper, and once A. Goodall, in his vexation, picked the ball up before he foul, for which he appealed, had been granted. The light was becoming bad; fine rain also began to fall, and the prospects of the game being finished in the dark were actively canvassed.
Half time came with Sunderland three up, and many spectators, having seen two halves of football, left the ground!
Johnny Campbell banged in a fourth after half-time, volleying in from Hannah’s cross, and shortly after Hyslop hit the post after a flowing move. Hyslop did add a fifth, sending the ball into the net like the ‘rush of a rocket’, and the same player scored the sixth of the ‘proper game’ with a long ranger.
Miller scored a seventh ‘much to the disgust of the visitors, who objected as usual’, while Gillespie scored in the last minute, to seal an 8-0 victory – 11-0 over the course of the three halves.
It got the season off to a memorable and successful start, and it was a memorable and successful season, as the lads won the First Division title in style – finished five points ahead of Everton to clinch the club’s third top-flight title.
Sunderland: Doig, Meehan, Gow, Wilson, McCreadie, Johnston, Gillespie, Millar, Campbell, Hyslop, Hannah.
Derby: Robinson, Methven, Staley, Cox, Goodall, Docherty, Allan, Fletcher, Goodall, Bloomer, McMillan.