First Division Sunderland had unexpectedly lost in the third round of the 1953-54 FA Cup against Second Division Doncaster Rovers at home in front of a crowd of almost 50,000 earlier in the month, so a hastily-arranged friendly game against a club legend would have to fill the gap in the schedule while the rest of the country’s top teams continued their cup campaigns.
Raich Carter had moved on from his hometown club after the end of the second world war, restarting his career at Derby County and then Hull City, before a short pre-retirement stint in Ireland with Cork City.
He then moved into management as player-manager at Hull before being offered the full-time job with Second Division outfit Leeds United, then a small club with big ambitions. They were a middling side at the time but possessed one key asset, the Welsh wonder John Charles, who would later go on to become a legend at Juventus and almost take Wales all the way in the 1958 World Cup, beating the famous Hungarians on the way to the quarter-finals.
Despite the Cup loss, Sunderland were in fine form. They’d scored five against Cardiff and beaten Arsenal 4-1 in their previous two games, and only made three changes for the friendly, with second-choice keeper Leslie Dodds coming in along with Billy Bingham and Charles’ international colleague Ray Daniel.
The game attracted a crowd of over 16,000, despite being a meaningless friendly. And there’s one reason for this: the Hendon boy made good, Raich Carter, was to put his boots on one last time for the Roker Park faithful who once sung his name. He was now 41 years old, but his name alone could draw a crowd.
Carter’s successor as the Wearside crowd favourite, Len Shackleton, starred as the creative force for the home side and the strike force of Ken Chisholm and Ted Purdon were effective as Sunderland put five past the Yorkshire side.
But the old master still showed flashes of his genius with his feet, but was no longer able to keep up with the pace of the game.
Charles scored in the first half to equalise after Arthur Wright had opened the scoring. Sunderland then went 2-1 up with a goal from Purdon before half time. In the second half Chisholm grabbed a hat-trick, including the final two goals that took the game away from the visitors who had pulled one back on 49 minutes, but ultimately they went back down the A1 satisfied with a £600 fee they earned from the game.
This was the last time the Sunderland supporters would see one of the club’s all-time greats on the field; the man who lifted the 1937 FA Cup for the Lads, the man whose image adorns the wall of the Blue House Pub in the city today. And for that reason, it’s a game that we remember today.