With the World Cup commencing this weekend, it seems fitting to insert some Sunderland-related international content for the site this week. This piece takes us back 72 years to when 59,137 spectators turned up to what turned out to be an extremely entertaining game.
This game was built up as an exciting fixture with many stars from both teams on show. Players such as Wilf Mannion, Eddie Baily, Jackie Milburn, Les Medley and Tom Finney were all in action sparking interest and intrigue.
Furthermore, the Football Association’s new flag, designed by the Heraldry Office, was to be flown at Roker Park for the very first time.
From a Sunderland perspective, locals were eager to see their Welsh £30,000 record signing Trevor Ford play after his fresh arrival from Aston Villa only weeks previous. After his goalscoring exploits for Villa - where he scored 61 goals in 128 games, he was seen as a footballing celebrity at the time due to this prolific scoring record. Such was the eagerness by Sunderland to purchase him, the club bought a house for Ford and his family to make the trip North a little easier.
There was a real North East feel for the game as both teams had set up camp for a few days in the build up to the game - with the England team staying in the Seaburn hotel whilst Wales had trained at St James’ Park.
With goals galore, the game was very exciting - made all the more impressive given that the weather was awful.
This was undoubtedly the best Welsh performance against England since the war and the fact that England, at times, had to be at their most brilliant best says it all. On a treacherous surface and on a bitterly cold day, the football served up warmed the crowd to fever pitch as the excitement grew.
England had started the game brightly - with the aforementioned Middlesborough midfielder Wilfred Mannion really leading the charge. His slick passing was mesmerising the Roker Park faithful - yet it was Wales who thought they had taken the lead around the half hour mark, but Royston Clarke’s shot was ruled out for offside.
A few seconds later, England took the lead as a long controlled clearance by Lionel Smith, who had a good game, reached Baily on the edge of the penalty area. The Spurs player flicked the ball up with his right foot and crashed it into the net with his left for a wonderful goal.
The England attack, well prompted by Willie Watson and Jimmy Dickinson, then began to take proper control of the game - with the ball moving forward rapidly.
Just before half-time England scored their second. It was a shot by Baily that beat Hughes in the Wales goal after neat build up play.
The 2-0 half time scoreline was a little harsh on Wales who were playing quite well - especially Sunderland’s Ford (pictured below) who was showing why the ‘Bank of England club’ splashed the cash on him.
With only three minutes of the second half gone Wales pulled a goal back through the very man. Griffiths put over a fine centre which landed between Leslie Compton and Bert Williams, and before either could react, Ford nipped in smartly to flick the ball in with his head.
It was end-to-end stuff now as both sides searched for another goal. Ford forced two brilliant saves out of Williams and then Baily saw his 20-yard shot strike the Welsh crossbar.
A scramble on the England goal-line almost produced an equaliser before, on 66 minutes, the home side engineered the next crucial goal. The impressive Mannion was the man on target this time, cleverly flicking the ball past Hughes.
Credit to Wales who refused to lie down and it was not long before it was 3-2. Once more the combination of Griffiths and Ford gave the centre-forward the chance to touch the ball past Williams with the other England defenders off balance.
With the game going into the final few minutes, Wales pushed and pushed for an equaliser - but to no avail. With seconds left, Newcastle’s Milburn scored on enemy grounds after another neat move by the English team with Mannion integral again.
The game finished 4-2 to England - but Wales showed glimpses of their quality and with players like Ford in the team, they always stood a chance.