Perhaps it is best that our game originally scheduled for today has been rearranged for Monday, because Sunderland have lost on the last seven occasions they have played on this date. The sequence even includes a shock friendly defeat to Bishop Auckland in 1986, although several years earlier there was a similar fixture that did prove more fruitful.
In the early 1950s clubs started experimenting with floodlights and Sunderland were one of the first to get involved. Earlier in December 1952 the Lads travelled to Hampshire as part of Southampton’s initial trials and now they were ready to give their own new setup a go – even if it was quite rudimentary to begin with.
Dundee were invited down to Roker to take part in the first game under floodlights, with the bulbs placed on top of temporary scaffolding structures. The initial feedback was good too, and whilst the club quickly expressed a desire to carry out some minor adjustments to the distribution of light more neutral parties seemed impressed. Several of the following day’s match reports were complimentary, suggesting that visibility was extremely good, whilst ‘A Special Correspondent’ for the Dundee Courier stated that the players had very few problems with dazzle.
Not only that, but as an exercise for the players the night proved useful too. The Courier wrote that the game was an even contest, and that it was the superior tactics of Bill Murray’s side that saw them to victory. Wearing specially designed shiny cerise shirts intended to be picked out easily, Sunderland looked to play a simple style – spreading the ball out wide as often as they could and shooting at goal wherever possible. The visitors meanwhile were said to have been over-cooking things and played themselves into trouble on occasion.
A large roar had welcomed the switch on of the lights shortly before kick-off and there were soon to be several goals to cheer as well. Most articles attributed the opener to Arthur Wright, although the Courier suggested it might have come via Len Shackleton; either way he was a talent that was used to having his name in lights and he shone on the new evening stage, spraying the ball around with supreme confidence.
Shackleton’s great rival Trevor Ford also had a productive time of it. Back in the side following an ankle injury, he headed home early into the second half and got another goal later on. It was a good test for the returning striker amidst a high-tempo affair, with the phenomenon of playing under the lights seemingly inspiring those on the pitch – substitutions were allowed too and so those on the terraces were getting a real sense of how the game would begin to develop over the coming years.
The numbers were boosted by a busload of travellers from Haydon Bridge, who were there to support Dundee boss George Anderson – a former Sunderland goalkeeper who was born in the Northumbrian village – and whilst the total attendance was significantly lower than had been in the previous Saturday for a league fixture against Sheffield Wednesday, it was still considered very good given the unfamiliar circumstances and start time.
As way of comparison, the last in-season friendly to have been played at Roker had been earlier in the year and was also against Scottish opposition, but the gate was two thirds lower for what proved to be a comfortable win over Third Lanark. The novelty of playing at night didn’t wear off either, with Dundee and further floodlit opponents showing in the Annual Report as bringing in gate receipts of over £15,000 and contributing towards a profit of around £20,000. It was crystal clear then that they were a hit, and permanent pylons were installed over the summer as a result.
Nowadays, evening football feels like second nature and for a lot of supporters there is something hugely romantic about a game under the lights. Sunderland fans don’t have to wait long to taste that special atmosphere again either with West Bromwich Albion due up in two days, giving another reason to be thankful maybe that this weekend’s fixture has been rescheduled.
Wednesday 10 December 1952
Sunderland 5 (A. Wright 20, Ford 46, 56, T. Wright 50, Davis 65).
Dundee 3 (Henderson 28, Flavell 44,85)
Sunderland: Threadgold; Marston (Hedley 46), Hudgell; Aitken, Hall, A. Wright; Bingham (Davis 46), T. Wright, Ford, Shackleton, Reynolds (Toseland 46).
Roker Park, attendance 34, 352