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On This Day (2 Dec 1957): Sunderland take on star-studded Italians under the Roker floodlights

The lads took a break from league action to face a Juventus side featuring the world’s most expensive player...

Photo by Juventus FC - Archive/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Back on Easter Monday 1957, Leeds United’s Welsh international centre forward, John Charles, had scored a double against Sunderland in a 3-1 win to the home team at Elland Road – a game that was Charles’ last for the Lilywhites before heading to Italy to join Juventus.

For Sunderland, that penultimate game of the season almost brought a close to a miserable season. The previous campaign, the lads had finished midtable, having topped the league in November. But in 56/57, whistleblowing correspondence to the FA from Mr Smith had resulted in fines and bans; Bill Murray’s distinguished spell as player and manager came to an inauspicious end, six current and former players were also found guilty of receiving illegal payments.

Sunderland finished in 20th place, third off bottom, and a dark, gloomy cloud was hanging over Roker Park.

Bill Murray’s departure at the end of the 56/57 season saw Alan Brown take over at Roker Park – the north east born disciplinarian seen as the perfect man to sort out Sunderland’s on and off field problems.

Brown’s first game saw Sunderland go down 1-0 to Arsenal at Roker Park. The mercurial 35-year-old, Len Shackleton, decided that one game under Brown was enough, and called time on his career. Heavy defeats to Leicester and Wolves followed, with a home win over Leicester in the fourth league game of the campaign (a very quick return fixture from the week previous) bringing Brown his first victory.

Newcastle were dispatched 2-0 at home in September, Don Revie and Colin Grainger with the goals, however, as November began, the club was once again languishing in 20th position.

Charlie Hurley had been added to the ranks, and as November drew to a close with an impressive 2-0 win over Manchester City, things were looking up – a run of eight games had brought only one defeat, and on this day a 65 years ago the lads took a break from league action to test themselves against the side that their tormentor from Easter Monday, John Charles, had joined – Juventus.

The wealthy Juve had been splashing the cash – £65,000 had headed to Elland Road for Charles, while a world record £120,000 had been paid earlier in the year to River Plate for the exciting 5’ 4” forward, Enrico Omar Sivori, who had just turned 22. (£120,000 was reported at the time, £93,000 is recorded in other places today – either way, it was a world record.)

Sivori was one of the Argentine international attacking trio, known as the ‘dirty faces’, from the movie Angels With Dirty Faces, due to their childlike, mischievous play.

Sivori (left) and Boniperti in action for Juventus
Photo by Juventus FC - Archive/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Juventus were top of the league in Italy, but a suspension of domestic action due to the national team’s World Cup game with Ireland in Belfast meant they’d taken the opportunity to play a few friendlies in England

Prior to Sunderland’s game against Manchester City on the Saturday, Juventus had beaten Sheffield Wednesday 4-3 at Hillsborough before heading north to take in our fixture against City.

Juventus had been relatively impressed by Sunderland’s display – goals from Revie and Stan Anderson helping the lads claim victory – and before the game The Newcastle Journal reported all of the Juve players had spent Sunday night playing cards at their Seaburn Hotel prior to the Monday fixture. The one noticeable absentee was Charles – who’d taken himself off to the pictures.

While Juventus and Wednesday had played out an entertaining, exciting game a few days prior, Sunderland’s floodlit encounter with ‘The Old Lady’ showcased the Italian’s defensive talents more than their attacking flair.

Sunderland’s team showed two changes from Saturday’s league clash – Don Revie missed out through injury while Billy Bingham was with the Irish squad to face Italy – while Juventus’s side included the likes of the legendary Giampiero Boniperti, former Spurs wing half Tony Marchi, as well as Charles and Sivori.

Charles Bids A Two-Goal Farewell To League Soccer
Charles scoring against Sunderland in his last game prior to his move to Italy
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

It was Sivori, a diminutive, skillful figure who played with his socks rolled down and no shinpads, ended up making all of the difference for Sandro Puppo’s team in a hard-fought clash played in Arctic conditions.

Sunderland had the best of the first half, taking the Italians by surprise with wave after wave of attack. Juve’s keeper Carlo Mattrel, whom the post-game report described as ‘elastic fingered’ pulling off some great saves to keep the lads at bay.

The second half brought a load of Juve subs ‘the trademark of continental football’ (Sunderland named only one, ‘in case of injury’ and subs weren’t allowed in English football until 1965) but Sunderland had the upper hand for the early period of the second half, before an injury to Hedley forced Grainger – who’d been subbed at half time – back onto the field.

Juventus took advantage, and just after the hour mark, Sivori’s shot slipped through the hands of keeper Willie Fraser to give the visitors a lead.

Juventus’s defensive play did nothing to impress local reporters, who said it had done nothing to warm them up on a chilly night, but the game opened up in the latter stages.

Fraser pulled off a good save from a Charles freekick, before the Welshman shot wide. Boniperti hit the side netting while at the other end, Johnny Hannigan’s shot was saved and Harry Godbold hit the post.

It was all to be in vain, as Sivori – who’d shown flashes of his incredible talent – sealed the win with a couple of minutes left – 2-0 to Juventus.

Willie Fraser in a vain effort to stop goal
Willie Fraser in action against Charlton in 1956
Photo by PA Images via Getty Images

After the match, the consensus was that Juventus would struggle in the English top flight. Who knows.

What we do know is Juventus, who had been in a bit of a slump, won their league – and as the Turin side were celebrating, we were condemned to our first-ever relegation, ending our proud record of being the only club never to have played outside of the top flight.

Footnote: Interestingly, as a result of his move to Italy, Omar Sivori – along with the other two ‘dirty faces’, Maschio and Angelillo, who’d also transferred to Italywas banned by the Argentinian Football Association from playing for the national team – in just two years he’d amassed 19 caps, scoring 9 goals for his country of birth, but the FA didn’t take kindly to his ‘defection’ to play football in Italy.

He missed out on playing at the 1958 World Cup as a result, but due to family’s Italian heritage – he was awarded Italian citizenship, and given permission to play for the Azzuri, representing them at the 1962 World Cup. For Italy, he scored eight goals in just nine games.

Prior to 1960, it was relatively simple to play for different international teams. Puskas, for example, turned out for Spain after his long Hungarian career, while Alfredo Di Stefano played for Argentina, Colombia (although Colombia at the time wasn’t recognised by FIFA) and Spain. In 1960, FIFA introduced rules to prevent players switching countries as easily.

Sunderland 0-2 Juventus, 2 December 1957
Roker Park, 42,976
Goals: Sivori 61, 88

Sunderland: Fraser, Hedley (Grainger 57), Elliott, Reed, Hurley, Aitken, Hannigan, Anderson, Spence, Fogarty, Grainger (Godbold 46)

Juventus: Mattrel (Vavassora 46), Boldi, Garzena, Colombo (Patrucco 46), Nay (Montico 46), Emoli (Matrchi 46), Stacchini, Boniperti, Charles, Sivori, Stivanello (Turchi 46)


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