The 1930-31 English domestic league season was barely memorable for Sunderland fans. The team were struggling in the first division, despite scoring an abundance of goals - with 174 goals scored in the 42 games they gave a good account of themselves.
Thankfully their respite came in the form of an FA Cup run, with the team reaching the semi-finals of the most historic cup competition in club football.
It was a memorable run with some memorable individual performances in the games - Jimmy Connor’s six goal haul perhaps standing out most. Two of the goals Connor scored came against Newcastle in a quarter final replay at Exeter’s St James’ Park.
On this day in 1930, one of the better results came in Sunderland’s 6-5 victory against Liverpool at Roker Park. It was a game marred in drama and poor weather conditions - with journalists slating the fact the game went ahead considering it was barely visible.
The match reporter for the Sunday Sun was less than impressed about how events unfolded:
I very much doubt whether the 22,000 people who paid to see this game were satisfied with anything other than the result - the fact that Sunderland won.
How could they be satisfied when quite 50 per cent of the play was enveloped in fog? For the greater part of the game I had to rely upon the shouts of those spectators nearest to me to discover the events of the game.
It made the match reports on this game strangely small and vague in detail. One can only assume that had this game been played in today’s climate, it certainly would not have gone ahead.
The drama didn’t end there, with Liverpool’s Fred Hopkin breaking his collarbone in the first half only for him to come back and play the second half with the arm strapped to his shoulder.
Could you imagine players doing that now?
As for the game itself, Sunderland’s attack were apparently “as good at every point and deserving of their six goals”.
According to another report, the best football was played in the first half when the fog and mist wasn’t too bad.
During the first half, when visibility was quite good, Sunderland gave a bright and effective display of quick-moving football. There was no dwelling on the ball. It was booted and followed up with a purpose that suggested a business-like mood.
With twenty minutes on the clock, Sunderland were already 2-1 up - and by half time, they were 4-3 up. It was an exciting game but it seems certain that the fog was making the game almost impossible to play - and defend in!
Especially in the second half.
As it is well known, the big player in the Sunderland team at this time was Bobby Gurney and in this game he bagged himself a hattrick - scoring the third, fourth and fifth goal of the game. Gurney was on fire in the 30-31 season, notching up 33 goals altogether.
A Liverpool reporter’s report on this game had high praise for the Sunderland attack - particularly Gurney, who he felt stood out on the pitch.
I would specially single out Gurney, for his leadership, his judgment and distribution were excellent, and he had the satisfaction not only of exceeding his usual but also accomplishing the hat-trick – his first, I believe, in League football.
In the end, Sunderland came out on top in a narrow, mental game. Ultimately, Sunderland’s better finishing seemed to be the difference in the end.
The visitors’ methods were on similar lines to those of Sunderland, and though clever at it they did not finish so smartly as Sunderland. There could be no mistaking, however, the spirited way they went about their task, and the result was a very enjoyable game.
Whilst the season was not a great one for the club itself, the league followed the bizarre nature of this game. The top three in the league bagged 357 goals between them while bottom of the league Manchester United conceded 115 goals - 10 fewer than Blackpool who actually stayed up.
Sunderland finished eleventh this season. Their FA Cup run ultimately ended in heartbreak as they lost to Birmingham 2-0, despite dominating the game. Birmingham’s two goals came from Ernie Curtis, who four years earlier had won the cup as a teenager with Cardiff City.
Sunderland: Bob Middleton, Bill Murray, Harry Shaw, Sam Morris, Jack McDougall, Alex Hastings, Billy Eden, Tommy Urwin, Bobby Gurney, Jimmy Leonard, James Connor.
Liverpool: Arthur Riley, James Jackson, Tommy Lucas, Tom Morrison, Tom Bradshaw, Jimmy McDougall, Daniel McRorie, Gordon Hodgson, Jimmy Smith, Archie Macpherson, Fred Hopkin.
Referee: H.H. Heath.