After relegation in 1958, Sunderland struggled in their first few seasons in Division Two. They were, of course, the first campaigns the club had ever played outside of the top flight, and the clouds that had gathered before Alan Brown’s arrival had failed to fully dissipate.
In 1958/59 we finished in 15th place, while in 59/60 we went one worse – 16th place and only 52 goals scored in 42 games; Ian Lawler’s 17 and Ambrose Fogarty’s 12 provided the bulk. 1960/61 offered hope – a 6th placed finish was better, although the team were 11 points off promotion. In an era in which 2 points were awarded for a win, that was a few losses to turn into draws, and draws to turn into victories.
Ian Lawther had top-scored in that campaign too, with 24 league goals. But the Belfast-born 22-year-old striker had caught the eye of top-flight clubs, and had been sold to Blackburn for £18,000 in the summer of 1961.
The move was given the green light as Alan Brown had managed to sign an upgrade the week before, with the arrival of one Brian Howard Clough from the Boro for £55,000.
Twenty-six-year-old Clough had scored for fun at his hometown club – he’d bagged 40 or more goals in four consecutive seasons – although, curiously had only managed one in six games against Sunderland. That goal came in a 1-0 win at Ayresome Park in September 1960, giving Middlesbrough a decisive two points as they finished one place and one point above us in the final reckoning.
Still, Clough had been tempted to make the somewhat controversial move north, and settled in immediately.
By the time Swansea Town came to visit on this day 59 years ago, the lads were sitting in fifth place, and Clough had already bagged 20 goals in 28 games, including three hat-tricks, and a double the previous week – an all-action 2-2 draw at St James Park.
Sunderland were in fine form heading into the game, with just one loss in 14, and before the game chairman Syd Collings had assured the team their positions were safe, declaring:
We are no longer interested in the transfer market. We are seeking no replacements to our staff whatsoever.
The board and management have full confidence in the present playing strength and reel they are perfectly competent to gain promotion this season – and even take the club above the halfway mark in the First Division in the following year.
In an interesting interview with the Sunday Sun, Collings had then given a rundown of the players who’d most impressed him that season, including 18-year-old Cec Irwin (“He’s come on remarkably well,”), Stan Anderson (who Collings tipped as the perfect replacement for Bobby Robson in the England team), Harry Hooper (“I don’t think there’s a more brilliant right winger in England,”).
On experienced winger Jack Overfield, Collings said:
He can be very irritating on the field, but what a good footballer he is. Have you noticed the number of moves he has initiated that have led to goals this season? He is being given a lot of room to work in just recently and he can beat his man well.
I think he has vastly improved on last season. I don’t mind a footballer being irritating – providing he gets, or helps to get, goals. After all, they are what matter.
While on the topic of his new centre forward:
At present, Brian is one of the best centre-forwards in the country. But he is still not consistent enough. He will get a few hat-tricks and then have a lean spell.
Before he gets his Englnd chance I think I would like to see him gain that consistency, He cn do it. I’ve told him so.
During his lean spell recently he was getting concerned. But I told him before we signed him: ‘Get your usual 40 goals a season and your job is done as far as we’re concerned.
He’s doing that.
Prior to kick off, Clough was halfway to achieving that magic 40-goal total – after the game he was three steps closer with another hat-trick in an entertaining and impressive 7-2 victory at Roker Park, which also featured a hat-trick from Ambrose Fogarty.
Swansea Town – as they were then – probably counted themselves unfortunate to be on the end of such a scoreline. The first half was a scrappy affair – Sunderland’s performance was described by reporter Alan Sleeman as ‘patchier than a down-and-out’s trousers – and Charlie Hurley gifted Swansea the lead, being ‘once again caught in possession’, gifting Brayley Reynolds the opportunity to slot past Peter Wakeham in the 21st minute.
Moments later, Sunderland were level, Hurley – maybe conscious of his earlier error – thumped the ball forward, Fogarty latching onto it to slot the ball past Swansea keeper King.
Fogarty grabbed his second towards the end of the first half – pouncing after King’s fumble. It was a goal that led to a bit of ‘rough stuff’ – Swansea’s Donnelly was booked, Hurley spoken to and the away side’s goalscorer Reynolds suffered a leg injury, which proved to be pivotal.
With no subs available, Reynolds failed to emerge for the second half – and what a half it was for Sunderland.
On 55 minutes, Hurley set Hooper away with a brilliant pass – the winger beat two men before crossing to Clough who scored his first of the game. Swansea pulled one back ten minutes later, a debatable penalty award giving Williams the chance to score.
Clough got his second of the game on 67, lobbing the ball over the keeper after a long kick from Wakeham, and a minute later Cloughie completed his fourth hat-trick of the campaign, hammering the ball home from Hooper’s pass.
Hooper and Clough linked up once more in the closing stages of the game, with Hooper taking a chance from 25 yards and deceiving keeper King, while Fogarty notched his hat-trick from close range on 89, sealing a comprehensive win for the lads.
The two points took Sunderland up to third place – a position they’d ultimately finish the season in.