It’s difficult to imagine following The Lads in the position we were in on this day back in 1937, especially considering where we find ourselves today. Reigning Football League champions, sitting 6th in Division One and through to the quarter-final of the FA Cup: halcyon days, indeed.
Our FA Cup campaign started off with a trip to the south coast to take on Southampton from Division Two, where a 3-2 victory put us through to the 4th round. This time we were drawn away from home yet again, and although it appeared a simple task to brush aside Luton Town from Division Three South, the underdogs took a two-goal lead on the half-hour and we were fortunate to come away with the 2-2 draw to take Luton back to Roker Park.
An expectant crowd of 53,235 weren’t disappointed when Sunderland managed to brush aside the lower league opposition 3-1 to progress to the 5th round for the eighth time in our history. From the eight occasions that we had reached this stage, four of them ended in defeat at the semi-final stage and on one occasion, in 1913, we were beaten finalists.
So, when the draw out of the hat for the 5th round saw us take on second division Swansea Town at Roker Park, thoughts were already leaping ahead to the possibility of this finally being Sunderland’s year to bring home the cup. A comfortable 3-0 victory in front of the home faithful saw Johnny Cochrane’s boys reach the quarter-final, where only Sunderland and Millwall had not won the cup from the eight remaining sides left in the competition.
This time the draw wasn’t as kind to us as it had been in previous rounds as we drew First Division opposition for the first time in the campaign in the form of Wolverhampton Wanderers. The trip to Molineux wouldn’t be easy as Wolves sat in 11th in the table, just five positions and five points behind us, but having played two fewer games.
Bizarrely for what was ahead, only Leeds United had drawn fewer games to that point in the season, which suggested neither side were the type to settle for a draw and would go all out for the victory.
Conditions weren’t ideal in the first game, where a muddy, boggy pitch didn’t help either side, with reports of attacks breaking down by the simple fact the ball would get stuck in the mud, so the ball had to be “dragged” according to reports like this one from the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping:
The finishing of Sunderland’s attack was not always good, but that was because the penalty areas were so bad. Those readers who did not see the game can have little conception of what the ground was like. The players found it an effort to get their feet out of the mud and though the wings were better here the ground was very greasy.
The home side broke the deadlock five minutes before half-time, only to be pegged back by Sunderland with 20 minutes remaining by Len Duns after good work by Bobby Gurney, so forced Wolves to travel to Roker Park.
This first fixture in the West Midlands took place on Saturday 6th March, and two days later the draw for the semi-final of the FA Cup was made. The winner of the tie knew that next up would be opposition from Division Three South in the form of Millwall.
This was a huge opportunity for both clubs to make it to the final, and back in the days when it would take as many replays as it took to separate the two sides, the first replay was required to get underway as soon as possible. So, just four days later, Wolves made the trip up to Roker Park and it was a thriller... eventually.
In the Daily Mirror’s report of the game, the first 86 minutes were described as “dull as ditchwater” but Sunderland were reportedly the better side... and four goals in the 12 minutes after that created an epic quarter-final.
With just four minutes left on the clock, Tom Galley gave Wolves the lead, and considering what came prior to the deadlock being broken in terms of the lack of chances, the away side must have had thoughts that they were through to the semi-final.
But one minute beyond the regulation time, Sunderland found an equaliser via Bobby Gurney, and the cup-run was back on.
One man who was simply determined to rectify the fact that Sunderland hadn’t yet won the FA Cup was local lad Raich Carter. Carter laid it off to Duns who only needed to tap the ball into the net after only a few minutes of extra time to give us the lead in front of 61,796 at Roker Park.
But it was a lead that would only last two minutes, with Harry Thomson bagging an equaliser for Wolves to put things level once more, The game finished level, and it meant rivalries were resumed five days later to thrash things out once again, this time on the neutral turf of Hillsborough.