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On This Day (12 March 1892): Sunderland close in on maiden title – and they celebrated in style!

Tom Watson’s magnificent side took a huge step towards the top of the Football League with a commanding victory 130 years ago today...

Recently the club have been using large wraparounds of the Sunderland Echo to advertise tickets for both the men’s and women’s senior sides. It has been a welcome step, but it is nothing new – they were even doing it as long ago as 1892!

On the 11th of March the paper, then still called the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, included in their Public Announcements section an advert for what was billed as ‘The Match of the Season’. It was a bold claim by the club, but with visitors Preston North End top of the league and Sunderland pushing them hard in third place with games in hand you could see where they were coming from.

On the day of the game, spirits were dampened temporarily by the weather, with heavy snow making it look like the fixture may not go ahead. Club staff worked hard however to get the pitch ready in time, and with star forward Johnny Campbell back in the side following a two-game absence, confidence rose again.

The first goalscorer, John Auld, as seen in All the Lads

Sunderland were soon ahead when John Auld came in from half-back position to score from an early corner. The slippery conditions made for an entertaining game though and with Preston keen to keep their own title charge going they created a series of good openings, only for Sunderland to extend their lead midway through the half thanks to Campbell.

According to the Newcastle Evening Chronicle the following Monday the “point” was scored beautifully after the forward had challenged opposing goalkeeper Jimmy Trainor and won the ball, but despite the setback Preston once again responded well. Within moments they had reduced the deficit through Jimmy Ross and both sides spent the rest of the first half trading chances.

The main man, Johnny Campbell, as seen in Sunderland AFC The Absolute Record

It was after the interval and with the wind and sleet now behind them that Sunderland were able to really pull away. The team had “borne down” North End by the time Auld got his second of the game and with 20 minutes left Davy Hannah made sure from what looked like an already goal-bound effort from Jimmy Millar. With the job now done and the snow thickening again, Tom Watson’s side were able to go into cruise control for the final section of the match; they began trying their luck from distance and whilst nothing went in, any supporters that had been enticed along by the Echo had already got their money’s worth.

Home games proved value for money all season in fact, with the side averaging 4 goals for each league match played at Newcastle Road. The team finished the campaign with the only 100% home record in league history, and the victory against Preston was number 10 of a club record 13 game consecutive run of wins. There was an individual achievement too for Campbell, who was the country’s top scorer in 1891-92.

All of these statistics had looked unlikely at the start of the season, when the side had started sluggishly and lost three of their first four league fixtures. The team revelled in playing catch up however and after seeing off North End they moved into second place and within three points of their championship rivals. What's more, Sunderland had three more games over Preston and sure enough, they eventually toppled the Lilywhites to win the Football League for the first time.

The one that wrapped the game up, Davy Hannah, as seen in All the Lads

The trophy was presented at the Queen’s Hotel in Fawcett Street in May 1892 as part of the Football League’s annual meeting. The players were getting used to being in fine surroundings by then, as after the game against Preston they attended a banquet arranged in their honour by the Marquis of Londonderry. Held a stone’s throw away from the Queen’s in the prestigious Grand Hotel on Bridge Street, the players were toasted by some of the great and the good of the town during the evening, as were the Mayor and the Corporation.

With the Marquis unable to attend in person Colonel Eminson JP presided over the event and gave a fine speech praising the recent efforts of the side. President of the Club and eminent shipbuilder Robert Thompson JP also spoke, thanking the Marquis for his hospitality and stating his hope that the occasion would help raise ‘the tone of football’.

The evening ended with a rendition of Auld Lang Syne, and with football glory now just around the corner Sunderland would soon be front-page news, and the party could really begin…

The team, as featured in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News on the day of the game (image taken from Sunderland AFC The Absolute Record).

Saturday 12 March 1892

Football League

Sunderland 4 (Auld 7, 65 Campbell 23, Hannah 70)

Preston North End 1 (Ross 25)

Sunderland: Doig; Porteous, Gow; Wilson, Auld, Gibson; J Hannah, D Hannah, Campbell, Millar, Scott.

Newcastle Road, attendance 14, 000

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