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On This Day (12th June 1942): Sunderland mourns the loss of a league-winning legend

Jimmy Watson passed away eighty years ago today. Roker Report pays tribute to an early Sunderland great 

Watson (back row, third from right) with his 1899-00 teammates. Image from Sunderland AFC: The Absolute Record

It has been over 120 years since he made his Sunderland debut, but Scottish defender Jimmy Watson is still fully deserving of a spot amongst the club’s elite.

Considered one of the best full-backs of his generation, he was a rock-steady performer on Wearside and played a huge role in the club winning its fourth league title.

Prior to moving to the club, Watson was at Clyde and had played for them against Sunderland in 1898. The Glasgow friendly was an entertaining 3-3 draw, but such frailties at the back were to become a rarity following his move to England.

Arriving during the 1899/1900 season, the Lads kept clean sheets in Watson’s first two appearances, and upon establishing himself as a regular during the following campaign, they finished as runners-up in the top-flight with the best defensive record in the division.

Watson close up. Image from All the Lads

A formidable partnership with his countryman Andy McCombie provided a solid base for the team. The pair were both imposing figures, but could play a bit too, with Watson being described as a ‘powerful all-rounder, albeit with a somewhat unusual running style’.

The duo continued their fine work well into the 1901/1902 league-winning season, but whilst McCombie missed out on the run-in, Watson played in all but one game of the title success.

He remained a mainstay thereafter too, helping Sunderland win the Sheriff of London Charity Shield in 1903, and secure three more consecutive top-six finishes.

During this period, there was also a Jim Watson turning out for the Lads on occasion, who was often referred to as ‘Watson Junior’ to avoid confusion, but the fellow Scot would leave midway through a highly tumultuous 1904/1905 season.

Manager Alex Mackie was suspended at the time following an inquiry regarding payments made to Watson’s comrade McCombie, and would later be replaced on a full-time basis by Bob Kyle.

Despite results starting to slip as the new man attempted to pick up the pieces of a club in a state of flux, Watson Senior was a reassuring presence on the pitch and formed a new partnership alongside Ephraim ‘Dusty’ Rhodes.

Another close up. Image from Sunderland AFC: The Official History

Watson had made his international debut for Scotland in the aftermath of Sunderland’s league title and was always a highly influential voice.

After leaving Roker Park for Middlesbrough in 1907, the Teessiders enjoyed a marked improvement in results, and upon his retirement, he became a hotelier in the area before emigrating to Canada.

Originally settling in Vancouver, he is thought to have been living in Victoria, British Columbia at the time of his death aged 64.

Sadly, Jimmy Watson is not the only member of the 1901/1902 side to have passed away on the 12th of June. Just a few weeks after the triumph, club captain Matthew Ferguson died in tragic circumstances from pleuropneumonia.

Like Watson, he was another Scotsman who had given Sunderland tremendous service, and as time passes by, their achievements remain undiminished.

James ‘Jimmy’ Watson


Larkhall, Scotland 4 October 1877

SAFC debut:

Sunderland 0

Glossop North End 0

Football League Division One, Roker Park 24 February 1900

Final SAFC appearance:

Manchester United 2 (Williams 11, Turnbull 50)

Sunderland 0

Football League Division One, Bank Street 25 March 1907

Total appearances/goals for SAFC:



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