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On This Day (12 December 1891): Sunderland hit seven as they take Darwen apart!

Leeds United might want to be a bit cautious tonight at the Stadium of Light, as a look through the archives tells us that Sunderland have a history of scoring big numbers on the 12th of December.

The Lads would eventually take the title later in the season...


Admittedly, the heavy wins were a long time ago and not always in main competition - 1885 seeing the Lads beat South Bank 10-3 in a friendly and a 9-0 success in 1983 coming against a Guernsey XI as part of a mid-season training break, but in 1891 league points were up for grabs and that means the fixture with Darwen took on extra significance.

Darwen are best known now for their record breaking losing streak of 1898-99, which Sunderland would come perilously close to matching in 2003-04, but at this point in the decade they were Football League new boys having just switched from the Football Alliance. They had already played against the Lads earlier in the calendar year though, with Sunderland coming out on top in the FA Cup.

The tie was at Darwen’s Barley Bank ground, whereas the first league clash was to be at Newcastle Road. The game, which according to the match report in the Sunderland Daily Echo & Shipping Gazette on the following Monday kicked off at 14:18 precisely, was played under low clouds and for a period looked like it would end in total darkness until a quickly flurry of snow appeared. This meant that by the ‘fall of the flag’ that signified the final ten minutes the scene was a lot brighter, and that is before we consider that by this stage Sunderland had all but sewn up another victory against the Salmoners.

As well as making a note of the exact kick off time, the Echo referred to the referee being ‘very popular’ although did not expand on why. Darwen’s players did dispute several of the decisions made by the official, but it would appear from the tone of various other sources too that Sunderland were by far the stronger regardless. The opening exchanges were end to end and saw both teams go on the attack, but it wasn’t long before the home side were in full control.

Jimmy Millar: three goals on this day

The low temperatures meant that this was not a day to be hit in the face, and after being struck by an errant ball Hughie Wilson prompted fears he may have to be withdrawn with less than ten minutes gone as he momentarily staggered around the pitch. He had regained his poise by the time his team had gone ahead though, and it would soon be visiting keeper Billy McOwen who was feeling rough as the goals started flying in.

McOwen gave a decent individual performance but the first of the afternoon typified his luck, when after beating away a John Scott attempt, he saw Jimmy Millar win the ball back and send it straight back past him and into the net. The weather then took a turn for the worse as rain began lashing down, and the situation didn’t get any better for Darwen either when from a corner Wilson shot, and in attempting to block it with his head all John Leach did was help the ball on its way past McOwen.

The class of Tom Watson’s men was already starting to show and it was beginning to look like there would only be one winner. It was 3-0 from another corner as Scott crossed the ball over and David Hannah headed in, and whilst his namesake Jimmy Hannah had an effort scrubbed off for offside things were still looking good.

Chances continued to come in the second half, and when Johnny Campbell forced a save Millar was again on hand to mop up and tuck away the rebound. Ted Doig, Tom Porteous and John Oliver, in his last appearance for the Lads, were often the only three players in the Sunderland half as the onslaught continued, and in the final frenzy there appears to have been some confusion regarding the timing, order and identity of the final goal scorers.

The Echo stated that Jimmy Hannah fed the ball to Campbell, who made it 5-0 from distance, and that in those final ten minutes Millar completed his hattrick with a quick turn. The report did not indicate who ‘slipped through’ the final goal, but most other sources have concluded that it was Campbell.

High scoring games were not uncommon during the era but even by those standards this was some going. The team were beginning to mount a serious title charge however and were beginning to look the real deal, and would indeed win the Football League prior to the return fixture later in the season. Not content with that though, they continued the hunt for goals and stuck another seven past Darwen in Lancashire; that game finished 7-1, making this the club’s highest aggregate score against a side in one season.


Saturday 12 December 1891

Football League

Sunderland 7 (Millar 10’, ?, 82’, Wilson 21’, D Hannah 40’, Campbell ?, 89’)

Darwen 0

Sunderland: Doig; Porteous; Oliver; Wilson, Auld, Murray; J Hannah, D Hannah, Campbell, Millar, Scott.

Newcastle Road, attendance c 4,000

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