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On This Day (26 March 1887): Sunderland AFC – good hosts and the pride of Durham!

Glory days! Silverware on the mantlepiece as a simmering grudge gets put to bed 136 years ago today…

The trophy takes centre stage once again, this time after Sunderland ‘A’ won it in 1904

It has been announced that the final of the 2022-23 Durham Frank Pattison Challenge Cup between Hebburn Town and Spennymoor Town will be held at the Stadium of Light in early May. It is a competition that Sunderland have a strong record in themselves going back over a century, but whilst hosting the showpiece game now is seen as a nice way to recognise grassroots football in the area, relations with the Durham FA were once very strained.

There was a time when the club wanted little to do with the trophy, but after entering the cup again following a self-imposed exile, they won it for a second time on this day in 1887. To make the moment even sweeter victory came against Darlington – the very team with which a bitter rivalry had formed and caused Sunderland’s withdrawal in the first place.

The issues started in 1884 when the Lads won the inaugural tournament, but only after the final had been replayed on appeal. The first game had been staged at Monkwearmouth Old Cricket Ground, soon to be known by its more familiar name of Newcastle Road, and whilst Sunderland later made it their home, at this stage it was being hired out and was classed as a neutral venue – only Darlington didn’t see it that way and claimed that the referee and players were intimidated by some of those in attendance.

The recriminations rolled onto the following season when the two clubs reached the final again, which this time was played in Darlington. Whilst Sunderland didn’t seem too troubled by the partisan crowd though, they were deeply unhappy at the officiating and so made their own formal complaints which, when rejected, prompted them not to enter the competition in 1885-86 by way of protest (although some players did guest for other sides).

The early days, as shown in Sunderland AFC: The Absolute Record

Given the amount of bad blood it was almost inevitable that once Sunderland were back they would meet with the Quakers once more for what was to be a keenly awaited end to the trilogy –intriguingly staged back at Newcastle Road where Sunderland had become permanent tenants. The Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette reported that the starting XI was announced by the club’s committee on the Thursday before the game, and whilst a certain James Allen was unavailable through injury a strong team was still named.

This was a big day for the town’s sports fans, with another high profile fixture taking place at Barnes Field on Chester Road as Humbledon took on Hartlepool Rangers in the semi-final of the County Rugby Cup. After witnessing the home side inflicting a first defeat of the campaign on Rangers several spectators dashed over to catch the remainder of the football – swelling an already bumper gate and finding Sunderland were already ahead in a tight contest.

Arnold Davison had scored what would prove to be the winner, forcing the ball in after what was appropriately enough described in the Echo’s match report as a ‘scrimmage’ following good work down the right from Peter Rooney. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the goal was initially disputed on the pitch, but referee W.J. Bastard no less of Middlesbrough was adamant that it should stand and by full time a more cordial mood had thankfully emerged. Mayoress Mrs Richardson presented the trophy to captain Jim McMillan, who was joined by both sides in thanking her, before they all retired to the Royal Hotel on North Bridge Street for a “substantial meat tea”.

Chaired by the president of the club Mr R. Thompson Jnr., the dinner was well received – the bill presumably being met from very tidy gate receipts of £82, 1s and 8 12 d.

Saturday 26 March 1887

Durham Challenge Cup final

Sunderland 1 (Davison 20)

Darlington 0

Sunderland: Kirtley; Wilkinson, Elliott; McMillan, Smart, Dale; Rooney, Smith, Erskine, Davison, Lord.

Newcastle Road, attendance c. 6,000


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