It had been four years since Sunderland had reached the quarter-final stage of the FA Cup and as reigning Football League champions we had every right to fancy our chances as serious contenders in 1937.
Although our road to the sixth round had been relatively kind in terms of the draw out of the velvet bag (or whatever it was back in the 1930’s), we had made hard work of it.
In the third round we were forced to travel the length of the country to take on Division Two strugglers Southampton at the Dell and after taking a three goal lead just after the hour, we then conceded two to leave us holding on to a 3-2 win for the final ten minutes of the game.
For the fourth round we would have been delighted to have been drawn against Third Division Luton Town, even though the tie was to be played at Kenilworth Road, but not so delighted as we were facing a shock exit after Luton took a 2-0 lead on the half hour mark. Two goals in the second half from the Lads managed to take it to a replay that we managed to comfortably win 3-1 in front of a crowd of 53,235.
As the previous rounds, the fifth round pitted us against lower league opposition, this time it was a home draw against another side struggling in Division Two in the form of Swansea Town. On this occasion we managed to avoid the drama that we had experienced against Southampton and Luton Town, and sailed through to the quarter-final with a 3-0 win.
It was at the quarter-final stage, however, where we would meet opposition from Division One for the first time and it was in the form of Wolverhampton Wanderers, with the tie to be played at a Molineux where cup fever was taking hold.
With Sunderland being reigning champions and sitting 5th in the table at the time of the fixture, we were a big draw when it came to attracting the crowds and adding in to the mix the fact that Wolves were 10th and it was a quarter-final, tickets were hard to come by with reports of thousands being turned away the day before as people tried to secure a ticket.
In the build-up to the tie, the Birmingham Gazette described the game as being the “skill and experience” of Sunderland against the “liveliness and youth” of Wolves:
In spite of the general impression in London that the young Wolves will take the game in their stride on the march to Wembley, there is no doom and gloom at Bushey, where the Sunderland team last night cheerfully welcomed to the hotel another party of Cup fighters, Preston North End, who have come from Lancashire to battle against the Spurs.
Private meetings of Sunderland players have been held to discuss tactics for the game, and today these will be practised on a ground near the hotel.
Mr. John Cochrane has, I believe, put forward several ideas and schemes to enable his men to fasten on any weaknesses which may be found in the Wolverhampton team, a side which he has studied carefully with this object in mind.
Every part of the ground was filled to make it a crowd of just under 60,000, the atmosphere before kick-off was described as electric and the pitch was described as “a field of rolled mud” that the players would “sink inches into”, with Argus in the Sunderland Echo describing it as “the worst ground I have seen for years”, being so bad it made the ball stop dead.
The game kicked off at frenetic speed with the match report describing it as “hammer and tongs football” and “thrilling football” despite the conditions. Both keepers were kept busy, with specifically Johnny Mapson making impressive saves in the Sunderland goal, which was a good sign that his concentration had not been impacted by strange events leading up to the game.
During the week, the Sunderland goalkeeper had received a card, that said:
If Sunderland lose at Wolverhampton on Saturday there will be a big hand-out for you - P.O. Saturday night. - From the Sundicate. Ground will be wet - easy to slip.
It was said that Mapson took the card immediately to manager John Cochrane who told him to tear the card up. It appears that Mapson wasn’t the only keeper to be targeted with the Everton goalkeeper receiving a similar communication.
It was on 37 minutes that the Sunderland keeper was beaten to give the home side control of the tie. It came from a Wolves corner that was met with a header from Tom Galley that landed to the feet of Bryn Jones who tucked it into the left-hand corner of the net.
As the game wore on, Sunderland tightened the screw and upped the pressure on Wolves, with the threat primarily coming from Raich Carter and in the 70th minute, we were finally back on level terms when Len Duns slotted it past the keeper after running onto a clever pass in behind the defence.
Sunderland had a couple of golden opportunities in the closing stages to finish the tie off and proceed to the semi-final but a draw was a worthy result and we would have to do it all again at Roker Park in four days time on Wednesday 10th March at 3pm.
Saturday 6th March, 1937
FA Cup Quarter-Final
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-1 Sunderland
[Jones 37’ - Duns 70’]
Sunderland: Mapson, Gorman, Hall, Thomson, Johnston, McNab, Duns, Carter, Gurney, Gallagher, Burbanks
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Gold, Morris, Taylor, Wharton, Cullis, Gardiner, Smalley, Galley, Clayton, Jones, Ashall