Harry Low was one of football’s original utility players. He made his debut for Sunderland in 1907 and quickly proved himself to be a reliable centre-half. However, by the following season, he had played in several other positions too.
In the 1909-10 season, Low had an extended run up front and ended up as Sunderland’s second-top scorer. He followed that with another stint in the forward line towards the end of the next campaign. Playing up top with new arrival Charlie Buchan during the final few weeks, he finished strongly. Low delivered the goods, even though the team’s title charge had long since lost momentum.
No team lost fewer games than Robert Kyle’s men, but a number of draws were to be their downfall. Even on Buchan’s debut, they were forced to share the spoils when Low’s opener was soon cancelled out at Tottenham Hotspur at the start of April 1911. With a further six matches squeezed in before the end of the month, it was a hectic period for the new boy and his teammates.
A hat-trick from Low secured a victory over Middlesbrough after that trip to Spurs, but the next two fixtures saw the Lads unable to score. Hopes of breaking that duck during a visit to Preston North End 112 years ago today, just 24 hours after a goalless draw with Bury, were then diminished by the absence of Buchan. So it was down to Low to push the team on.
The former Aberdeen player was a constant threat at Deepdale and helped Sunderland to be the better side, with home keeper Peter McBride busy throughout. Fears of another shutout were starting to creep in, however, when Tim Coleman – back in the starting XI in place of Buchan – finally made the breakthrough just before the hour mark. It was to be Coleman’s last appearance for the club. Despite him scoring a cracker from 30 yards, he was pushed back out to make room for the returning Buchan. The big money signing from Leyton was being earmarked as a key man going forward, whereas Coleman had made himself unpopular with certain figures as told here On This Day (18 June 1911): Coleman’s eventful stay at Sunderland comes to an end - Roker Report (sbnation.com)
Buchan would, of course, go on to become the Black Cats’ record league scorer and is still revered now, but Low’s contribution should not be forgotten either. Having missed a decent opening in the first half, he made sure of the win against Preston as he headed into an empty net. McBride had gone walkabout but then redeemed himself later on with a fantastic save to deny Low a brace.
This was Sunderland’s final win of the campaign, but there was still more to come from Low over the coming years. Already clearly willing to sacrifice himself and do a job for the club wherever needed, in 1913 the Scot even turned down the chance to play for his country so that he could be available for a cup quarter-final against Newcastle United. The next match, at home to Sheffield United, was declared a benefit game for him, but bigger rewards were soon to follow.
Back in defence for the majority of 1912-13 and missing just one match, Low was a major force in the Lads taking the Football League title that season. That year also saw him appear in Sunderland’s first English (FA) Cup final, two achievements worthy of the groundwork he had previously put in on afternoons like the one at Preston on this day.
Saturday 15 April 1911
Football League Division One
Preston North End 0
Sunderland 2 (Coleman 55, Low 70)
Sunderland: Worrall; Troughear, Milton; Tait, Thomson, Martin; Mordue, Coleman, Low, Gemmell, Bridgett.
Deepdale, attendance c. 8,000