Still to join the Football League, most of Sunderland’s fixtures in 1888/1889 were prestigious friendlies and exhibitions, and with fledgling fans lapping up the entertainment on offer at Newcastle Road, the club played a whopping seventeen consecutive games on home soil from March onwards.
We rounded off our schedule on this day with a visit from Scottish Cup holders the Third Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers (Third Lanark), and although the match ended in a rare defeat for the Lads, all was not lost.
The club was growing at a rapid rate and a deal struck between the two sides was to have a huge influence on our progress, with a hitherto opponent now becoming a red and white.
In addition to permanent signings, it was common for ‘guests’ to appear at this stage and among the starting XI to face the Scots were Aston Villa’s Albert Brown and Albert Allen.
The pair had featured in victories over Accrington and Dumbarton in the two previous outings, and having already scored four goals between them, Allen continued the streak by netting the opener after twenty minutes.
McKay also notched for the hosts, but by that point we’d fallen behind and were to concede again afterwards, eventually ending up on the wrong side of a 4-2 scoreline.
It was only a sixth loss out of fifty one matches but the Sunderland committee had seemingly worked out the reason why- Third Lanark defender John Auld had caught the eye and a transfer was quickly tied up.
Handed £20 for turning professional, plus a £150 signing on fee, the Ayrshire man didn’t come cheaply. The agreement also included a £300 wage over the first two years of his time on Wearside, plus the offer of assistance to help establish a business (Auld was a shoemaker by trade), yet the club saw plenty back in return.
Soon made captain, Auld helped lead the charge over the coming seasons as the Lads continued to make their name in the sport.
He would go on to earn two title winner’s medals (one whilst still skipper) and perhaps even more importantly, when things turned financially difficult for the club during the First World War, the Scottish international, who’d become the first player to transfer between Sunderland and Newcastle United, acted as a guarantor.
Presumably grateful for the backing given to him previously, he’d also paid for the funeral of former teammate Johnny Campbell a few years earlier.
Auld and Campbell were undoubtedly early day Sunderland legends and the former’s arrival was followed shortly by another major piece of the jigsaw when Tom Watson became the club’s first manager.
It was Watson who plotted the early league glories following admission in 1890, but Auld was not the only Thirds player to be involved under him.
Also playing on Wearside in our victory on May 28th was James ‘Blood’ Hannah, who scored his side’s third goal, and obviously took a liking to the town as he later joined Sunderland Albion before switching to Sunderland AFC in 1891.
The rival outfits had twice met earlier in the 1888/1889 campaign amid increasing acrimony, but it was these games, such as the one with Third Lanark in the same season, that were helping football take hold.
Tuesday 28th May 1889
Sunderland 2 (Allen, McKay)
Third Lanark 4 (Jo.Oswald, Johnstone, Hannah, Ji.Oswald)
Sunderland: Kirkley, McDermid, Oliver; McKechnie, Raylstone, Gibson; Davison, Brown, Allen; Brady, McKay.
Attendance c. 8,000