League champions in 1936 and FA Cup winners in 1937, Sunderland went into their 1939-40 campaign looking to start challenging for honours once more.
The Lads’ form had dropped off in the two seasons since their Wembley success yet the side still boasted some supremely talented names, and with new manager Bill Murray starting to get his feet under the table following his appointment in March, hopes of a resurgence were high. A victory recorded on this day seemed to match the cheerful mood too, albeit that sense of optimism only extended to football terms.
The beaten opponents were Derby County, who when they arrived on Wearside for what was the season opener had been expected to put up a decent fight. They had ended the previous campaign well ahead of Sunderland in Division One and whilst the Roker fixture that time had ended in a narrow home win the Rams’ 6th place finish had made them out to be one of the strongest teams in the country.
The fact they were now being dispatched so comfortably then pointed towards a heavily desired return to the very top, and provided a welcome distraction for locals in the face of growing world tensions ahead of an expected German invasion of Poland.
Earlier in the calendar year Derby’s previous trip saw an early Eddie Burbanks goal secure the points in what was one of Murray’s predecessor Johnny Cochrane’s final games in charge. It took a little longer for the breakthrough to come this time, but once they’d nudged ahead Sunderland were able to push on and assert themselves, their direct approach proving fruitful in comparison to the visitor’s tendency to overplay.
The lead came via a penalty, awarded for handball when Jack Barker handled an effort from Raich Carter. There was an element of surprise when Alex Hastings stepped up to take the spot kick, but he tucked it away smartly despite this being the first one he had taken for the club, and within minutes the advantage had been stretched further thanks to some clever play from Burbanks to set up Carter.
Sunderland had attacked the Fulwell End in the first half and amidst the sea fret their passing improved as the game wore on and the close season rustiness began to drop off.
Keeping the ball much better after the break they wrapped things up with Carter’s second, and with his good pal Bobby Gurney also notching a brace at Hexham whilst on reserve duty as he looked to return from a broken leg things seemed to be on the up.
The bigger picture was not so good, however, and any thoughts about the club’s fortunes soon paled into insignificance.
A relatively low attendance hinted at the wider issues with the Sunderland Echo’s Argus suggesting that ‘the political situation’ had deterred many regulars.
On the pitch the revival was cut short with two defeats in the coming days but matters where escalating and once Britain had declared war on Germany football was halted.
The three results were consequently declared void, and Carter’s next Football League appearance at Roker Park would not be until the start of 1946-47 – although ironically it was as part of Derby’s starting XI.
The intervening years were incredibly tough and one of the factors behind the Sunderland legend’s move to the Baseball Ground was his wife’s family, who were situated close by.
World War II was a bitter conflict and for many a time of great upheaval; the memories of better times - trophies and encouraging wins included - were sometimes all folk on Wearside had to keep their spirits up.
Saturday 26 August 1939
Football League Division One
Sunderland 3 (Hastings 35’, Carter 40’, 82’)
Derby County 0
Sunderland: Mapson; Gorman, Hall; Housam, Lockie, Hastings; Duns, Carter, Robinson, Smeaton, Burbanks.
Roker Park, attendance 21, 859