There’s no game for Tony Mowbray’s Sunderland this weekend due to the international fixtures, but it is perhaps no bad thing given the club’s record on this day – as of 2023, SAFC have not won on the 10th of September for 68 years.
Maybe they used up their quota for excitement in 1955, as the victory achieved back then not only came against the reigning league champions but was also after Sunderland had trailed 3-0 with less than half an hour gone. It remains the only instance of the first team coming from such a deficit to win a competitive fixture and at the time, the fight back reinforced hopes that Sunderland could be about see the glory days making a return.
Visitors Chelsea had been good value for the title in 1954-55 but Bill Murray’s side had not been a million miles off them, finishing in 4th in the table and just four points behind the Londoners having looked favourites at one stage.
The squad had reached the FA Cup semi-finals too, and some eye-catching wins in the early weeks of the new season had suggested they could be about to close the gap to the top. With Huddersfield comprehensively beaten last time out on Wearside and a dominant 9-2 aggregate double achieved over Aston Villa already, fans filed through the gates en masse to see if more of the same was about to be served up.
The bumper crowd of over 45,000 was helped no doubt by the memory of the previous visit of Chelsea in November 1954, which had been a cracker. Ted Purdon’s equaliser secured a 3-3 draw for the Lads on that occasion, and whilst the rematch was to be even more entertaining, the defensive frailties that the hosts displayed in both games would sadly prove to be their undoing in the long run. Having also let in seven the week before at Blackpool, the Black Cats were anything but rock steady.
When Sunderland had last been crowned champions themselves in 1936 Murray was still a player and an experienced member of the side. He left before his teammates went on to win the FA Cup in 1937 but he soon returned to the town to take over the manager’s position and following the Second World War the Scot completed a series of ambitious transfers to try and push the club back into contention for honours.
They seemed a long way off however when Roy Bentley’s early opener and a Les Stubbs brace gave Chelsea a commanding lead, but Murray’s men were at their best when on the front foot and they came on strong.
Len Shackleton was invariably the architect of their best work and the recovery began when he set up Charlie Fleming just before the break.
Fleming had been a relatively recent acquisition and had already started showing the type of finishing prowess that would make him top scorer in 1955-56, but when he got another moments after the break, this time following good play from Ray Daniel and Purdon, it was the current incumbent of that mantle that took over.
The Lads now had the momentum and, roared on by an enthused crowd, Ken Chisholm headed in the leveller. Sunderland were not willing to settle for the point however, and the turnaround was complete when following more pressure he raced onto a left wing pull back with minutes to go and headed home once more.
It was a dramatic showing and it could have been the launchpad for more, but another semi-final defeat and over a century of goals shipped, 95 of which in were in the league and gave the Rokerites the worst defensive record in the division, proved too much to overcome.
9th at the end of the campaign was still a respectable outcome in the grand scheme of things but in the moment felt like anti-climactic – and if people knew then that it would be the highest finishing position in the pyramid for the rest of the century they’d have been even more crestfallen.
3rd already in 1950 when just a point short of the championship, Murray arguably came the closet to achieving sustained success of any manager since the 1930s.
His tenure of course ended in 1957 when he fell on his sword amidst investigations by the authorities into financial irregularities at Roker, even though it was widely felt that similar practices were being repeated up and down the league, but it should always be acknowledged that Sunderland have still been unable to emulate his comeback kids, on this date or any other.
Saturday 10 September 1955
Football League Division One
Sunderland 4 (Fleming 2’, 22’, Chisholm 67’, 86’)
Chelsea 3 (Bentley 2’, Stubbs 22’, 27’)
Sunderland: Fraser; Stelling, Hudgell; Anderson, Daniel, Aitken; Bingham, Fleming, Purdon, Chisholm, Shackleton.
Roker Park, attendance 45,240