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Len Shackleton

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On This Day (12th September 1953): Sunderland thrash reigning champions Arsenal!

Despite enduring some inconsistent away form during the 1953/1954 season, Arsenal’s visit to Roker Park proved fruitful for the Lads on this day seventy years ago!

Photo by Monty Fresco Jnr/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

The Sunderland team of 1953/1954 was somewhat enigmatic.

Blessed with some magnificent attacking talent, we had no problems scoring goals but we seemed to suffer from travel sickness whenever we left the North East.

Despite looking like we could kick on during this particular season, our form away from Roker Park was causing major issues when it came to our league position.

A return of three draws and ten defeats was the stumbling block that had grounded our progress, with a 5-1 defeat to Burnley and 6-2 loss at the hands of Preston particularly damning.

Notwithstanding our issues on the road, we were peculiarly impressive at times at Roker Park and luckily for the home supporters, we reserved our best performances for the home crowd as we scored goals for fun.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Sunderland Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

Chief among the most majestic victories of the season were the dismantling of eventual league champions Wolves by a scoreline of 3-2, a 5-0 hammering of Cardiff City and a remarkable 7-1 victory over Arsenal, which happened on this day seventy years ago.

The Gunners were the reigning champions of Division One and despite their struggles throughout the season, this victory occurred early enough in the campaign for people to get excited.

In addition to the game itself, the transfer of Ray Daniel to Sunderland from Arsenal for £28,000 was another interesting aspect. According to reports from around this time, Daniel was lured north by a significant yet possibly illegal financial package.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Chelsea v Sunderland Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

Daniel had played forty one games at centre half in 1952/1953, and yet was sold to Sunderland for a club record fee of £30,000.

Why (everyone asked) would a player leave the league champions where he was first choice number five to join a team that had finished ninth and which was not in the process of any serious rebuilding? (In fact, they finished 18th in 1953/1954).

It is now known that Sunderland offered Daniel payments far in excess of the maximum wage that was allowed, and sadly, he was tempted by a better (although illegal) offer.

As for the game itself, the result was all the more impressive after the slow start made by Bill Murray’s men.

In front of over 60,000 people, Doug Lishman had put the Gunners ahead midway through the first half, but just before half time, Lishman’s goal was cancelled out spectacularly quickly.

Goals from Trevor Ford and new signing Billy Elliott (on his home debut) ensured that we actually went in ahead at half time.

The second half began in cagey fashion, as Arsenal appeared to be shellshocked by the late concession of two goals late in the first half, and we scented blood.

However, it wasn’t until the final quarter that Len Shackleton and company put the final nails in the Gunners’ coffin.

Soccer - Football League Division One - Fulham v Sunderland Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

Between the 68th minute and full time, the home fans would witness five goals that they could’ve scarcely seen coming.

Shackleton and Ford added two in two minutes before Tommy Wright added two in the 78th and 81st minute - although multiple reports online suggest that the goal could’ve gone straight in from a Billy Elliott corner, with the Absolute Record describing the touch as ‘faint’.

Ford completed his hat trick with two minutes to go, capping one of the most extraordinary results in the club’s history.

Moments like these were essential during a season of woe for the club. A disappointing eighteen-place finish ensured that we stayed up, but coupled with a defeat to Doncaster Rovers, it didn’t give the fans much to shout about.

Thankfully, by the time the 1954/1955 season kicked off, the constant spending throughout the fifties eventually started to pay off.


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