Our first season in the second division was not going to plan. We had spent most of the first half of the season mired in the relegation battle. Sunderland fans were tortured somewhat by the form of Sheffield Wednesday, who had been relegated with us but were riding high in the table and looking certain for promotion!
Alan Brown had set out his stall to introduce more young players into the first eleven. He had invested in a 21-year-old centre half by the name of Hurley and introduced no fewer than nine youth team players that season. While the youngsters showed promise, results were not coming, especially away from home, where Sunderland had taken some heavy beatings, including a five-nil belting off Swansea at the Vetch field.
Brown bought Ernie Taylor from Man Utd in December 1958 to add some experience to the team. Taylor was Sunderland born but had played for Newcastle and Blackpool, winning FA Cup Medals with both. Following the Munich Air Disaster, Taylor was Manchester United’s first signing and is still held in high esteem for his work on and off the pitch in those hard months for the club after the tragedy, helping United to an FA Cup final and a runner’s up medal. Brown saw Taylor as a good experienced professional to work alongside Stan Anderson and Reg Pearce in helping his young team grow and develop.
Swansea City were the opposition this day in 1959, and they arrived boasting no fewer than six Welsh internationals in their team, one of whom was the legend that was Mel Charles. How would our young centre-back Hurley fare against such an idol?
The game kicked off on a good-to-soft pitch, which was surprising given the whole league previously had been suspended because of ice for three weeks. There was a 28,000+ crowd huddled into Roker Park, who arrived more in hope than expectation given the results so far this season.
Sunderland had most of the ball without causing too much threat to Swansea in the first ten minutes. An early warning of how the game was going to go saw “Ralphy” Goodchild crudely upended after a smart run down the centre of the field. The resulting free kick came to nothing. Swansea tested Wakeham in Sunderland’s goal with two good shots in quick succession. Mel Charles then netted, but Allchurch was ruled offside.
On ten minutes, Hurley, who was having a good game, scored! Unfortunately, he deflected an Allchurch shot into his own goal to put Swansea in the lead. Sunderland responded well to this setback, and despite some roughhouse treatment from the Swansea defence, Grainger, Taylor, and Goodchild were causing them concern. On 19 minutes, Taylor hit the post after great build-up play. Then Kitchenbrand headed strongly straight into Kings’ arms after a great run and cross from Grainger. Reg Pearce then aimed a perfect cross to Goodchild who had ghosted into a great position only to see his header well saved.
Swansea were struggling to break out, and Goodchild missed another good chance after some good play from Anderson and Taylor. Pearce then blazed a piledriver just past the post as Sunderland really turned the screw. Just before half-time, Grainger had another good break down his wing and produced a wicked cross. Kitchenbrand cleverly dummied the ball, letting it run to Taylor, who beat his marker and slammed the ball past King to put Sunderland level. There was still time for Goodchild to almost put Sunderland ahead as he fired another shot that forced a good save from the overworked Swansea keeper.
All square at half-time, Sunderland came out all guns blazing in the second half. The Swansea defence was under heavy pressure, with Grainger and Goodchild looking very lively and Taylor in particular teasing, cajoling, and dictating play. Grainger and Taylor both had attempts blocked. Goodchild had another shot well saved. Grainger was then clearly felled in the box, but the referee continued his poor performance and waved play on! Kitchenbrand then had a blunderbuss of a shot saved by King, who was having a great game in the Swansea goal. Bircham then tested King with a low skimmer, and Grainger placed a cannonball of a shot into the side netting after good work from Hurley and Ashurst.
Sunderland went ahead on sixty-five minutes, Anderson and Pearce had worked the ball to Taylor, whose well-placed shot was palmed over by Swansea fullback Griffiths. Cool as you like, Taylor rolled the penalty past King into the far corner of the goal; it was no more than Sunderland deserved. Swansea tried to mount a comeback, but with Hurley giving Charles no change at all, it was Sunderland who looked like adding to their lead. Taylor placed a delicious lob that was just held by King. Kitchenbrand then smashed a header off the upright, and Goodchild beat two defenders and bought another fine save by King.
The game finished at two-one, but it could easily have been six-one with a hat-trick to Taylor and Goodchild. Sunderland fans must have left Roker Park happy at the result and maybe just feeling that the team was beginning to find their feet. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Sunderland struggled with their away form for the rest of the season and finished just above the relegation pack in 15th place.
Nonetheless, there were some good signs. Ralphy Goodchild netted sixteen goals in twenty-seven games and formed a more than useful partnership with Kitchenbrand who netted twenty.
Man of the match Taylor would stay with Sunderland for three seasons helping them through the difficult period following relegation and to bed in youngsters like Irwin, Ashurst, McNab, Harvey, Sharkey, Hurley, and Rooks, who would become household names in the promotion-winning team of 1963/64.
Division Two Date 31/01/1959 Venue – Roker Park
Sunderland 2 -1 Swansea
Scorers Hurley OG 10 mins, Taylor 39 mins & penalty 65 mins.
Sunderland – Wakeham, Nelson, Ashurst, Anderson, Hurley, Pearce, Burcham, Goodchild, Kitchenbrand, Taylor, Grainger. Swansea – King, Griffiths, John, Kennedy, Nurse, Hughes, Lawson, Webster, Charles, Davies, Allchurch.