Sunderland’s Twelve Days of Christmas: (9) Aston Villa

Jake wasn't there either
Jake wasn’t there either

Pete Sixsmith
did say at the outset of this series that he would be dealing with some games he did not attend. The evidence is inconclusive but this may be one of them …

See the full series here:

9. 02/01/95 (that’s 1895) Aston Villa (H) 4-4

With luck, that won’t have been the score in yesterday’s game (it wasn’t – ed ), but however we do on New Year’s Day 2014, it won’t be as important in the history of Sunderland AFC as this First Division clash was on January 2 1895.

It is, of course, the game that is featured on the huge painting that hangs inside the entrance to the Stadium of Light. The artist was Thomas M M Hemy, from a Newcastle family, although he first saw the light of day while his family were en route to Australia.

Hemy specialised in paintings of shipwrecks, so it would have been useful to have had him as an artist in residence at the Stadium during the Di Canio regime. His depiction of The Wreck of the Birkenhead is a perfect example of the kind of muscular art enjoyed by middle class Victorians.

The SAFC painting was a commission made by the club to celebrate the third Football League Championship in four years (Oh, what bliss to be alive in such days!!!). The Villa had pipped us in 1894, so these were the two biggest clubs in the country in that era. Both attracted large crowds and both hovered up the Leagues and Cups with regular monotony.

This game took place at the end of the Christmas holiday in 1895/96. You would have thought that Christmas would have been a short holiday in those days, all goose and plum pudding on Christmas Day, with reformed misers dispensing largesse to the poor, deserving or otherwise, and ragged urchins sliding through the streets while their fathers slaved away in the shipyards or underground.

But the fixtures suggest not. Between December 26 and January 5 we played six games, which makes Gus Poyet’s demands for a Christmas break sound just a tad pathetic.

We started the programme in 2nd place but slipped to third on Boxing Day, despite a 2-0 win at West Brom. I wonder how the team got there. Did they take an early train on the morning or was it an overnight stay in Birmingham? How did the supporters travel? Was Stan Simpson running a brake from Thinford?

The next day, we played at Forest and lost 2-1 and two days later, the club charabanc arrived in Preston, where we lost 1-0. Not a good Christmas then and our great rivals, Villa, were sitting proudly on top of the league.
Look at the travelling involved there. It must have been done by train and, as games were played in the afternoons, crowds of 12,000, 7,000 and 3,000 (cotton mills working overtime in Preston) were good.

Back to Newcastle Road for New Year’s Day and 10,000 turned up to see Sunderland gain revenge on the Lilywhites, beating them 2-0 and going to the top of the table, a position they did not relinquish for the rest of the campaign.

Next day, Villa pitched up and 12,000 skipped work, school and other duties to give Newcastle Road its third highest crowd of the season. It sounds like a cracking game, played on a cold day with the possibility of a frozen pitch. The straw around the perimeter suggests that it had been covered after the North End game.

It ended up 4-4, so it must have been a rousing game. I cannot find any contemporary match reports. Argus in the Sunderland Echo was presumably resting his 100 eyes, and other publications are not listed on the net, but I do know that we were 2-3 down at half time and then having the better of the second half.

Legendary goalkeeper Teddy Doig played – he can be seen in a red and white striped shirt, but wearing a cap to distinguish him from the other players – as did Johnny Campbell, one of many Scotsmen who played for “The Team of all the Talents”. One authority described him as “the most dangerous centre forward of his day”, a sobriquet that could not be used on Jozy Altidore. In the 215 appearances he made for the club, he netted 150 times and many were staggered that he never played for his native country.

Two of the goals came from James Gillespie, another Scot signed from Morton and nicknamed Taffy, presumably because his only cap came against Wales. He interrupted his career at Newcastle Road to sign for cross town rivals Sunderland Albion, but soon returned to the fold.

James “Blood” Hannah chipped in with one. Yet another Scot, he joined us from Sunderland Albion when they folded, having previously played for Third Lanark. The nickname is an interesting one for a winger, not a breed known for their fierce tackling in those days. Maybe he suffered form nosebleeds.
The other goal game from Jimmy Millar, the third Scot to score. He had joined us from Ayrshire club Annbank F.C and had two spells at Sunderland, one at Newcastle Road and one at Roker Park, with a four year hiatus at Rangers in between.

He played in our first Football League match in 1891 and scored in the second. That set him off hot on the trail of Campbell and he scored regularly at either inside right or inside left, alongside his fellow countryman. In 260 appearances, he rattled in 123 goals, stats that would make him a multi-million pound player nowadays. As it was, he died of tuberculosis in London at the age of 37.

Hopefully, the wraiths of Gillespie, Hannah and Millar will have guided Fletcher, Altidore and Borini to victory in the latest game between these two fine old sides so that battle can be resumed in the Premier League next year.

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