The following edited extract is taken from Stan Anderson’s autobiography CAPTAIN OF THE NORTH. This was co-written by me and published by SPORTSBOOKS in 2010. The book is on sale in the Sunderland club shop and Waterstones in Sunderland city centre. This article appeared in the Sunderland Sports Echo of 1 December 2013.
Chelsea travel to the Stadium of Light in midweek. Despite the Pensioners recent successes in the Premier League they have yet to match Sunderland’s record of six top-flight titles. According to Stan Anderson that really should have been seven but Sunderland’s players were so obsessed with making it to the 1955 FA Cup final that they relaxed in the League and allowed Chelsea to capture the First Division trophy for the first time.
Having beaten Burnley and PNE in rounds three and four of the FA Cup, Sunderland were drawn to play away to Swansea Town in round five. Sunderland were just off top spot in the League.
Anderson: ‘Len made it clear that he supported the view that the double wasn’t possible; that you couldn’t win the League and the Cup in the same season. It was true that no club had managed it in the twentieth century but perhaps because I was only twenty in 1955, I felt it could be done. Spurs showed I was right when they won both in 1961. But Len was adamant, and because he was right on so many other issues (such as low pay and a system that tied players to clubs) the players listened to him and I am convinced had an affect on them……...
’I’d have been happy to won either competition, of course, but Len would say, ‘Let’s get to Wembley and win the FA Cup, it will be fantastic.’ He didn’t say ‘Let’s lose the league,’ but the implication was pretty clear and we did lose it by putting in some terrible performances between the fifth-round draw and our semi-final knockout……we didn’t even make it to Wembley’.
‘The week before we faced Swansea we faced Charlton Athletic at home. We had beaten them easily away, 3-1, in September although they were now in third, one place below us. But we were unbeaten in fourteen home games. We attacked most of the match, but in truth rarely threatened Charlton’s famous ‘keeper Sam Bartram: the match finished 2-1 to Charlton and I missed a penalty at 1-0.
These days reporters would say the performance lacked enthusiasm’.
After beating Swansea, Sunderland played Newcastle away and beat a side that was out of contention in the title race. In the following game, Sunderland lost 3-0 at Bolton.
Stan Anderson – “I still have a newspaper cutting for that match, which reads ‘Sunderland, moving at only half speed…..never had a chance of replacing Wolves at the top of the table…Shackleton must shoulder a lot of the blame. He was slow, played far too much behind his colleagues and rarely went into a tackle’.
Sunderland beat Wolves in the sixth round of the FA Cup. Two days later they faced a struggling Sheffield United side at Bramall Lane. Victory would have taken the visitors to the top of the league with Wolves. They lost 1-0
The Journal reported: ‘Perhaps it was the reaction following the previous cup tie but the weakened Sunderland side rarely showed any urgency’.
At home to another struggling side, Arsenal, Sunderland lost 1-0. Stan Anderson: “We weren’t good enough and it was one of the most disappointing results I experienced”.
The following weekend saw Sunderland knocked out of the FA Cup when, in a game that should never have been played on a pitch little better than a mud bath, Manchester City won 1-0 at Villa Park to set up a Wembley date with Newcastle United.
Stan Anderson: “It was a very quiet dressing room afterwards and I have often wondered if the rest of the players were thinking the same as I was, namely that you should never rely on a single match to make or break a full season.
The following weekend my misery was made almost complete when we lost a tight match at Stamford Bridge……in the last quarter of an hour we penned Chelsea into their own box but the ball just wouldn’t drop kindly and we lost 2-1.
Chelsea proved to be the most resilient side that season and won the title by finishing with 52 points from their 42 matches, four more than three other sides, Wolverhampton, Portsmouth and ourselves in fourth. It still rates as the club’s second highest finish after third in 1949-50 since the last league success in 1936 but it is of little consolation. Fourth might mean something these days with qualification for the Champions League as a reward but it counted for little in 1955. Certainly no-one was celebrating, least of all me although at the time I was consoled by the thought that we might be in a position to challenge again over the next few seasons.
Even now I still can’t however feel that it was a chance we threw away. This is despite the fact that Chelsea did have more than their fair share of decent players including Roy Bentley who was a very strong inside forward who I played against many times and who had two good feet and was very good in the air.
To make matters worse, and how could it be, Newcastle won the FA Cup for the third time in five seasons, beating our semi-final conquerors Manchester City at Wembley 3-1.