Thursday, 27 February 2014

The 1954-55 FA Cup semi-final farce between Sunderland and Manchester City

Sunderland has never played Manchester City in the final of a major competition. The sides did though clash in the semi-final of the FA Cup in the 1954-55 season. City triumphed 1-0 on a pitch unfit for play and Sunderland thus missed out on a chance to play Newcastle at Wembley. In his CAPTAIN OF THE NORTH autobiography, written with the assistance of Sunderland fanatic Mark Metcalf, Stan Anderson had this to say about what was a disappointing day for Sunderland.

We had beaten Manchester City 3-2 at home in December in the league and so were confident. In goal City had Bert Trautmann, a real character who following his time as a prisoner of war stayed in Britain rather than return to Germany. he was a goalkeeper I always rated. 

At number nine there was Don Revie, who had followed the Hungarian tactics of the time by playing a deep-lying role rather than staying up front facing the centre-half as was the tradition.

I was to get to know Don pretty well when he signed for Sunderland before falling out with him when one of his Leeds players broke the leg of a Newcastle lad. 

Shack was fully fit and the team stayed at Buxton in the week leading up to the match. One good performance and we’d be running out in front of 100,000 in May. It was a great thought - and then there was the prospect of playing Newcastle in the final. They were favourites to reach Wembley. Manchester City, Sunderland Newcastle and York in the semifinals of the FA Cup - it might be sometime before that happens again!

What happened next was a farce. When Saturday arrived the heavens opened and from Buxton to Aston Villa there were floods of water everywhere. Villa Park was in a dreadful terrible state and try as they might the groundsmen were making no impression on the pitch.

Bill Murray called us all together to say that it looked likely that the game would be called off but the referee was prepared to inspect the pitch half an hour later. As it just kept pouring down no one seriously expected him to do anything except postpone the match. It was a shock therefore to be told the referee intended starting the game but if it got worse he would abandon it. Obviously this was not the right sort of atmosphere to be playing a semi-final.

It seemed the only reason for starting the game was that spectators had travelled long distances away. It stills seems a daft decision to play the game. 

It was farcical. George Aitken, a big strong left wing half, tried to hit a ball upfield and managed to shift it only five yards. Despite the conditions I felt we were the better side and only a fluke prevented us taking the lead. Shack wriggled his way past the City defence to the byline and squared the ball across to Charlie Fleming who we hit it powerfully enough. Trautmann, in a desperate attempt to block the shot, actually slipped and his momentum helped stop the ball and it dropped just over the bar for a corner. 

This was a time when you didn’t argue with referees but at half-time, as we walked down the tunnel, players from both sides asked him to call it off. Ironically, as neither side looked as if they would score the tie seemed certain to be settled another day anyway. 

However, early in the second half City’s left winger Roy Clarke beat Bill Fraser with a header to give his team the lead. There was no way the referee was going to call the game off now and try - Shack especially worked tirelessly to fashion an equaliser - we couldn’t recover. We just didn’t have enough up front to punish Manchester City. It was a very quiet dressing room afterwards. 

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