Click above to watch.
In the quite superb video above we see Sunderland legend, colossus and hard man Charlie Thomson (think Kevin Ball) leading the lads out onto the pitch to face Aston Villa in front of a then worlds record football crowd; 121,919. As far as I’m aware and other than the unofficial crowd for the 1923 FA Cup final it is still the highest crowd ever to watch an English football match. Watch closely and you can marvel at the skills of Charlie Buchan, tall and thin he is on to the ball in a flash and away past the Villa lad.
FA Cup Final
Aston Villa 1 v 0 Sunderland
19 April 1913
At The Crystal Palace
This was the holy grail for Sunderland AFC. The FA Cup was the trophy that had eluded them since their formation and the one that the loyal Sunderland fans coveted. The clubs very first FA Cup Final took place at the enormous Crystal Palace in front of a world’s record crowd of over 120,000 people. Getting to Sydenham,the suburb of London where the ground was situated, had been an arduous journey for The Black Cats. The final was the club’s 10th in that years competition, if you count the abandoned game at Manchester City where overcrowding led to injuries and the game being curtailed. The run included 3 titanic struggles with bitter rivals Newcastle United. This final was the first time in cup final history that the two best teams in the land had competed in the final as both Villa and Sunderland lay first and second respectively in the table at the time of the match.
The following two match reports and images give you a feel for what turned out to be an iconic game in English football history.
Match Reports & Pictures
In the hours just after dawn Sunderland supporters were greatly in the majority in the capital and it was surprising to see how many had made the long and tiring journey. Still more surprising to see was how little it had dampened their spirits. They came pouring out of Kings Cross as though 6 or 7 hours of close confinement in a crowded railway carriage was no more than incidental and single mindedly fell upon the eating houses in the vicinity. They quickly made a marked impression on the huge provision made by caterers who obviously knew something of the capacity of the average excursionist.
One of the most interesting features of the final was the growth of the “rubber necking” industry. Parties of sightseers drove around the town under the tutelage of a stentorian guide to be told exactly what was what in tones that commanded attention. There must have been hundreds of such parties with the newest of motor buses evident alongside the oldest of brakes. There is surely no more gigantic or unrestrained merry making in the national calendar of festivities than this annual trek and especially when the streets were flooded with sunshine.
To complete a glorious day the tournament at the Crystal Palace produced one of the best games, perhaps even the best game ever to be played in the shadow of that glazed monstrosity. It gathered together an enormous crowd. The peculiar shape of the Palace pitch makes it rather difficult to judge the pace of the game but there was never any doubt about the pace at which both teams set off. Neither side was playing their customary game and for the first few minutes Sunderland seemed all at sea. There were plainly traces of nerves in all three ranks of the team and Villa were clearly out to score early.
Hampton and Thomson began their eagerly anticipated duel early on and with neither of them standing on ceremony the exchanges were the most conspicuous if not the most pleasing incidents in the 1st half. Thomson once deliberately made a back for Hampton who fell heavily and Mr. Adams found it necessary to caution the Sunderland man. It was a glaring infringement but in fairness it must be said that the Villa player was constantly jumping for the ball in a way that might easily have been penalised as dangerous play.
The Villa forwards were quite distinctly better at the long passing game that both sides were employing. Hampton sent some beautiful passes out to the wings and gave Wallace opportunities that were put to such good use that the Roker defence was often severely taxed to master the rushes that followed his centres. In one of these onslaughts Gladwin brought Stephenson crashing to the ground in the penalty area and there were groans of disappointment when Wallace sent the kick yards wide of the left hand post.
Wallace takes and misses a penalty!
Villa had another disappointment almost immediately afterwards when Hampton put the ball into the net but the point was rightly disallowed for offside. When the Sunderland forwards did get going they reversed the Villa methods. Their halfbacks were too hard pressed to be able to pass accurately but occasionally Cuggy and Low managed to send the ball to their wing men. They were often quick to see Richardson well placed and the centre forward made ground rapidly but was always checked by a half back who was playing with more energy than skill.
By the interval Villa had the better of a well contested 1st half but for a while after the restart Sunderland were just as much on top as Villa had been in the opening stages. All the best play was seen in a tense 20 minutes of absorbing football. It began with Martin sprinting in to catch Hardy with the ball and in the subsequent challenge the keepers left knee was so badly hurt he had to leave the field. Harrop took his place in goal and the Sunderland forwards were soon swarming round him.
Twice he extricated himself from dangerous situations in a way that had only its success as its excuse and the run of play must have raised high hopes amongst Sunderland supporters. Hardy returned after about 10 minutes with a limp and a heavily bandaged leg. He was greeted with cheers that served to put fresh heart into Villa and they attacked immediately with Wallace forcing a corner off Ness. It was placed to perfection, at just the right height and with an awkward swerve to keep it clear of the defenders.
It sailed hard and true to where Barber was standing and there was a hurricane of applause when the halfback promptly headed it out of Butlers reach and into the net. The game was drawing rapidly to a close when the goal was scored and Villa took no chances by kicking out from every position that threatened trouble. The forwards helped them by striving as hard for another goal as though the match depended on it. Near the close Hampton made a great attempt to hustle Butler over the line.
Although Sunderland were playing with every ounce of energy at their disposal they seemed incapable of making any impression. Martin had the goal at his mercy but his shot struck an upright and this failure sealed Sunderland’s fate. It is impossible to deny that Villa deserved to win. Their margin of superiority was nevertheless very slight and a little bit of luck might have decided the match either way. The Villa forwards were better but behind them there was little to choose though Thomson’s fine defensive work tipped the balance in favour of Sunderland’s halfback line.
Both sets of full backs played strongly if not brilliantly and Lyons who alone had twice prevented goals while Hardy was off injured was the best defender on the field. Altogether it was a game to live in football history.
The sheer vastness of the scene is caught on camera as Sunderland and Villa slug it out.
Sunderland’s form has been so good for 6 out of the past 8 months and so well and have Villa performed that the sides were both league and cup double candidates until a fortnight ago. The impression therefore was that this would be one of the best finals for years. This was true to some extent but generally it was as poor as many of its predecessors. Sunderland’s display was not in keeping with their reputation and they failed to produce the form shown in the replayed semi-final or even of a week ago at Liverpool.
It was a question of nerves as is often the case with the majority of 1st appearance candidates. There were several fine pieces of dribbling and combination with some really superb tackling and fast determined raids but they were just sporadic and served only to relieve the final of much that was drab and dull. There were too many free kicks and a further drawback was the number of stoppages for injuries, stoppages that lasted far too long. Indeed when Hardy was hurt 4 minutes were spent doctoring him before he left the field and even he had to return for further attention.
These breaks spoiled the continuity of the game and no doubt helped to ruffle the players. As expected Villa were the cooler set of players. Tradition served them well and they have yet to lose a cup final at Crystal Palace. They kept better control of the ball and almost inevitably parted with it to some purpose and they were more dangerous in front of goal. They were clearly the better team if only because they combined and finished well. Not so with Sunderland There was little or no balance in the team and the combination was at times all awry.
Their lack of finish was amazing and quite unworthy of a team at the top of the league and with more goals to their credit than any other club. At least 3 glorious chances were missed with Buchan and Martin twice being at fault but there were others just as bad. All this goes to show that Sunderland just had an off day. Butler did not have as much to do as Hardy but no blame attaches to him for the defeat or to any particular member of the team for that matter.
Where the weakness lay was in the forward line and possibly the mediocre performance was due to the moderate support given by the halfbacks. Cuggy was the best feeder on the field but the weakest defender of the trio. In comparison the Villa halfbacks were perfect and their forwards showed due appreciation by their sweeping rushes. Holley for Sunderland and Harrop and Barber for Villa were able to take their respective places and were by no means the weakest players on the field. Indeed the value of the Villa pair cannot be overrated.
Thomson lost the toss but there was little to be gained by Villa who forced matters from the start and won a corner off Butler. Hampton was slow to a Wallace centre and Gladwin cleared. Martin retaliated for Sunderland and troubled Hardy who saved well. The opening pace was terrific with Villa playing the most positive game. Two or three times Wallace swept past Ness but Low and Thomson kept the goal area clear. The ball went into touch on the stand side and Bache sent the throw in over Gladwin’s head to Stephenson who set off for goal.
Sunderland AFC 1913
Milton, Cringan, Thomson, Butler, Gladwin, Low
Mordue, Buchan, Hall, Holley, Martin
Gladwin chased after him and tripped Stephenson in the penalty area. A penalty to Villa was the right reward but Wallace missed by several feet. It was a big left off for Stephenson had looked a certain scorer as Sunderland were kept mainly on the defensive. Buchan and Mordue never made much headway and Richardson wasted chances with haphazard passing. Hampton’s rushes kept Thomson busy and his lay offs to Halse and Stephenson seemed to mystify Cuggy and Low.
Hampton did head into the net but was clearly offside. Cuggy did his utmost to get the triangular game going with Buchan and Mordue but Weston was always on top of Mordue whose best work was forcing a corner. It almost led to a goal for Holley tried to break through only to see Hardy take the ball off his toes. Thomson bowled Hampton over who whilst on the ground kicked out and caught the Sunderland skipper on the shin.
This stoppage lost 3 minutes and a few seconds later Weston required attention after tackling Richardson whose shot was capitally saved by Hardy. Just before halftime Mordue passed to Buchan who pulled his shot right across the goal and a great chance was lost. Sunderland seemed likely to justify their supporter’s opinions that the lads would win if they could keep Villa out for half an hour. They had done so and the way they started the 2nd half made things look ominous for Villa.
Thomson kept slipping the ball out to Martin who twice got in only to be foiled at close range by the advancing Hardy. Both men fell on each occasion and after the second Hardy’s left knee was the worse for the fall. He left the field and Harrop donned the blue jersey. It must have been a trying 10 minutes for him during Hardy’s absence as Sunderland pegged away for all they were worth. Harrop was not elegant but he did what was needed and got the ball out of danger quickly.
Action from the 1913 FA Cup Final
Cuggy put in a lovely centre and when Buchan headed on Harrop tried to fist away. The ball went to Richardson who had shots twice charged down by Lyons with a suspicion of a handball the 2nd time. No penalty appeals were made by Sunderland. It was just a great thing for Lyons to do and it saved the day for Villa as Harrop was well beaten. When Hardy returned the Villa players took fresh heart and went at it as if the game had just started. Lyons muffed a centre by Cuggy and again it seemed that Richardson must score.
Hardy however dashed out and whipped the ball off his toe for Weston to complete the clearance. Then after 36 minutes of actual play in the 2nd half Ness was forced to concede a corner and Wallace’s flag kick was so accurate that Barber neatly headed it into the net. That settled the issue. True Martin should have scored after a beautiful run but his shot struck the base of the upright and came out again. Before the finish Butler had to be very agile to avoid being charged with the ball into the net by Hampton.
A corner resulted which Low cleared and that was the last incident of Sunderland’s first English Cup Final.
Aston Villa: Hardy, Lyons, Weston, Barber, Harrop, Leach, Wallace, Stephenson, Hampton, Halse, Bache
Sunderland: Butler, Gladwin, Ness, Cuggy, Thomson, Low, Mordue, Buchan, Richardson, Holley, Martin
Referee: Mr. A Adams, Nottingham Attendance: 121,919
So Sunderland competed in their first English Cup Final and lost, in part due to nerves. This was the closest we would ever come to winning the double. Inexplicably the normally steady Charlie Thomson folded and in the second half had a running feud with Villa’s Hampton. Both were suspended the following season until the end of October. The referee Mr. Adams from Nottingham was also suspended, having allowed no less than 17 minutes for stoppage time. He would retire.
News of the defeat reached Roker Park where the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup Final between Southwick and Horden Athletic was being played. There was a deathly hush. On that day Wearmouth Colliery defeated Carol Street 6 v 1, a match which carried little significance but would become a destined place for Sunderland as the 20th Century drew to a close.
Sunderland of course would not win the FA Cup until 1937.
As the ultimate postscript to this game Sunderland went to Villa Park 4 days later and drew 1 v 1 in front of some 60,000 fans with 2,000 locked out. We were nearly league champions. We made sure of it at Bolton on 26 April as we won 3 v 1 and sealed it. Mordue started the scoring with a penalty and Richardson added two more.