Sunderland AFC 1902/03 – Fans Fury As SAFC Blow The League

Sunderland AFC 1902/03 – Fans Fury As SAFC Blow The League

In the 1902/03 season, Sunderland once again dominated the Football League and should have added to their 1901/02 title success.

However and even with their Scottish internationals Doig, McCombie and Watson, who played against England that season, in fine form, the red and whites lost a crucial game 1 v 0 to Sheffield Wednesday at Roker Park and folded at the wrong time, ultimately losing the title by 1 point.  

Once more the Sunderland supporters took a defeat badly, not only waiting for the referee after the game but also stoning the Sheffield Wednesday players transport in Roker Baths Road.

This was Sunderland’s first defeat since the back end of November 1902 and came off the back of a 13 match unbeaten run.

For the supporters indiscretions Sunderland were banned from playing their last home fixture at Roker, and instead went to St James Park to entertain Middlesbrough. Sunderland defeated The Boro 2 v 1, in the very first home Tees/Wear match.

However this was one of just 3 wins in our last 8 league games.

The last match of the season was at St James’s, against Newcastle United and even after a poor run we still had our fate in our hands.

In front of League representatives Sunderland were confident of victory, having won all 4 of their previous league encounters on Tyneside. However, Bob McCall had the last laugh as the black and whites inflicted a crushing 1 v 0 defeat on the Wearsiders.

In fact Sunderland slipped to 3rd in the table after Aston Villa won 5 matches in the last 15 days of the season, scoring 15 goals in the process.

However the Sheffield Wednesday defeat was the killer and the defeat that sealed Sunderlands league fate as the Owls would be crowned league champions.

It was galling to lose at St James’s when a win would have guaranteed the league but it was even more disappointing to lose at home to your title rivals.

Football League Division 1, Sunderland 0 v 1 Sheffield Wednesday, 21 March 1903

For the first time in 17 weeks Sunderland lost a league match and at home to boot where they have only been beaten once so far this season. In view of the bearing this match had on the championship race the game had been eagerly awaited and a huge crowd was expected. The gate was 22,000 and the match certainly lived up to expectations though the rulings of the referee caused great dissatisfaction. Wednesday were fortunate to be able to field their strongest forward line whereas Sunderland had to rely on what was in effect an experimental line up.

This was caused by Hoggs suspension. The front line never looked promising but it was not until well into the 2nd half that the captain decided on a change and by then it was too late. Hoggs place on the wing went to Hewitt who is usually an inside forward and his place at inside left went to Gemmell. For Wednesday reserve man Thackeray appeared at full back for Layton. Sunderland’s front line play was disappointing with neither Gemmell nor Millar up to their usual standard.

Bridgetts capabilities seemed to find less scope because of the loss of Hewitt. The hardest worker of the lot was Robinson but too large a proportion of his great energy was ill spent. The halfbacks too failed to reach the high standards they have sustained for so long. The full backs and Doig were sound. Wednesdays forwards were in excellent form and much of there play was nothing short of brilliant. Crawshaw was the most conspicuous half back and at full back Langley played his customary strong game.

He had a grand partner in Thackeray while in goal Lyalls display was splendid. Millar kicked off attacking the Sea End and Sunderland settled down to a bout of aggressive work. After less than a minute Crawshaw required attention. He resumed limping but was soon ok. 

In the first part of the opening half Sunderland played the stronger game but as time advanced the equality in the game disappeared and the visitors did quite as much attacking as the home side. Overall however there was not really much difference between the sides over the 45 minutes. The Wednesday forwards did a great deal of tricky work and their display was neater and much more scientific than that of the home line. The grand performances of McCombie and Watson however nullified the brilliance of the Sheffield attack and behind them there was the veteran Doig. 

He made one miscalculation in rushing out to save from Spikesley and had Watson not dashed up and got the ball away a goal would certainly have resulted. It was a splendid feat by the full back and was enthusiastically cheered. The interval was not far off when Bridgett netted to great cheers from the crowd and much handshaking from his teammates but the effort was declared offside. The 2nd half opened tamely but both sides soon brightened up and the encounter became fast and furious.

Wednesday put together some dangerous looking moves and Doig well deserved the hearty cheers he received for a brilliant save out of a melee right in front of him. But he was eventually beaten 8 minutes after halftime when Davis found Wilson with a nice pass and he dashed the ball into the net. This setback brought calls from the immense crowd for Sunderland to “play up” and to do them justice they did respond gamely. A terrific scrimmage occurred in front of the Wednesday goal and Gemmell charged Lyall and the ball into the net. 

It brought wild celebrations from the crowd who considered that there could be no doubt as to the validity of the goal; the 3rd Sunderland had scored according to their delirious admirers. When the referee ruled otherwise and awarded a free kick there were loud and prolonged cries of protest. Nearly all the referee decisions were questioned after this and at one point oranges were thrown onto the field presumably at him. He spoke to a linesman but went on with the game. After a spell of most exciting play in which Sunderland had much the better of things the pace slackened Sat the very end their was a brief burst from the home side but they were kept well in check and left the field beaten.                        

At the end of the match a considerable crowd composed largely of youths and boys hung about outside the ground. The intention was obviously to make some hostile demonstration towards the referee or the Wednesday players.

The referee it seems managed to sneak away unnoticed but the visiting players came in for a good deal of unpleasant attention when they got into their brake for the journey into town. Stones were thrown and several of the players were struck though as far as could be ascertained none was seriously hurt. The police were present in force and one of the individuals involved was arrested.

Sunderland: Doig, McCombie, Watson, Farquhar, McAllister, Jackson, Hewitt, Robinson, Millar, Gemmell, Bridgett.

Sheffield Wednesday: Lyall, Thackeray, Langley, Ferrier, Crawshaw, Ruddlesdon, Davis, Chapman, Wilson, Malloch, Spikesley.

Referee: Mr T Armitt, Leek                                          Attendance: 22,000

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