The Game Of Three Halves!

Bizarre is perhaps the only word to describe one of the most peculiar football matches ever involving Sunderland AFC.  In what would become known as “The Game Of 3 Halves” Sunderland demolished a Derby County side that included the great Steve Bloomer. Sunderland, anecdotally, would be League Champions in this season.

The match report tells the tale.


Football League First Division, 1 September 1894

Roker Park, Sunderland

Sunderland AFC 8 (11) v 0 Derby County

Referee: Mr. Kirkham, Darwen          Attendance 9,000

W -SAFC 189495 League Champions

The Sunderland AFC team line up pre season at Gosforth for the 1895/96 season

with the Football League trophy they had won for being English Champions in season 1894/95

Sunderland achieved a splendid victory over Derby County after being compelled to play for 2 hours and 15 minutes in bizarre circumstances. The appointed referee Mr. R Kirkham of Darwen missed his connection at York and was obliged to telegram the club that he would not reach the ground much before 5 pm. This put Sunderland in a quandary. At the scheduled start time of 3-30pm there were between 8 and 9,000 spectators in the ground and it was not considered good policy to keep the crowd idly waiting for an hour and a half.

On the other hand there was a difficulty in appointing a replacement referee for it was no means certain that the league committee would allow the match to count in these circumstances. Ultimately both sides lodged formal protests and then agreed to start the match with Mr. Conqueror of Southwick officiating and leave it to the league committee to decide. Derby had travelled North on Friday and made the Douglas Hotel in Newcastle their base. They brought a full strength side apart from Leiper who was unfit and Staley replaced him at left back.

The weather was splendid and the pitch was in excellent condition. Derby won the toss but with no wind at all there was no advantage and Campbell started the game for Sunderland attacking the road end. Derby started aggressively and forced corner after corner penning Sunderland in their own half for some time. At last they broke away and Robinson saved twice in quick succession. McCreadie checked Bloomer as Derby tested the home defence severely but they stood firm.

After several attempts on the Derby goal Campbell put Sunderland ahead in the 15th minute with a shot that went in off the underside of the bar. Some interesting work followed with Wilson getting the ball up to Gillespie who dashed off to the Derby goal. Campbell tried a shot that hit Hannah and deflected into the net for a rather flukey 2nd goal. Hyslop added a 3rd goal for the home side in the 40th minute with a tremendous low shot that gave Robinson no chance as it flew into the net.  Sunderland led 3-0 at halftime.

During the interval the appointed official arrived and promptly ordered the full 90 minutes to be played with him as the referee if the match was to count as a league fixture. This was a ridiculous situation for both players and spectators alike with the 3 goals already scored by Sunderland counting for nothing. However there was nothing for it but to comply and the full 90 minutes was played. This time Sunderland won the toss and J. Goodall kicked off for Derby. The teams put a lot more energy into their play this time and Sunderland soon settled down in Derby territory.

With only 4 minutes gone Sunderland went ahead when Hannah scored with a long shot. Derby retaliated and forced a corner but Sunderland broke quickly and Robinson made a terrific save at the other end. The Derby right wing probed again but Johnstone repelled them and Miller dashed away to win a corner. From the flag kick Miller crashed a good shot against the bar and the rebound was scrambled away by the Derby defence. Fletcher slipped past Gow and closed in on goal to bang in a hard shot that Doig saved well.

Just afterwards Campbell got away and cracked in a shot that struck the underside of the bar, bounced down and came back into play. Sunderland claimed a goal and despite strong protests from Derby the referee awarded it. Undaunted Derby swept forward and Doig saved from A. Goodall while at the other end Miller sent a hard shot into Robinson’s hands. Sunderland tried again and Robinson made another fine save. A great shot from Gow who had stormed up the field went just past the post and then Hannah tested Robinson with another fine shot.

Bloomer then streaked away and was only stopped by a great challenge from Gow. Sunderland continued to press and Robinson was kept busy making repeated saves to save his side. In the 30th minute Campbell clashed in a great shot that brought Robinson to his knees and his fumble allowed the ball it spin away from him and it was over the line before he could recover. The referee rightly awarded a goal despite Derby protests. Robinson saved magnificently soon afterwards under strong pressure from 3 home forwards.

Derby made a rush to the home goal and a neat pass from Bloomer enabled J. Goodall to test Doig with a teasing shot that was coolly dealt with. Sunderland very nearly scored again before halftime but 3-0 at the break was most satisfactory. Derby started the 2nd half full of fight but they soon began to flag though Sunderland seemed little the worse for their exertions. They soon began to apply pressure on the Derby goal and after being held at bay for some time by a stubborn visiting defence Sunderland scored again.

Hannah whipped the ball in from near the corner flag and Campbell dashed in to get his toe to the ball and send it flashing into the net. Fletcher and Allan tried to respond for Derby but Gow was too good for them and got the ball up to Hyslop. He cleverly beat his man and screwed the ball across to Gillespie who was just a fraction late and the ball went harmlessly out of play. Moments later Gillespie missed by only a few inches. As the game wore on Derby showed increasing signs of fatigue and Hyslop added Sunderland’s 5th goal with a fine shot.

Soon afterwards Hyslop missed a grand chance but quickly made up for the miss by beating Robinson with a cracking shot to put Sunderland 6 goals up. A good pass from Gillespie gave Miller the chance of a 7th goal and he did not disappoint. Just before the close Robinson made a good save from Campbell but could not get the ball away and Gillespie dashed in to bang the loose ball into the net to complete a remarkable victory for Sunderland.                                

Sunderland: Doig, Meehan, Gow, Wilson, McCreadie, Johnstone, Gillespie, Millar Campbell (3) Hyslop (2), Hannah (4)

Derby County: Robinson, Methven, Staley, Cox, Goodall (A), Dockery, Allan, Fletcher, Goodall (J), Bloomer, McMillan

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