No member of the Toon Army, as supporters of Newcastle United like to be called, will thank me for drawing wider attention to tomorrow's centenary of one of the most momentous league games in English football history. But then, since I follow their north-eastern rivals Sunderland, Newcastle fans would probably feel disinclined to thank me for anything. All the same, duty obliges me to record that 100 years ago tomorrow, having made the short journey to Newcastle, Sunderland did not so much beat the Magpies as pulverise them
Newcastle 1 Sunderland 9. That was how it finished, in front of 56,000 fans with many more locked out. And it remains the joint biggest away victory in the English top flight, what we now call the Premier League (Cardiff City were walloped by the same score at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers in 1955). Back on Saturday Dec 5 1908, when the whistle blew for half-time in the Tyne-Wear derby, no one could have guessed the outcome. The two teams were level at 1-1.
The 28-minute spell during which Sunderland scored their hatful of second half goals is another record: the quickest time for a top division team to score eight times. And it is possible that Sunderland's performance was motivated by a deep sense of injustice. Contemporary reports suggest they were riled by a controversial penalty award giving Newcastle an unmerited equaliser on the stroke of half-time.
The final score was all the more remarkable because the trounced home team actually recovered to win that season's championship. It was all a long while ago, and I would not dream of rubbing salt in wounds. Let it simply be recorded that it was barely 20 years later that Newcastle last claimed the title. There was an FA Cup final victory as recently as 1955, but that means it is now 53 years since they collected a serious trophy; even the Toon Army find it hard to keep straight faces when citing the Inter-City Fairs Cup, in 1969, as serious.
But how did the visitors from Wearside triumph so comprehensively at St James' Park a century ago? Basic records show that the damage was inflicted by Billy Hogg and George Holley, each scoring a hat-trick, Arthur Bridgett, who found the net twice, and Jackie Mordue with one goal. For more detail, I am indebted to my younger daughter, herself a football fan (though, shamefully, she has failed her father and supports Liverpool). Her last birthday present to me was a book on the history of Sunderland AFC compiled using cuttings from the Daily Mirror.
The Mirror reported the match in fairly understated tones, especially considering that the scoreline amounted, as the headline put it, to a "sensational victory". Imagine the hyperbole the tabloids of today would wheel out for a comparable home defeat suffered by Chelsea or Manchester United. The Mirror's 1908 story, rounding up the day's results, began soberly: "There were many unexpected happenings in Saturday's football, more than usual, perhaps."
It went on to describe the 9-1 victory as the "surprise of years", with Sunderland producing, in the second half, "a bewildering exposition of the game". "They usually win at Newcastle," observed "Citizen", which was as near as the writer came to being identified, "but the score is a staggerer." Indeed, it is one that continues to stagger. Among those who voted in a recent poll conducted by the Sunderland club website, one supporter in seven nominated the 1908 achievement as the "best moment" in the history of Sunderland-Newcastle derbies.