SUNDERLAND footballer Ralph Punshon Scott may have made his name as a diver – but that was just as part of his day job, rather than on the field.
Indeed Ralph was a member of the record-breaking Royal Rovers team at the turn of the 20th century – celebrating four successive title wins in the Wearside League.
“My grandfather was a founding member of Royal Rovers,” said local historian Jack Curtis, of Tunstall. “The team was named after his grandfather’s pub, The Rovers, in Prospect Row.”
Ralph had been snapped up by scouts to play for Millwall as a young man, but opted to return to Sunderland just a few years later after marrying and starting a family.
He went on to become one of the country’s first deep-sea divers, taking a leading role in the creation of Roker Pier – blasting out tons of rock during daily dives to form the structure’s foundations.
But his love of football never left Ralph and, despite the gruelling day-time task of winning the pier from the sea, the father-of-eleven devoted much of his free time to the beautiful game.
“Royal Rovers were the first winners of the Sunderland Shipowners’ Cup in 1899, a competition which was inaugurated in the 1898-99 season by Alderman Ralph B. Annison,” said Jack.
“The money raised from the competition was given to Sunderland Boys’ Orphanage, which was based on the Town Moor. I believe it was around £50 – a lot of money in those days.
“An orchestra from the orphanage can be seen in the photo of the winning team, with the boys standing on benches just behind the players. Rovers beat Whitburn 2-1 to win that final.”
Royal Rovers scooped the title again in 1901 and 1902, topped the Wearside League four times between 1900 and 1904 and also won the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup in 1901, 1902 and 1906.
But the club’s dominance over local football was almost broken during 1902-03 – when their last match of the season was against Southwick on April 30 and the League title was at stake.
Southwick failed to clinch victory after missing a penalty, and a second game had to be held. Roker Park played host to the re-match on September 23, 1903, with Rovers winning by three goals.
“Rovers really were a good side,” said Jack. “Several players went on to sign for professional clubs, including four at Sunderland. Raich Carter’s father was even in the team during the 1901-2 season.
“My grandfather, who was a centre forward, didn’t really talk about his footballing days, but my grandmother used to brag that he stopped a lot of players who thought they were better than him!”
** Do you have old photos you would like to share? Email Sarah Stoner at firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: Sarah Stoner, Sunderland Echo, Pennywell, Sunderland, SR4 9ER.
Sidebar: Mystery photo VAL Brady – a Yorkshire lass with family roots firmly in old Sunderland – is hoping Wearside Echoes readers may be able to help with her ancestry puzzle. “At the turn of the 20th century, Val’s house-builder grandfather Stanley Humphries worked on many new homes in Ashbrooke, Hendon and Millfield,” said local historian Norman Kirtlan. “In the course of her research, Val has come across a photo taken around 1902, showing a group of tradesmen advertising a villa that they had just completed. “The sale was undertaken by Frater’s solicitors of Fawcett Street, and looks to be either a semi-detached or possibly a terrace of similar houses. Can readers help trace this dwelling?” Val also unearthed another photograph of old Sunderland – taken a time when children were apprenticed to the sea at an age when modern youngsters are fresh out of nursery school. A group of young lads, the eldest about seven years of age, pose proudly for the camera dressed in their sailor suits, lanyards and cheeky caps. “The picture may have been taken at the Industrial School in the East End, and dates from the late 19th century. Again, it would be wonderful if any Echo reader can help out,” added Norman. “These pictures have puzzled the Brady family for years and, so far, all queries have drawn a blank.” ** If you can identify either picture contact Norman on 0776 5635128, or by at email email@example.com