The story of the Sunderland rugby hero who did the town proud and became a British Lion

A Sunderland rugby hero – who became a British Lion – has been remembered in a new book.

Tuesday, 22nd June 2021, 5:22 pm

Howard Marshall’s epic achievements for club, country and Lions has been compiled in a new publication by Sunderland historian Keith Gregson.

He tells how Howard was ‘a person of interest to sports historians for a number of reasons’.

“At the age of 20, he played for the Barbarians in the club’s inaugural season and scored the same club’s first try in Wales/outside of England in 1891,” said Keith.

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The Lion from Sunderland. Howard Marshall is the subject of a new online publication from historian Keith Gregson.
The Lion from Sunderland. Howard Marshall is the subject of a new online publication from historian Keith Gregson.

"In the same year and at the same age and while playing for leading club Blackheath he went on what is regarded by some as the British Lions’ first tour

(to South Africa) and played in numerous tour matches and one test in 1891,

"He made a single appearance for England v Wales soon after his 22nd birthday and scored a record-breaking hat trick in Cardiff in 1893.

“His career was ended by injury then or shortly after. Despite studying at Cambridge for six years and, despite being considered the best half-back in England by many, he was never awarded a blue.”

Howard Marshall receiving the ball.

Keith added: “As the 2021 Lions embark upon their tour of South Africa, it is Howard’s link to the very first Lions’ trip there which makes his story of current interest.

"Equally interesting is his loyalty to his home town club for whom he made his debut at the age of 16. Even when he was a Barbarian and Lion, he made appearances for the club’s 1st XV and, as he was a medical student, noted his main residence throughout his playing career as the family home in the

Elms – ten minutes’ walk from Sunderland RFC’s Ashbrooke ground.

"He was also described in the local press as a ‘Sunderland man’ when he scored his hat trick for England.”

Howard Marshall, sitting front left.

Sunderland historian Keith is a writer and researcher who has studied many aspects of Sunderland Cricket and (Rugby) Football Club based at Ashbrooke.

He said: “Sunderland RFC has every right to be proud of its history. Founded as Sunderland Football Club in 1873, its formation is linked strongly to that of the Rugby Football Union two years earlier.”

It was Keith who, last year, told how the oldest set of club kit from the 1880s had been discovered.

The descendants of Alfred Hudson, who live in the south of England, were looking in an ottoman for interesting items when they discovered a rare find right at the bottom.

The Sunderland shirt of the era.

It was the complete kit that Alfred wore when he played for Sunderland, right down to the cap and scarf. The shirt, shorts and socks had also been preserved in near perfect state.

It was Keith who said: : “In March 1881, Alfred Hudson scored two of the three tries which secured Sunderland Football Club the Durham County Challenge Cup.”

Today, he added: “The club has also provided the British Lions with two players”

His book on Howard is called The Magnificent Marshall and is an online biography (S and N Genealogy, Salisbury, 2021) which is downloadable for £6 at £3 going to a rugby related charity.

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Sunderland historian Keith Gregson.