Biting brutality: 101 years before Suarez, the Germans got their teeth into Sunderland

ON TOUR: The lads of Sunderland AFC visiting Budapest during their 1913 European tour.
ON TOUR: The lads of Sunderland AFC visiting Budapest during their 1913 European tour.
Share this article
Have your say

AFTER the Luis Suarez World Cup biting row, today we feature a similar controversy – from a century ago.

“THEY kick you up in the air and bite you when you are coming down!”

Those were the words of Sunderland skipper Charlie Thomson, after his bruised and battered team returned from a bloody encounter with German footballers in 1913.

Just 12 months later, the same players were locked in mortal conflict once more – this time fighting on the battlefields of Europe, rather than a playing field in Hamburg.

“The experiences of Sunderland back in 1913 draw a remarkable parallel with events in Brazil this summer,” said historian and retired police inspector Norman Kirtlan.

“It seems Suarez may have learned a thing or two from the Germans! The game was brutal – and the Sunderland lads were not at all impressed by the gnasher attacks.”

The Rokermen – 1913 First Division champions and FA Cup runners-up – had been booked to spend the month of May enjoying a “relaxing” football tour of Europe.

Games against several top-level European clubs saw “a 16-day demonstration of pure class” from the Wearsiders – until they went boot to boot with a team in Hamburg.

“Shoulder charging is not allowed over there, but they kick you up in the air and bite you when you come back down!” complained Charlie Thomson after the match.

“Every time our boys gave a good English charge, we were ordered off. The next English team that goes to Hamburg ought to be fitted with armour suits!”

Details of the “unsporting” German behaviour were published in the Echo following SAFC’s return home – just as the storm clouds of war were gathering over Europe.

“The lads were anything but complimentary about the German style of playing – which required more in the way of boxing’s Queensberry Rules than FA ones,” said Norman.

“And they also complained bitterly about the standard of refereeing over in Hamburg, as their good old-fashioned shoulder charges saw them sent off for foul conduct.

“But while charges were off limits, the Germans had no qualms about launching the red and whites into orbit and doing a Suarez on them as they fell back to the turf.”

Indeed, when Thomson complained that the referees “couldn’t possibly keep up with play from the touchlines” – he was told they “didn’t want to get their boots dirty”.

Tempers finally flared during the last game, when Charlie and pal Jimmy Richardson were sent off for barging.

The pair, in an act of defiance, refused to leave the field.

World War One hero-to-be Charlie Buchan, however, walked off of his own accord – claiming he would be “safer in the dressing room than on the football battlefield”.

And even when the lads left the pitch at the end of the game, German supporters took over where the players had left off – tripping and hitting them with walking sticks.

Thomson later told the Echo how one supporter had tripped up Jack Low twice – whereupon Low retaliated with a right hook that would have made Jack Casey wince.

“That man won’t forget the day that the lads came to Hamburg in a hurry,” smiled Charlie.

“It is sad to think Charlie was right when he joked that the next English team to go to Germany would need suits of armour – as war was just a year away,” said Norman.

“Many of the footballers who took part in that European tour of 1913 – including several from Sunderland – soon found themselves back in battle; this time for real.”