The Black Cats may not have got off to the start fans wanted this season but perhaps they could learn a lesson from young stars of the Great Depression.
The Sunderland Schoolboy team of 1933 scored 98 goals in 32 games – winning 25, drawing six and losing just one – to become national champions that year.
“There can be little doubt that this was the finest team of schoolboy footballers ever to pull on the famous red and white shirts,” said historian Philip Curtis.
The days of the Great Depression offered little professional help for aspiring footballers, and there were certainly no sporting academies run by league clubs.
Instead those with a flair for football nurtured their talents in parks and playgrounds until it was time to try out for Sunderland Schools at Under-15 level.
“Trials for places on this prestigious team were always held at the commencement of each autumn term,” said Philip, secretary of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.
There can be little doubt that this was the finest team of schoolboy footballers ever to pull on the famous red and white shirts.Philip Curtis, secretary of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.
“The team competed in North Eastern and national competitions; the premier trophy being the English Schools Shield, played for by teams country-wide.
“In those days the Schools Shield was extremely difficult to win, and it took Sunderland Boys no less than 11 games to clinch it. But clinch it they did.”
The first round was a walkover for the Wearsiders, who romped to victory with an impressive 8-1 scoreline against Burnopfield at home.
Round Two proved a 4-1 rout in an away game against East Durham, followed by another 8-1 win in Round Three – this time against Eston.
Three more comprehensive victories followed, including a 7-0 defeat of Rotherham, but a 1-1 draw against Southampton resulted in a replay in Round Seven.
“This they won 2-1 after extra time, paving the way for the semi-final at Salford – which again ended in a 1-1. The replay saw Sunderland win 2-1,” said Philip.
“The final game, against Edmonton, was a decisive 1-0 victory for Sunderland.”
After the final EVERY boy was approached by League clubs. Nine signed on, but two – T. Maughan and G. Turnbull – refused all offers.
Among those to turn professional were A. Storey (Hartlepools), W. Connor (St Mirren), A. Minchella (Leicester City) and A. Lowes (Sheffield Wednesday).
Whitburn lad William Robinson signed for Sunderland before joining Charlton, while E. Forrest was recruited by Bolton and J. Dryden went to Charlton Athletic.
Goalie Ray Middleton enjoyed a successful career too, making over 600 appearances for Chesterfield and Derby County, as well as playing for England at B level.
“The most successful, however, was Ford schoolboy Allenby Chilton, who signed for Manchester United under Matt Busby and won the FA Cup in 1948,” said Philip.
“He also helped his team win the League Championship in 1952, captained Man U in 1953-4 and played twice for the full England side.”
Sunderland won not only the English Schools Shield in 1933 but also the Sunderland Children’s Hospital Cup and the Ingham Infirmary.
Indeed, only their final game of the season marred their impressive score sheet – when they lost 3-2 to Newcastle in the final of the Newcastle Infirmary Cup.
“Sunderland led by two goals for much of the game, but then Newcastle scored three in the last seven minutes,” said Philip. “Many of the Sunderland boys were playing their 11th match in 18 days – and some had also figured in individual school games during that period.”
Although the defeat was disappointing, it was quickly shrugged off, especially as the boys could bask in the glory of winning the prestigious Schools Shield.
“To play 32 games in one season with just one loss – as well as games for individual schools and county teams – was a wonderful achievement,” said Philip.
“Their success was celebrated throughout the town. Goodness knows how much they would all cost in transfer fees today.”