Sunderland’s shaky start to this season was mirrored 60 years ago – when the Roker Roar did little to encourage success on the pitch.
Indeed, the first match of the 1955/56 season ended in a 3-1 defeat to Cardiff – although the Roker Men followed this up with three wins, including a 5-1 drubbing of Aston Villa.
“Sunderland fans have endured a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs since the 1950s, with the club yo-yoing between divisions,” said Susan Swinney, photo archivist for the Echo.
“When I came across these images of the 1955 team a few days ago, I was struck by the similarities with today’s side. Both had shaky season starts – and both had much to prove.”
The early 1950s found Sunderland still clinging to the fact they had never been relegated from the top flight. But the 1953/54 season saw them escape by the skin of their teeth.
Indeed, SAFC were only saved from shame by Billy Elliott, who slammed home a penalty kick to give Sunderland their second goal at Bramwall Lane on April 18, 1954.
“There were players who did not measure up, but it was a credible effort to reach the safety of the 18th position after being so near the drop,” wrote Echo sports pundit Argus at the time.
The next season saw the club enjoy its most successful period for years – winning through to the semi-final of the FA Cup and finishing at No 4 in the First Division.
But, as the 1955/56 season dawned with a defeat at Cardiff, things looked decidedly more dicey. An 8-2 defeat at Luton in November drew particular criticism for fans and pundits.
“The team rallied, however, enjoying several lengthy runs of wins and draws,” said Susan. “But the end of the season saw Sunderland drift to 9th position – which disappointed fans.”
Scots-born Charles Fleming – known as “Cannonball Charlie” for his shooting ability – scored the title of SAFC’s top goal-scorer in the 1955/1956 season after bagging 29 goals.
But football pundit Argus remained fearful for the top flight future of the club – and it was a fear which would prove justified just two years later.
“It is still very early in this season and Sunderland obviously still has everything to play for. I just hope they manage to pull things around, as they did back in 1955,” added Susan.