When Sunderland were champions of England - and did it in style

Sunderland captain Alex Hastings leads out the team.
Sunderland captain Alex Hastings leads out the team.
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The date was April 18, 1936. The occasion was the presentation of the league trophy – the last time Sunderland were crowned Champions of England.

And thanks to the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, we can mark the 80th anniversary of that famous day with a look back into the history books.

Bill Shankly

Bill Shankly

This was the team that the legendary Bill Shankly, later to become Liverpool manager, described as the greatest he ever faced as a player.

He loved their forward line of Bert Davis, Raich Carter, Bobby Gurney, Patsy Gallacher and Jimmy Connor.

The fab five were the key to the championship triumph. England internationals Carter and Gurney ended the season as the First Division’s joint-top scorers with 31 goals each.

Right winger Davis and Scottish international Connor on the left flank supplied the crosses.

Gallacher, another Scottish cap, completed the strike force by finding the net 19 times in the 1935-36 season helping Sunderland to a record-breaking total of 109 League goals.

Sunderland did not get off to the best of starts when they were beaten at Arsenal on the opening day of the season.

The Gunners were the reigning champions and over 66,000 at Highbury saw them begin their title defence with a 3-1 victory.

But it was a temporary setback and high-scoring victories at Roker Park over West Bromwich Albion 6-1 (Carter 4), Blackburn Rovers 7-2 (Gallacher 3), Sheffield Wednesday 5-1, Bolton Wanderers 7-2 (Gurney 5) saw them climb up the table in the first half of the season.

The return fixture with Arsenal at the end of December saw the goals continue to flow.

Sunderland raced to a 4-1 lead at half time at Roker Park through Carter (2), Davis and Burbanks.

Arsenal, who were trying to claim their fourth successive title, fought back, but Connor secured a thrilling 5-4 victory with a goal Carter described as the finest he had ever seen.

The Championship was clinched on Easter Monday with a 7-2 away thrashing of Birmingham City with Gurney again hitting the back of the net four times.

In the days when teams had to play League matches on Good Friday, Saturday and Monday – three games in four days – the title could be won or lost.

Sunderland would eventually finish eight points ahead of their nearest rivals.

The Championship trophy was presented to the Sunderland players following the 4-3 victory over Huddersfield Town at Roker Park on April 18, 1936, with still two League games to be played.

The captain, Alex Hastings, who had lost his place through injury, was handed the trophy by League officials.

The following season Sunderland failed to defend their title but won the FA Cup for the first time in their history.

Bill Shankly was in the Preston North End side that stood between Sunderland and the trophy that had always eluded them.

But goals from the old partnership of Carter and Gurney plus one from Burbanks brought the Cup back to Sunderland.