How two sons of a Sunderland shipyard boss stole the show on a rugby pitch

The Sunderland side was packed with boys from public schools
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A piece of Wearside sporting history is being celebrated today, January 17 - and two sons of a shipyard boss had a big role to play in it.

It's 150 years to the day since Sunderland Rugby Club played its first match against another club.

Friends and age-old rivals

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The opponents were Houghton RFC and Sunderland club historian Keith Gregson said: "Sunderland RFC and Houghton RFC are age old friends and rivals."

He added: "There can be no doubt that, in terms of formation, Houghton stole a march on Sunderland by at least a few weeks’.

Houghton formed just weeks before Sunderland and boasted 30 members and growing.

Close-fought match in the early stages

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The Houghton v Sunderland match was Sunderland’s very first inter-club match, said Keith.

James Laing junior who played in that first inter-club match for Sunderland.James Laing junior who played in that first inter-club match for Sunderland.
James Laing junior who played in that first inter-club match for Sunderland.

The Sunderland side was packed with talented public schoolboys who were still on their Christmas break.

During term time, they would have been at public schools such as Eton, Rugby, Wellington, Rossall and Richmond.

The match itself was hard fought with Houghton putting up a strong defence during the early stages.

Teenage brothers were the stars

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But Sunderland came out victorious by one goal and two tries to none.

Keith Gregson who has looked after the archives at Ashbrooke for more than 40 years.Keith Gregson who has looked after the archives at Ashbrooke for more than 40 years.
Keith Gregson who has looked after the archives at Ashbrooke for more than 40 years.

Keith added: "The stars for Sunderland were the two teenage sons of ship builder James Laing – Arthur and James junior.

Arthur Laing (with the cup). He scored the winning points in Sunderland's first inter-club match.Arthur Laing (with the cup). He scored the winning points in Sunderland's first inter-club match.
Arthur Laing (with the cup). He scored the winning points in Sunderland's first inter-club match.

"They were already playing rugby at the highest level at a school in the south which had been part of the formation of the Rugby Football Union three years earlier."

It was Arthur Laing who was credited with all of the points in the game.

Epic battles ever since

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Keith added: "Sunderland and Houghton have been involved in many epic battles over the last 150 years and have seen players serving both clubs across their careers," said Keith.

Keith is the club archivist. He has produced a booklet celebrating the 150th year and this will be available early in the New Year.

For more details, visit www.keithgregson.com

Tell us about the great milestones in local clubs that you know of, by emailing chris.cordner@nationalworld.com

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