Memories of Sunderland favourite Willie Watson, a football and cricket great and his determined century to save an Ashes Test

The start of August at least sounds like the proper football season again.

By Rob Mason
Saturday, 1st August 2020, 4:30 pm
Updated Saturday, 1st August 2020, 5:05 pm

Although Sunderland haven’t been in action, playing club football throughout July has seemed as artificial as the crowd noise the TV companies have manufactured.

Sunderland’s season seems set to start on September 12. Although none are announced at the time of writing the next few weeks should see the Lads play some friendly games. At long last we will have something to talk about with regard to what is happening on the pitch as well as off it.

In the early days of football the season didn’t start until September. It wasn’t until after the First World War that Sunderland had a league game in August, and even then at the end of the month.

After the Second World War the opening league fixture didn’t take place until the last day in August in 1946, when the legendary Raich Carter made his league debut for Derby at Roker Park.

Debuting in the Sunderland side that day was the incredible Willie Watson. He played for England at both football and cricket.

For his remaining seven seasons Watson’s cricketing commitments for Yorkshire meant he always missed the opening weeks of the football season.

A member of England’s squad the first time England took part in the World Cup, in 1950, one of Willie’s four football caps came that year at Roker Park against Wales. England won that match 4-2, with Sunderland’s Trevor Ford scoring both of Wales’ goals.

Football is set to return to the Stadium of Light in September.

However Willie Watson was better known as a cricketer, playing 23 times for England at the traditional summer sport. In 1953 he famously scored a determined century to save an Ashes Test against the Aussies at Lords.

No doubt many of you reading this will remember buying your first football strip or other sports gear from Willie’s Sports shop in the town. He had one in the old Palmer’s Arcade and often worked behind the counter himself.

Imagine if Ben Stokes was good enough to play football for England, as well as cricket, and popping into his shop to be served by him. Times have certainly changed!

Willie Watson’s Sunderland career statistics – along with every other player in the whole of the club’s history are included in the forthcoming book Sunderland: The Absolute Record, which I am working on with Sunderland experts Mike Gibson and Barry Jackson.

This 400 page hardback publication costs £30 and will be the most comprehensive book ever published on the club when it comes out in November.

It includes a write-up of every season with full details of every league and cup game, as well as extensive sections on all kinds of records, facts and figures.

You can add your name to the book – or the name of someone you are buying it for – by ordering it by the end of August. To do this go to

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