It doesn’t seem that long ago players wore numbers 1 to 11, all games kicked off on a Saturday at precisely 3pm, children could be lifted over the turnstiles, and the first real inkling you got of results arrived with the Saturday evening sports paper. Depending on where you lived that sports paper might be pink, green or even sky blue. I exaggerate just a little, for effect, but the game has in a few short decades changed remarkably.
One of the lesser known changes has been the loss of the ‘blank Saturday’ friendly. Let me explain.
Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, say, when a big club went out of the FA Cup, particularly in the Third Round, then a yawning chasm opened in the fixture list – a Saturday that was previously pencilled in a FA Cup Fourth Round day was suddenly empty. That was the fate that befell Sunderland after losing 4-1 to Blackburn Rovers in the 1960 FA Cup Third Round.
To fill the void on Fourth Round day many English clubs looked north of the border and played out friendlies against ‘exotic’ Scottish cousins. I mention this because it serves to recall a day when Sunderland entertained Celtic and promptly pulled the ‘red carpet’ from under their guest’s feet.
Today Celtic sweep all before them in in Scotland, so it is hard to imagine that Sunderland, then in the Second Division, ungraciously thumped their Glaswegian visitors 7-1. Celtic, I should add, were not on cup duty that day rather perplexingly as they had received another long-forgotten piece of history – the cup tie ‘bye’ – a strange arrangement whereby a club was given a free pass into the next round; simply because this was an era in which having the requisite number of teams to give an ‘even’ number of cup ties somehow escaped football’s administrators.
Saturday, January 30 1960 was FA Cup Fourth Round day – all sixteen ties kicked off mid-afternoon and meanwhile in Birmingham, Manchester, Stoke and Sunderland the red carpet – or at least a muddy equivalent – was rolled out for Dundee, Hibernian, Airdrie and Celtic respectively.
At Roker Park, for it was the grand old ground in those days, the match did not go quite to plan for the visitors. The red and white criss-cross pattern on the main stand might have seemed familiar to some Celtic followers, being as it was a red version of the self-same blue and white pattern that adorned the balcony of the Rangers main stand. Afterwards the Glasgow football press would grumble about the weather. They noted that the north-east had endured days of constant rain in the run up to the game and that the pitch quickly resembled a quagmire – although presumably for both sides.
Sunderland scored, and scored again, and kept on scoring until the poor Celtic goalkeeper was bemused. 7-1 was the result; remarkably it had been 5-1 at half time.
Lowther and Goodchild scored in the opening 10 minutes, Lowther again and Fogarty were on the scoresheet before half an hour had elapsed. Grainger made it five with only a Byrne consolation salvaging anything from a torrid 45 minutes for Celtic. O’Neill and Anderson added further second half goals for Sunderland to heap the misery on the Scots, who doubtless must have regretted venturing over Hadrian’s Wall.
Mind you January 30 was an odd day. In the Scottish Cup St. Mirren started their Scottish Cup journey in style when they scored 15 against Glasgow University and Gerry Baker, brother of the famous number nine Joe, scored no fewer than 10. And that’s a good place to end because the very next season Joe Baker himself scored 9 in a Scottish Cup tie when Hibs thrashed Peebles Rovers 15-1 in 1961. Nineteen goals in two cup ties for a pair of brothers.
Changed days indeed.