The Giant Killers

Every F A cup giant killing since 1888

 All time greatest F A cup giant killings

Number 31

 Port Vale 2-0 Sunderland

Third Round Replay

Monday, January 13th 1936 

The Old Recreation Ground

Attendance: 16,677

Scorers: George Stabb {7}, Trevor Rhodes {24}

Ranked at the time: 7

Eddie Reilly and the Onyx Club Boys had a hit with 'The music goes around and around', Victor McLaglen took the title role of 'The Informer' in the film set against the Irish rebellion in 1922, the divorce rate in Britain reached an all time high and the first ever glass covered building was opened in the United States. 

At Roker Park on F A cup third round day the team regarded as the best and most stylish in the land had put in a lacklustre display and been forced into a Monday afternoon replay in The Potteries. The Rokerites had finished runners up in the previous season's League campaign and an opening day defeat at the hands of champions, Arsenal suggested they would remain under the thumb of the all conquering Londoners in 1936 but an exciting team had been built by manager, Johnny Cochrane that was taking on all comers and beating them with style.

Despite suffering their first home defeat of the season on New Year's Day against Aston Villa, the men from Wearside were well clear of nearest challengers, Derby County when the cup came around and with eighteen games remaining the title was theirs to lose. Sunderland fans had waited almost a quarter of a century for their heroes to be crowned Champions again after a series of near misses but their wait for cup success had been eternal as The Rokerites had never managed to lift the trophy, reaching the final just once, back in 1913 when they and Aston Villa denied each other the League and cup double in a final remembered as perhaps the most ill tempered of all time. 

On cup third round day their team consisted of ill fated goalkeeper, Jimmy Thorpe, a Jarrow lad not born when Sunderland had last won the title. Full backs, Morrison, a reserve and Alex Hall from Scotland, an all Scottish half back line of Charlie Thomson, Scottish International, Alex Hastings and Sandy McNab. The forward line that was scaring the hell out of the rest of the top flight was made up of twenty year old Newcastle born Len Duns, ex England International and all time top Sunderland goalscorer, Bobby Gurney, ex Scotland forwards, Patrick Gallacher and Jimmy Connor and the star of the team, England International Raich Carter.

Much had happened to Port Vale since a memorable cupset of Sheffield United forty eight years ealier. The Valiants had left their Burslem home, dropping the name of the town in the process, and moved to nearby Hanley where they had set up home at the Old Recreation Ground . They had also rejoined the Football League and even made it back into the second tier but had found life tough in that sphere and after a poor start to the 1935/6 season, manager, Tom Holford had stepped down.

The change to a committee did little to improve results on the field and by January Vale were four points adrift of safety and staring relegation to Division Three in the face. And yet over 16,000 people were queued up outside the turnstiles of the Old Rec for a replay few in the Potteries had dared to expect.

The two sides arrived at the ground and went out to inspect the pitch before kick off where it was noticed by a few that the Sunderland players exchanged a few nervous looks at the bone hard pitch that even in the 1930s ran close to the possibility of postponement. The referee, Mr Smith from Cockermouth assured the Vale directors that he was happy with the conditions and the game was to go ahead.

Vale no longer sported the red and white striped shirts that had been their traditional colours back at the time of their famous cupset of Sheffield United but still faced a colour clash with their visitors as their home colours for the last decade had been red shirts. unusually though for the times it was Sunderland, as visitors who changed, wearing white shirts as they had done at Roker Park a few days earlier.

The visitors were first to arrive on the scene in front of a slightly disappointing attendance, to be quickly joined by their hosts who were an all English eleven with virtually no top flight experience save for their veteran former Leeds keeper, John Potts who was naturally expected to be the key member of the home team.

Potts however was a happy spectator in the opening exchanges as the Vale players flew into the game without any seeming thought for the conditions against a Sunderland side whose players certainly seemed to be aiming to win the tie without too much risk to life and limb. In fairness though this was the typical start to a cup tie and the Rokerites would certainly have expected their enthusiastic opponents to come out quick. The Champions elect would merely weather the opening five minutes then let the game settle to suit their pace so long as Vale didn't steal an early breakthrough. A seventh minute free kick therefore wasn't what the doctor ordered for the visitors but even a club of Sunderland's stature seemed to be being a little over cautious when virtually every outfield player packed their goal mouth to defend it. Michael Curley swung it in for the red shirts to attack and George Stabb met it, guiding a powerful header well wide of a flat footed Jimmy Thorpe to give Vale a sensational lead.

For the remainder of the first half Vale would go on to show their fans that there would be no fluke about this tie and looked far more likely to add to their lead than be pegged back. Sure enough a twenty-fourth minute corner yet again saw Thorpe with no possibility of preventing a goal as this time Trevor Rhodes was the man doing the damage. Johnson's corner was swung right into the goalmouth, creating panic among the usually composed Sunderland defence. Two defenders attempted to effect a clearance, both missed and found themselves prone as the ball came to Rhodes who couldn't miss from five yards out. The noise created by the first goal was like a pin dropping to the volume in the stadium as Rhodes wheeled away to accept the acclaim of his team mates.

Barely a quarter of the game gone and Vale were two up and relatively comfortable although Riach Carter should have scored from barely four yards but managed instead to blast the ball as hard as he could into Roderick Welsh, the Vale fullback left prone by the goal mouth in a daze for a few seconds before he was able to continue. vale though could have increased their lead before the interval when Arthur Caldwell shaved the bar with a strong drive and then within a minute almost scored direct from a corner, Alex Hall saving Sunderland from disaster with a goal line clearance.

Sunderland made tactical changes at half time, pushing Alexander Hastings up to join the forward line in a bid to try and get back into the tie and the first few minutes saw the visitors knocking on the door. Gurney missed a golden opportunity to shoulder charge the keeper into the net when Potts was slow to clear his lines. Fortunately the Sunderland man had lost his bearings and did not realise the Vale custodian wa standing virtually on his goal line. Then Len Duns squandered two great chances, firstly wastefully trying to lob Potts when three of his colleagues were virtually unmarked and screaming for the killer pass. Then Duns almost snatched that bit of crucial luck that could have gotten the visitors the toe hold in the tie they desperately needed when his tame headed was fumbled by Potts. The Sunderland forward dashed past the Vale keeper and raced after the ball to try and steer it into the net but was just beaten for pace with a hugely relieved Potts watching on.

The clock was ticking away and Sunderland's luck certainly seemed out as Port Vale created two late chances that could have added icing to the cake, though by then most of the crowd were preparing for the customary pitch invasion to celebrate one of the biggest cupsets of all time, which was heralded by Mr Smith's final blow on the whistle.

The Sunderland players graciously offered no excuses and congratulated their hosts on having beaten them fair and square, leaving Hanley behind they went on to be crowned deserving League Champions three months later. For Vale now came the preparations for the visit of top flight strugglers, Grimsby in round four but here, the weather conditions that had made the pitch so favourable now went against them.

This time heavy snow in the week before the game left a pitch that led to farcical playing conditions on the weekend when football would hold a minutes silence for the death of the King. So awful were the conditions that the Grimsby players came out in coats to observe the silence before reluctantly taking them off to play in conditions they were quicker to get to grips with. The visitors were two up inside five minutes and it was only thanks to Potts that Port Vale were not further behind than four nil at half time. Neither side were greatly interested in playing the second half and it was very much a case of going through the motions to complete the ninety minutes with no further scoring in front of the smallest cup tie crowd of the round, just 13,000 braving the elements.

With the cup no longer a distraction, Vale set about trying to retain their Second Division status and did briefly climb out of the relegation zone in February but they failed to win any of their last five games of the season and were relegated on the final day, gaining a draw at Charlton where a win would have been enough. So began nineteen years in the third tier and before the end of the year no less than five of their cup heroes had moved on. Potts and Baker were released in May, Johnson joined Torquay in june, Curley went to Colwyn Bay in November while goal hero George Stabb was also sold to balance the books, arriving at Bradford {Park Avenue} in September. Trevor Rhodes, the twenty-six year old Yorkshireman whose goal had put the tie beyond Sunderland survived the cull but he too was released in 1938. In 1993 Stabb and Rhodes were the only two men of the eleven still alive. Rhodes passed away at his home in Leeds in May of that year and Stabb followed in December 1994.

A sadder footnote to this cup tie was the fate of Sunderland goalkeeper Jimmy Thorpe who, three weeks after the game at Hanley, took the field for a First Division game against Chelsea. Goalkeepers had very little protection in these days and when they went down to clutch the ball it was still fair for forwards to try and barge the keeper or try and kick the ball out of his hands. Defenders would often need to form a guard around their stricken keepers to protect them but on this day Thorpe came in for particularly hard treatment from the Chelsea forwards. On more then one occasion the Sunderland custodian was seen to suffer at the hands of the Chelsea forwards, on one occasion taking a severe kick to the head and ribs as he dived on the ball. Despite being in some discomfort, Thorpe stayed at his post until the end of the game but was rushed to hospital four days later where he died of heart failure. An inquest was in no doubt that the cause was his treatment on the football field. Thorpe's death led to the rules being changed that players would no longer be able to raise their feet to a keeper who had the ball safely in his hands.

Vale: 1:John Potts, 2:Roderick Welsh, 3:Jack Vickers, 4:Michael Curley, 5:Harry Griffiths, 6:Roger Jones, 7:Cliff Johnson, 8:Trevor Rhodes, 9:James Baker, 10:George Stabb, 11:Arthur Caldwell

Sunderland: 1:Jimmy Thorpe, 2:Morrison, 3:Alex Hall, 4:Charlie Thomson, 5:Alexander Hastings, 6:Sandy McNab, 7:Len Duns, 8:Raich Carter, 9:Bobby Gurney, 10:Patrick Gallacher, 11:Jimmy Connor