Five of the Best Sunderland Managers of All Time: Part One

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SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - JULY 29: A general view before a pre-season friendly match between Sunderland AFC and Celtic at the Stadium of Light on July 29, 2017 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images)

In an era where the Black Cats have had their fair share of underachieving managers, it can be difficult to remember that they have times of great achievement. Famous FA Cup victories, promotions and they have been crowned Champions of England on six occasions.

Here is a look back at some of the men that have led the Sunderland to great victories and given fans memories that will never be forgotten.

Five of the Best Sunderland Managers of All Time: Part One

Tom Watson

If only Sunderland could find a manager that could come close to emulating the achievements Tom Watson did during the Black Cats’ early years. Watson first led the club to Football League admission in 1890, just 11 years after they were formed. This wa, however, only the beginning.

Watson set about building a team that would become known as the ‘team of all talents’. Sunderland finished a respectable mid-table during their first season in league football and also reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

The next season however, would bring their first major trophy. The club were crowned league champions at the end of the 1891-92 season. They also reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup once again. Fans could not have asked for a better to start to life in league football and thankfully for them and the club, there was more of the same to come.

The following season, Watson guided his team to a second Championship and in 1993-94 Watson almost completed a hat-trick of Championships as they came second. A huge disappointment after their previous achievements. However, the title was recaptured the following season and although the FA Cup once again alluded them, a second trophy was still won.

Champions of the World

At the end of the 1894-95 season, Scottish Champions Hearts challenged Sunderland to a game. Watson, the team and the club accepted. As the game would be played between the champions of both England and Scotland and the fact that at the time both nations were regarded as the leading nations in the world, the game was billed as the ‘Championship of the World’. The fans in attendance were treated to a thriller as eight goals were shared between the two sides. Sunderland eventually won the game 5-3 to be crowned ‘world champions’.

The following season Sunderland, by their high standards, finished a disappointing fifth. After seven years Watson decided to leave Wearside when Liverpool offered to double his salary and give him a new challenge. It took Sunderland several years to get back to Championship winning ways.

Johnny Cochrane

After over forty years of trying and coming close on several occasions, Johnny Cochrane was the man who finally brought the FA Cup back to Wearside.

The 1920’s proved to be yet another exciting decade in the club’s history. They spent heavily, breaking the transfer record twice. However, even though the team enjoyed some good league campaigns, finishing third three times and second once, the large outlay brought nothing in the way of trophies.

When Cochrane arrived in 1928 from St Mirren, he not only brought in experienced staff to help, but he also began to help stabilise the club’s finances. Instead of attempting to buy trophies by signing stars, he looked towards investing in youth, something that would take time but would ultimately pay off.

The early part of the 1930’s were, maybe not surprisingly, unspectacular. The team finished 11th, 13th and 12th; however, they did reach an FA Cup semi-final. Things began to pick up from then on, a sixth-place finish in 1934 showed promise and the finishing runners-up the following season made many take notice as Cochrane’s team was now beginning show what it was capable of.

Champions Again

Sticking with the homegrown talent that had come runners-up the previous season, no new signings were brought in. Cochrane’ settled team, no more experienced and determined, secured the title at Easter. They scored an incredible 102 goals on their way to the title. They did, however, concede 74. Sunderland were certainly an entertaining team to watch. Cochrane’s philosophy was simple; score more than your opponent. It was Sunderland’s sixth Championship, and at this point in time they were the only team to have have played all their league football in England’s top division. Sunderland were the, in 1936, England’s greatest club.

The following season, Cochrane led his team to FA Cup glory. Even though league form suffered, the FA Cup provided great excitement for supporters who were hoping to finally see the team lift the cup. Southampton, Luton and Swansea were beaten in the early rounds. The quarter-final was no easy tie. Wolves provided tough opposition and it took two replays to finally progress. That year’s cup giant-killing underdogs, Millwall, were semi-final opponents. Even though the Lions took the lead, Sunderland came through to win 2-1.

Cup Winners at Last

Even though Sunderland had been champions six times in their short history, the FA Cup proved to be a difficult competition to win. Preston North End were the opponents and the men from Wearside were determined to succeed this time. In front of over 93,000 at Wembley, Sunderland, even after being 1-0 down at half time, lifted the cup for the first time by winning 3-1. Cochrane and his team were now assured to be never forgotten on Wearside and every Sunderland supporter.

By the time Cochrane left Sunderland in 1939, the club were one of the nations top clubs and their status as the North-Easts top team was secure. Johnny Cochrane is a Sunderland legend, there is no doubt about that.

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