George Holley

George Holley : Sunderland

George Holley was born in Seaham Harbour on 25th November, 1885. He played for Seaham White Star before joining Sunderland in 1904. At the time the leading goalscorer was Alf Common but in February, 1905, Middlesbrough, who were in danger of being relegated from the First Division, purchased him from Sunderland for the record breaking fee of £1,000.

One journalist described the transfer of Common as "flesh and blood for sale". Another sports writer wrote: "We are tempted to wonder whether Association football players will eventually rival thoroughbred yearling racehorses in the market."

The nineteen year old Holley had already been scoring plenty of goals for the reserves and was expected to be an able replacement for Alf Common. Playing at inside-left, Holley soon became the club's top goalscorer.

In January 1908 Sunderland signed Leigh Roose. He was brought in to replace Teddy Doig who had moved to Liverpool. Holley and Roose became close friends. That season Sunderland finished 3rd in the First Division of the Football League. Their local rivals Newcastle United won the title with 53 points. However, Sunderland had the satisfaction of beating Newcastle 9-1 at St. James' Park with Holley scoring a hat-trick.

Holley won his first international cap against Wales on 15th March 1909. Other players in the England team included Bob Crompton and Colin Veitch. His Sunderland team-mate, Leigh Roose, was in goal for Wales but could not stop Holley score after 15 minutes. Holley scored five goals in five internationals that season. Surprisingly, he was dropped from the team after failing to score in the first game the following season.

Holley continued to score plenty of goals for Sunderland and ended up as the First Division joint leading top scorer in the 1911-12 season with 25 goals. He also won back his place in the England team and scored in all three games he played in the 1912 Home Nations Championship.

Sunderland won the Football League First Division championship in the 1912-13 season. Holley's goals made an important contribution and unfortunately he was not fully fit in the FA Cup Final that season when the team lost 1-0 to Aston Villa.

Holley left Sunderland to play for Brighton & Hove Albion in 1914. During his time at the club he scored 154 goals in 315 appearances. He also scored eight goals in ten games for England during this period.

George Holley, who later worked as a Sunderland coach, died in 1942.

Primary Sources

(1) J. A. H. Catton, Athletic News (5th December, 1908)

When some beardless boys have become grandfathers, they will gather the younger generation round them and tell a tale of Tyneside, about the stalwart Sunderland footballers who travelled to St James' Park and thrashed the famous Novocastrians as if they had been a poor lot of unfortunates from some home for the blind. The greatest match of this season provided the sensation of the year and we shall have to turn back the days to when the game was in its infancy for a parallel performance. Never have I watched forwards who have seized their opportunities with more eagerness and unerring power.

(2) John Hudson, Sunderland: The Official History (1999)

The game got underway in misty conditions with a light rain. The first half was a normal enough affair, Sunderland taking an cash lead on nine minutes through simple tap in by Hogg. The game erupted on half time though, as Newcastle were awarded a controversial penalty when Thomson was adjudged to have hand balled. The Sunderland players were incensed with the referee but their protests made no difference. Shepherd smacked home the spot kick and made it 1-1 at the interval.

The Sunderland placers were livid and came out like men possessed after the half time break. Attacking the Leazes End, they set about destroying this Championship side. A further eight goals were smashed in during an amazing half hour period, six of them coming in only ten minutes!

Holley got the hall rolling just three minutes after the restart, the striker taking advantage when a brilliant run and cross from Bridgett caused confusion in the Newcastle defence. Ten minutes later, the Lads' increasing dominance of the game paid further dividends, as Hogg smashed his second of the game to make it 3-1.

By now, Sunderland were clearly on top, but a devastating ten minute spell was about to stun the whole football world. In the 63rd minute, Holley cleverly jinked past a couple of defenders to make it 4-1, and four minutes later completed his hat-nick with a thunderbolt shot. Two minutes later, Bridgett won a battle for the ball with Whitson before rounding him and making it 6-1.

(3) Charlie Buchan, A Lifetime in Football (1955)

In a later game, I played against Bradford City at Valley Parade. Only the previous April, City had won the F.A. Cup. They were a grand side, but we beat them s-I and I have never seen a better exhibition of inside-forward play than that given by George Holley, our inside-left.

He scored a magnificent hat-trick, running nearly half the length of the field each time and coolly dribbling the ball round goalkeeper Jock Ewart before placing it in the net.

Several times I have stood on the field spellbound, watching Holley bewilder the opposition. After one game, manager Bob Kyle said to me, when I went in to draw the weekly wage-packet: "Do you think you've earned it?"

"No," I replied, "but I think George has earned it for all of us."

There was another occasion a year afterwards when I scored five goals against Kenneth Campbell, Scottish international goalkeeper then playing for Liverpool. Four of them I just touched into the net. Holley had beaten the defence and even drawn Campbell out of position before giving me the goals on a plate.

One of the games that first season was against Preston North End at Deepdale. Tim Coleman, our inside-left that day, put on a thick, black moustache and played throughout the first half with it stuck on his upper lip.

During the interval he removed it and took the field with an innocent expression. The referee at once noticed the difference and spoke to Coleman about it. He thought we had put on a substitute. Coleman was an inveterate joker and a grand footballer who had played for England.

(4) Leigh Roose, letter to George Holley from Gallipoli (June, 1915)

If ever there was a hell on this occasionally volatile planet then this oppressively hot, dusty, diseased place has to be it. If I have seen the fragments of one plucky youth whose body... or what there remains of it... has been swollen out of all proportion by the sun, I have seen several hundred. The bombardment is relentless to the extent that you become accustomed to its tune, a permanent rata-tat-tat complemented by bursting shells... and vet at night the stars are so bright in this largest of skies that one cannot help but be pervaded with a feeling of serenity, peculiar as that appears.