Aston Villa

The world's oldest painting of an association football match

The Hemy Painting

Sunderland AFC 4 vs. 4 Aston Villa, Football League Division One
Newcastle Road, Sunderland, Wednesday 2 January 1895
Sunderland Scorers: Gillespie x 2, Hannah, Millar
Aston Villa Scorers: Smith (15 & 30), Reynolds (Penalty), Devey
Attendance: 12,000

This was the biggest game of the season at Newcastle Road when current league champions Aston Villa came into town. They started badly and lost at home to Sunderland in September but since then they have gradually climbed the league ladder and are now in strong contention for the championship. Villa were confident of winning and at odds of 6 to 4 appeared a good bet. There was a great deal at stake for Sunderland who following Everton’s defeat a few days ago stood proudly at the top of the table.

Villa arrived on Tuesday and looked in the peak of condition. The weather was fine and much warmer than Tuesday although a strong NW wind was blowing. Meehan returned at right back for Sunderland and Johnstone moved to left half with Auld dropping out. The pitch was in pretty fair condition with a lot less snow on it and the crowd of around 12,000 was bigger than that of New Years Day. Sunderland won the toss, took advantage of the wind and Devey kicked off for Villa.

Sunderland were first to show and Gillespie raced away to send a hard shot just wide. Villa were very lively however and Cowan got in a shot that went a few yards wide. Sunderland came again and were pressing very strongly but Villa were not to be denied and came at Sunderland with terrific pace with Smith driving in a shot that Doig kicked away. The Sunderland defence was kept busy and Meehan was doing very well. A grand rush from Smith saw the Villa man strike the post with an absolute beauty as the visitors kept going with great dash.

Sunderland at last managed to mount an attack but Spencer cleared and then a free kick to the home side was gathered right under the bar by Dunning. Dunning saved again when the home forwards made another rush. Sunderland were having a bright spell and again and again the Villa custodian stopped shots which could easily have brought goals. When Hannah did beat him his hotshot struck the post and went wide. Villas forwards were playing well and a long raking pass by Athersmith found Smith who neatly popped the ball past Doig to put Villa ahead in the 15th minute

Sunderland retaliated but were soon driven back and Doig did well to save a cracking shot and keep Sunderland in the game. The home side were struggling to find their form but at last managed to work the ball into the Villa goalmouth where some neat passing set up Gillespie to shoot home the equaliser after 25 minutes. This made it a much better game and play became very exciting. Villa were playing very forcibly but they had to fall back when Hannah nipped in and fired a hard shot just wide. A spell of midfield play followed.

After 30 minutes play Smith broke away and dashed past Dunlop and Meehan to let fly from long range. Doig had begun to advance and was astounded as the ball sailed over his head and dipped into the net. It was a superb shot that was worth a goal. Villa continued to buzz around the home goal and Doig was kept busy as the ball was remained in the Sunderland half. In fact Doig was busier that he has been for many a long day at home and his left fist was constantly on the go.

In view of the pressure that Villa were applying a 3rd goal seemed inevitable and it duly arrived when Smith sent in a fine pass. Devey raced onto the ball and was promptly flattened by Johnstone inside the penalty area to bring Villa penalty kick. Reynolds hammered the ball against the underside of the bar and into the net to put Villa 3-1 up. Sunderland rallied after this and Campbell took a pass from Hannah to crack a shot against the crossbar. Amidst great excitement Sunderland pressed again.

The ball was swung into the Villa goalmouth and a fierce scrimmage took place in front of the posts. Dunning kept out one shot and when the ball was returned Hannah poked it into the net to reduce Sunderland’s arrears to one. Villa were still a lively lot and were on the attack when the halftime whistle blew. Facing the wind in the 2nd half Sunderland started strongly and Gillespie was just off target with a good shot. Villa went straight to the other end and Doig saved well before sending the home forwards away again.

Sunderland were very poor in front of goal and their shooting left much to be desired. Russell took a Villa free kick and dropped the ball right in front of Doig but he managed to fist clear and Hannah went racing away over the centre line. Sunderland mounted a concerted attack and play remained in Villa territory for quite some time. The Villa goal was in constant danger but the visitors defended well and kept the home forwards at bay. Athersmith raided for Villa but Reynolds fouled McCreadie and Sunderland returned to the attack.

Hannah went close but Spencer got the ball away and then a free kick handed the initiative back to Sunderland. McNeill took it and found Millar who fired into the net from close range to equalise in the 70th minute. The ground erupted as hats and sticks flew into the air amidst immense excitement. Soon afterwards Russell fouled Campbell and from the free kick another scrimmage occurred in the Villa goalmouth. Players from both sides clustered around the ball and it fell to Gillespie who whipped it into the net to put Sunderland ahead for the first time.

Villa retaliated strongly and applied tremendous pressure on the home goal although the attacks did not have the same sting as their earlier onslaughts. Russell put a shot over the bar and then Devey got in a grand long shot that Doig collected comfortably. The ball was moving rapidly from end to end and in one spirited attack Sunderland had hard lines in not being awarded a penalty when Campbell was deliberately fouled. Villa were soon back on the attack and bombarding the Sunderland citadel with only grand defending preventing an equaliser.

As the game drew to a close the fast pace did not diminish and the excitement remained at fever pitch. Dunning made a magnificent save to keep out a long shot from McCreadie and then Villa swept the ball up the field. After a bit of neat passing Devey shot home an equaliser for Villa in the last couple of minutes and soon after a magnificent game ended in a draw.

Sunderland: Doig, Meehan. McNeil, Dunlop, McCreadie, Johnstone, Gillespie, Millar, Campbell, Hannah J ,Scott
Aston Villa: Dunning, Spencer, Welford, Reynolds, Cowan, Russell, Athersmith, Chatt, Devey, Hodgetts, Smith

Anyone walking into the main foyer of the Stadium of Light can’t help notice the stunning painting, behind its protective glass casing, of the fixture between Sunderland and Aston Villa played at our then home ground of Newcastle Road.

That this English first division match, played on 2 January 1895 ended 4 v 4 was run of the mill, that the painting is recognised as the oldest of an Association Football match anywhere in the world marks it out as something special.

The “Hemy Painting” as it is commonly referred to is in due deference to the artist Thomas Maria Madawaska Hemy.

The painting has over the years had two titles; “A Corner Kick” and “The Last Minute – Now or Never”.

Both Sunderland and Villa at that time were huge clubs. A draw wherever they played and this meeting of the two sides was eagerly anticipated.

Villa were the current league champions and although they had started their league campaign badly, including losing to Sunderland in the September, they had gradually climbed the table to lie just behind Sunderland who were top. With this in mind Villa were confident of winning and at odds of 6 to 4 appeared a good bet.

The match took place on a Wednesday and Villa arrived on the Tuesday. They looked in the peak of condition. The weather was fine and much warmer than Tuesday although a strong North East wind was blowing. Meehan returned at right back for Sunderland and Johnstone moved to left half with Auld dropping out. The pitch was in pretty fair condition with a sprinkling of snow on it and the crowd of around 12,000 was bigger than that of the New Years Day match. Sunderland won the toss, took advantage of the wind and Devey kicked off for Villa. The game itself was a thriller, 4 v 4, with Villa taking the lead after quarter of an hour. Nip and tuck all the way it was generally agreed that a share of the spoils was a fair result.

It has been mooted that there is something odd about the painting of the footballers hands and that Hemy had been used to painting pugilists. There is no evidence that this was the case and there are no art works of Hemy’s showing pugilists.

What is interesting to note is that Thomas Hemy was actually at the Aston Villa game. We know this because in The Echo’s 7 January 1895 edition their reporter at Newcastle Road spoke to him and their conversation was recorded in print. Interestingly there is no mention made of Hemy being their to paint the now iconic match scene.

It is also said that Hemy was commissioned to paint the image to celebrate Sunderland’s 1894/95 triumph. That cant be right. Clearly both the football club and Hemy would have no advance knowledge of SAFC’s league triumph. It seems more feasible to suggest that as Hemy did and would have a track record in painting some memorable sporting scenes, both football and rugby, and as he lived in Sunderland, that he was of a mind to paint the scene from memory following his attendance at the match. Subsequently he presented it to SAFC for purchase.

It was reported in the June 1898 edition of the Sporting Mirror that: “The annual meeting of the Sunderland Football Club has been fixed for the 29th of this month. The officials have purchased the painting by Tom Henry (sic), representing the cup tie (sic) between Aston Villa and Sunderland in 1894 (sic) and also the artist’s supplementary proofs. Both the painting and the proofs they propose to put up as a prize drawing for the Benefit of the funds of the club”.

Strange that The Sporting Mirror should indicate that the painting is of the cup tie the previous season. Probably just a mistake. Considering we now know that Hemy attended the 1895 game then it is surely beyond doubt that the 4 v 4 game was the game he painted a scene from. Not only that but the team lineups along the bottom of the painting correlate to the 4 v 4 match report. Finally of course the game was played in winter and if you look closely at the painting you will see bails of straw around the field; straw was of course the covering used on football pitches at this time when frost was expected. Sunderland of course fell foul of this practice in the 1950’s when they used the refunds from returned bails of straw to supplement some of the players wages and therefore exceed the maximum wage that was in force at that time.

On 11 July 1900 and Sunderland AFC’s annual meeting took place at the Grand Hotel, Bridge Street. The clubs chairman JP Henderson presided over an excellent turnout. The annual report showed an excess of expenditure over revenue of some £247.

At the close of the meeting a discussion took place regarding the Hemy painting of the famous match against Aston Villa. It was explained that the painting had been raffled but as no-one had yet established a claim it was being stored in a Sunderland furniture dealers establishment. The chairman thought that he might hand the painting to the Borough Art Gallery or perhaps the Town Hall. No decision was taken.
So what happened to the painting?

Intriguingly and only recently a postcard was located on e-bay of all places showing the painting hanging on the wall of a Sunderland pub called The Bells which was located at 14 Bridge Street, just up from The Wearmouth Bridge. It operated under the ownership of Jas. Henderson and Sons; the father of the club chairman. The Bells had an upstairs restaurant and in that upstairs restaurant the Hemy work was displayed for a period. It dominated the grill room.

So we know that from the furniture dealers it found its way to the Chairman’s Father’s pub.
The story can be further pieced together in that a picture emerged of the painting hanging on the wall above the reception area at Roker Park. Underneath was a plaque indicating that the Hemy Painting had been “Presented to Sunderland AFC by Samuel Wilson Esq., September 4 1930.”
Who was Samuel Wilson and how did he end up with it? Wilson was on the SAFC Board of Directors in the 1920’s and he was a local businessman. Quite how he came to get his hands on the painting is a moot point. Nevertheless here the painting was, back at Roker Park.

However as time went on the Hemy painting fell into a state of disrepair and the Sunderland AFC Supporters Association raised an alleged £8,000 to have the painting repaired; and so it left Roker Park in the late 1980’s.

On Monday 15th September 1997, Sunderland revealed that the famous painting by Thomas MM Hemy which has been on loan to Sunderland Museum and Art Gallery since 1990 was returning, now though, to the club’s new home; the Sunderland Stadium of Light. There it resides to this day, a hugely impressive tribute from the early days of association football and to our team which at that time was the best in the world.

Latterly a rumour emerged that the supplementary proofs referred to in the minutes of the 1900 Annual Meeting turned up at the SAFC Supporters Association. It was alleged that they were then bought to the attention of and bought by one of the Directors of Sunderland AFC.
And what of the artist?

Thomas Marie Madawaska Hemy was born in and around February 1852 off the Murtar Var Rocks near the Brazilian coast.

The “Marie” was in due deference to the Catholic Church of which his father was a devout member and the “Madawaska” in homage to the ship that Thomas was born on. The ship Madawaska was registered in Canada and named after a river in Ontario. His sea birth was due to the family emigrating (temporarily) to Australia, leaving Liverpool in late 1851/early 1852 bound for Sydney Harbour.

The family’s roots were in Newcastle, where his brothers had been born, and having found life tough in Melbourne, where they had settled, the family returned to the North East in 1854.
At aged 14 Thomas Hemy ran away to Sea for four years sailing exotic seas such as The Dardanelles aboard such ships as The Brindisi, a passage of his life that he recounted in his autobiography Deep Sea Days.

That is perhaps then no coincidence given all of this that one of Hemy’s brothers (Thomas had 9 brothers and 3 sisters), Charles Napier Hemy, would become one of the finest British maritime painters to have lived, a talent that was to be passed on to Thomas. All the family had a love of the sea and the Arts; Hemy’s Father Henri was an accomplished musician.

Back in England a substantial amount of Thomas’s time was spent at the mouth of the Tyne River painting boats or inspiring paintings of shipwrecks. Perhaps his most famous work being “The Wreck of the Birkenhead” and locally “Winter on the Tyne”. However he also gave us masterpieces such as “The Eton Wall Game”, “Goal!” painted in 1882 and of course “The Last Minute – Now Or Never”.

However it would be wrong to think of Hemy as a parochial North East painter. We have read about his sea faring exploits which gave him a very broad horizon and he also exhibited at such places as The Royal Academy in London and studied at the Antwerp Academy Of Arts for two years studying under Charles Verlat. He was often commissioned to paint and had his subsequent efforts purchased by such people as Lord Charles Beresford.

Towards the end of his life Hemy left the North East and settled in Ryde, the largest town on the Isle Of Wight where he died on 3 April 1937, ironically a month before Sunderland won the FA Cup for the first time. One of his sisters, Annie, also died in the same year.

History has left Thomas Marie Madawaska Hemy pretty much a forgotten man, but not in Sunderland. His footballing masterpiece and his legacy live on.

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