Bill Shankly is a name familiar to almost every football fan. He is known as the coach of Liverpool who, over a span of 15 years, brought home 10 trophies and has a two-meter bronze monument erected outside Anfield.
However, there is a lesser-known chapter in Bill Shankly‘s career that many Liverpool fans may not be aware of. Two years prior to taking charge of the “Reds,” Shankly was involved in a remarkable match that resulted in the greatest comeback in football history. His team, Huddersfield, was leading 5-1 against Charlton with only 30 minutes remaining. Yet, the match ended in a stunning 7-6 victory for Charlton.
The hero of the match was Johnny Summers, who scored an incredible five out of Charlton‘s seven goals. Summers, however, tragically passed away just five years later, cementing his place in football history.
This memorable Saturday afternoon took place during the final round before Christmas in 1957. The clash between Charlton and Huddersfield was expected to be one of many matches in the Second Division, which featured a total of 22 teams. It marked the start of the second half of the season, and the thrilling display of football witnessed that day could be seen as a continuation of the first encounter between the two teams at the beginning of the championship. In that initial match, Charlton had taken a 3–0 lead by halftime, but Huddersfield managed to stage a comeback and equalize the score to 3–3.
Both clubs were adjusting to the Second Division, as Charlton had recently been relegated from the top flight and aimed to make a swift return, while Huddersfield had already experienced a season in the second tier of English football.
Following their relegation from the First Division, Huddersfield started giving more opportunities to young players from Bill Shankly‘s academy. The team’s results were initially underwhelming, and in November, manager Andy Beattie resigned. Shankly, a close friend of Beattie‘s, took over and continued to promote young talent. On Christmas Eve, he handed a debut to 16-year-old striker Denis Law, who would later become a legendary figure at Manchester United and the Scottish national team.
Under Shankly‘s guidance, Huddersfield finished the season in 12th place, with 18 wins, 6 draws, and 18 losses. The following half-season didn’t yield significantly different results, as the team secured six wins, nine draws, and six losses.
A pivotal moment in the memorable match occurred in the 17th minute when Charlton‘s captain, Derek Ufton, dislocated his shoulder. At the time, substitutions were not permitted, as the rule allowing substitutions would only be introduced in football a year later. The English Football Association finally accepted substitutions in 1965, initially permitting only one substitution for an injured player.
Ufton had experienced shoulder issues throughout his career, with it dislocating on 20 occasions. On some occasions, he managed to pop it back into place, but not always. In this particular match, his injury was not a result of a foul, impact, or fall.
“I have dislocated one shoulder 13 times and the other 7 times, each time in a different way. That day was particularly stupid. The goalkeeper kicked the ball, and I was running towards their forward, Stan Howard. We collided, and my shoulder popped out. There was no foul, it just happened,” recalls Ufton in an interview for Charlton’s official website, a few months before his death at the age of 92.
“The question has always been one thing – whether I could put it back immediately. If it took more time, then it would be much harder. Well, that day I couldn’t fix it on my own, and before the 20th minute, we were down to 10 men. I played over 250 matches and missed at least another 100 because the manager was afraid of being a man down because of me. It was so disappointing,” Ufton remembers.
By the time Ufton was taken to the hospital, Huddersfield was already leading 2-0. Les Massie and Alex Bain scored the first two goals of the match in the 27th and 35th minutes, taking advantage of the gap in defense left by Ufton’s departure.
Some of the home fans started heading towards the exits at halftime. Their team was losing 2-0, down to 10 men on the field, and they had Christmas shopping to do… Who could imagine what would happen in the next 45 minutes?
At halftime, he changed his shoes and position.
Now, the focus is on John Henry Summers, better known as Johnny. Just two months earlier, he celebrated his 30th birthday. After his arrival at Charlton, things didn’t start well, and he was close to being benched. On the same day, he started as a left winger, but after Ufton’s departure, he had to move to the center of the attack. However, the first half was not good for him, especially with his deteriorating shoes. He changed them during halftime, and early in the second half, Summers played a ball with his weaker right foot, which deceived the goalkeeper and reduced the deficit to 2-1.
The joy, however, was short-lived. Just two minutes later, Bain scored his second goal, and in the 51st minute, Bill McGarry converted a penalty to make it 4-1 for Huddersfield. When Bob Ledger scored to make it 5-1 in the 62nd minute, everything seemed clear, and apparently, the spectators who left at halftime made the right decision.
From 1-6 to 6-5 in less than 20 minutes.
And here is where the miracle begins. In just two minutes, Charlton scored two goals, making it 5-3. First, Summers got past Johnny Ryan for 5-2, and a minute later, he scored another goal to make it 5-3. The reason behind it – Bill Shankly‘s players had the desire to score as many goals as possible and didn’t care about their defense against a numerically weaker opponent… But football is a game you can’t take lightly.
The quick two goals motivated Charlton’s players, who threw everything they had at the tiring visitors on the wet and muddy pitch, where the possibilities for a miracle increased. And it did happen. Summers completed his hat-trick in the 73rd minute and equalized to 5-5 in the 78th minute. The incredible comeback was completed in the 81st minute when he scored another goal, making it 6-5 for Charlton.
A striker, equipped with new footwear and positioned differently, impressively scores three goals in 8 minutes, four goals in 17 minutes, and five goals in a single half. What makes it even more remarkable is that all five goals are scored using their weaker right foot.
At a scoreline of 6-5 in favor of Charlton Athletic, it appears that Bill Shankly‘s Huddersfield team is completely defeated near the touchline. However, in the 86th minute, the team manages to rally and equalize the score. Ryan Howard gets on the scoresheet, resulting in a 6-6 draw.
With only three minutes remaining, a draw seems the fairest outcome. In a report for the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, a journalist writes, “A spectator who breathed down my neck throughout the match shouted, ‘Referee, for heaven’s sake, blow the final whistle!’ It seemed like everyone was content with the draw.”
Yet, not everyone shared that sentiment. Just before the final whistle, Summers finds a moment to deliver one last cross, which Ryan converts into a goal, giving Huddersfield a 7-6 lead. The referee promptly blows the final whistle as the game resumes, and the loyal fans, despite their team trailing 1-5 at halftime, carry the players on their shoulders.
While the Charlton players celebrate, Captain Ufton is undergoing surgery. Ufton shares, “When I woke up, I asked my father what happened until the end of the match. He said he didn’t know and would check. He returned and said we won 7-6, but no one believed him.”
Johnny, who scored five goals, goes unnoticed in the newspaper photo as the captain, who missed the match, takes the spotlight. Reflecting on the situation, the captain remarks, “The following day, photographers and journalists flocked to my house to hear my story. Poor Johnny Summers was the hero, scoring five goals, and yet, my picture was in the newspaper on Monday because I was absent from the game.”
Played on December 21, 1957, at The Valley, this match remains a memorable part of English football history as the only instance where a team scored six goals and ended up losing.
“This was the most astonishing match I’ve ever witnessed,” exclaims Bill Shankly. Despite Huddersfield finishing ninth that season and 14th the following year, Shankly’s successful encounters against Liverpool, who were also in the second tier, paved the way for his iconic status. After securing victories of 5-0 and 1-0, Shankly resigned and took charge of Liverpool, where he would become a revered figure for the next 15 years.
During the same month, Johnny Summers delivers another unforgettable performance, netting five goals against Portsmouth. However, his football career is cut short when he is diagnosed with lung cancer the following year. Nonetheless, the club honors their commitment, keeping him under contract and providing financial support until his untimely demise in 1962, at the tender age of 34.