Jarrow, County Durham born goalkeeper Jimmy Thorpe began his football career with Jarrow Imperial in 1928 and played for Jarrow in 1929 before being signed by First Division Sunderland in 1930, making his Football League debut against Huddersfield Town that October, just past his 17th birthday, in a 4-2 victory. Initially understudy to Bob Middleton, he made 4 appearances during his debut season and a further 15 appearances in 1931-32 before becoming the undisputed number one goalkeeper from October 1932.
He helped Sunderland to finish as runners up in the League Championship in 1934-35, but in their League Championship winning season the next year his life and career was cut short when he was kicked in the head and chest after he had picked up the ball following a backpass in a game against Chelsea at Roker Park on 1st February 1936. He continued to play on until the match finished, but died in hospital 4 days later from diabetes mellitus and heart failure ‘accelerated by the rough usage of the opposing team’.
This led to a change in the rules, where players were no longer allowed to raise their foot to a goalkeeper when he had control of the ball in his arms, preventing the ball being kicked out of a goalkeeper’s hands. Though Thorpe may be little known, even in the North East, goalkeepers around the world doubtlessly owe a debt to him. Sunderland went on to win the Championship three months later, and his medal was presented to his widow. During the 75th Anniversary of the game between Sunderland and Chelsea in 2011 both goalkeepers wore black armbands as a mark of respects for Thorpe’s sacrifice.