Sunderland Football Team History
There is a song; made popular by Scottish football fans, which includes the line "I'd walk a million miles for one of your goals".
The history of Sunderland AFC starts in 1879, in Glasgow, and ends, so far, in 2004 at the Sunderland Stadium Of Light. Whilst the journey from Scotland's second city may not be far, perhaps a mere 150 miles, the 125 year route has probably taken the Club's players, officials and fanatical support a million miles and beyond.
This is the story of Sunderland AFC, it is cultural and attempts to answer a very basic question:
Was Sunderland AFC Institutionalized because of its tremendous support, or was the legendary Roker Roar made famous because of the Club it is associated with?
Whilst statistics are important in soccer, they require a context, before they can be fully appreciated. The story that is about to unfold before your eyes paves the way for the figures. They come later.
If the Club's founder, Ayrshire's James Allen, were here today I wonder what he would say about his creation. What would he say about its magnificent new home? Of course we will never know, but if he is looking down from "the biggest football stadium there is" he will no doubt understand the billion tears that have been shed by all who love, worship and adore his legacy.
As we shall see the foundation for Sunderland AFC's early success was based on Scottish guile, imagination and flair. Today the Club is in the hands of Englishmen both on and off the field, but the debt we owe to the men in Tartan cannot be overstated.
The misfortunes that Sunderland encountered from first relegation in 1958 to humiliation of third division football in 1987 can perhaps be traced to one incident. We will describe the episode and suggest that the person responsible did more to damage Sunderland AFC than poor results on the pitch could ever do.
By representing past glories our story gives an indication of the future that could be ours if we stand together - club with supporter. It emphasizes that the building blocks are there, we only need to put the pieces together.
This tale is emotional, because its magnificent fans are emotional people. We make no excuse for this, far from it. In fact we are proud of this. We contend that it is the emotion that is within every Sunderland AFC man, woman and child that makes the club and its magical supporters what they are. To be part of the Roker Roar is an emotional experience, it is a culture. We are talking about ordinary individuals, some from depressed and harsh backgrounds coming together to form a bond that is unique in football. Sunderland AFC love each and every one of them, lets make that quite clear. How could you not?
Our story is not a glorification of anything but the People's Game of which Sunderland AFC is part, Pele's Beautiful Game. By the end though you will have experienced a roller coaster ride that leaves you wanting more. It leaves you excited about what could be.
It is a footballing bible. It tells of great teams, players who would pass into legend and administrators who would get things spot on, but in the next breath it all goes horribly wrong. It is a soap opera; it is a Hollywood classic, and therefore there are heroes and villains.
At the centre of it are always the supporters, the heartbeat of any Club. However these people are special, as only the officials of Sunderland AFC can truly appreciate. The Roker Roar is Sunderland AFC. The Directors are part of the famous band of red and whites, supporters like everyone else. They share in the despair and joy.
We started with a song so we will finish with one. As the red and white brothers and sisters sing "wise men say only fools rush in, but I cant help falling in love with you…Sunderland".
Supporting Sunderland is indeed a love affair…. Par excellence. We should give thanks to James Allen, the creator; the footballing God of his adopted Wearside. So, sit back and relax, a 122 year old story is about to be told. We guarantee that you will not be disappointed.
Sunderland Football Club began its life in October 1879 at a meeting of schoolteachers called by James Allan, graduate of Glasgow University who had started teaching at Hendon Board School. At first the club was called Sunderland and District Teachers' Association Football Club. After the first year non-teachers were allowed to join and the name was changed to Sunderland AFC (perhaps the teachers found the £10 a year for rent for their field too expensive and needed players with better paid jobs).
Their first ground was the Blue House Field at Hendon, where Valley Road Infant School stands today. After two years there and another two using a ground at Ashbrook, the club moved north of the river, first to fields in Roker and Fulwell, and then in 1886 to Newcastle Road. The large pitch had stands around it which could hold 15,000 spectators. In 1882 they played in blue shirts, blue knickerbockers and a white stripe, using the playing formations of 126.96.36.199.
In 1884 the club won its first trophy. There were now so many football clubs around the country that the FA set up county competitions. Sunderland were the first winners of the Durham Senior Cup.
When they were drawn to play against Redcar (near Middlesbrough), the Redcar secretary asked, "Where is Sunderland?" The world of football would soon find out!
In 1887 the club was almost destroyed. Clubs in England (but not Scotland) had been allowed to pay players since 1885. New players from Scotland were being brought into the Sunderland team, taking the places of local men. James Allan left the club, taking many of the best players with him, and set up a rival club called Sunderland Albion. The town could not afford to support two football clubs and there was intense rivalry between them before a winner emerged.
With wealthy directors like shipbuilder Robert Thompson and coal owner Samuel Tyzack, Sunderland brought in more talented young Scottish players and applied to join the Football League. Their successful record in friendly matches against league teams helped their cause. When they beat Aston Villa 7 - 2 in 1889 a Villa official, William McGregor, (the league's founder) said that Sunderland had a talented player in every position.
The following year this "Team of all Talents" was elected to the league. Sunderland Albion gradually faded from the scene.
The Football League had begun in 1888 with twelve clubs from Lancashire and the Midlands. Burnley, Blackburn Rovers, Everton, Accrington, Preston North End, Bolton Wanderers, Aston Villa, Notts County, West Bromwich Albion, Stoke, Derby County and Wolverhampton Wanderers. The idea was to provide regular matches against good teams. Each club played the other 11 teams twice, so there were only 22 league matches for each club. Preston were the first champions and they also won the FA Cup. They were champions the next season too but they have never been able to win a third championship in over a hundred years.
In 1890 the League elected Sunderland to join in place of Stoke. Some clubs did not like the idea of travelling all the way to Sunderland and the newcomers had to agree to pay their visitors travelling expenses before they were admitted. A notice outside the ground said "We have arrived and we are staying here". Sunderland remained in the first division for 68 years, a record only recently passed by Arsenal.
The first league game for Sunderland was a 3-2 home defeat by Burnley. Two days later they lost 4-3 to Wolves after leading 3-0. A new goalkeeper, Teddy Doig, was brought from Scotland. He always wore a cap to hide his bald head: it is said that once when it fell off during a match he was more anxious to find his cap than the ball!! He may have been quite a character but he was certainly a successful goalkeeper: in the next six years Sunderland lost only one home match.
Sunderland were league champions in 1892, 1893 and 1895, the first club to win three championships, and they finished second in 1894. In 1892 the League expanded by adding a second division of twelve clubs. Promotion to the first division was not automatic until 1898: the top two teams in the second division had to play "test matches" against the bottom two from the first to decide their divisions for the next season. Newcastle United joined the second division in 1893 and were promoted to the first division five years later.
Hughie Wilson became the first Sunderland player to be ordered off the field in a match against Stoke City on 14th March 1896.
Sunderland finished second bottom of the first division in 1897 and had to win through the test matches to keep their place. Even the "Team of all Talents" could not last forever. As the nineteenth century reached its end, the club was rebuilding on and off field. A new, larger stadium (capacity 30,000) was built at Roker Park in 1898 (it was rented at first) and new players were brought in to replace the great side of the nineties. The first match at Roker, on 10th September, 1898 brought a 1-0 win over Liverpool.
The 1900's began full of promise after an outstanding first decade in league football. Alex Mackie had taken over from Robert Campbell and in his first season we ended up 3rd.
Another league championship was our reward in 1902.
Teddy Doig was still there: he played 422 league games for Sunderland, a club record which lasted until it was beaten by another goalkeeper, Jimmy Montgomery, in the 1970's.
The future of the club was however placed in jeopardy with the McCombie scandal. A full investigation followed. Suspensions were handed out to directors and the manager alike.
The arrival of Fred Taylor, "Mr Sunderland" saved the day, as did the appointment of Robert Kyle in 1905; a masterstroke.
In 1905 Sunderland needed money (perhaps for Roker Park which was bought for £10,000) and they sold Alf Common to Middlesbrough for £1,000, the first four-figure transfer fee ever.
Kyle struggled at first but he managed to stabilise the club and brought in some excellent signings, none more so than George Holley who would have a tremendous impact. Thomson and Mordue also proved to be inspired recruits and Sunderland were back on track once more.
The highlight of the decade? It had to be the 1908 Tyne-Wear local derby with Newcastle United. The teams met St. James' Park and Sunderland recorded a 9-1 win, scoring eight times in the second half!!
Newcastle wept into their beer. It wouldn't be the last!!
2000 to Date
The History of football is still going on in Sunderland
The Story So Far Roll of Honar