In 1879, a group of teachers met at a Hendon school and decided to form the Sunderland and District Teachers Association, and would, over the following 20 years become Sunderland FC or the Team of All Talents, the Bank of England and the Black Cats, one of the most successful and unsuccessful football clubs in Britain.
23 - 0
Had you been present at Abbs Field, Fulwell a few days before Christmas 1884 you might have paid threepence1 to see founder member James Allen score 11 of the 23 goals by which Sunderland beat Castletown, who, by conceding a goal approximately once every four minutes, presumably found no time in which to score for themselves.
If Sunderland had been paid three shillings2 per goal, this game alone would have paid for the clubhouse at the new ground in Newcastle Road, including the 5 shillings (25p) apiece paid to two of the players for tarring the roof. Instead, funds were raised by a 1-shilling entrance fee, subsidised by renting out the ground for grazing during the closed season.
The Team of All Talents
The 1886-1887 season saw the introduction of the now famous red and white striped shirts, but it almost saw the end of the club when James Allen left, taking many of the best players with him to form Sunderland Albion. With the backing of local businessmen from both coal and shipbuilding industries, the remaining club brought in new players, and applied to join the league. Beating Aston Villa 7 - 2 had done the cause no harm and led Villa official and league founder Willam McGregor to comment that the team had a talented player in every position, and so it was 'The Team of All Talents' joined the league while Sunderland Albion faded away.
The league had begun in 1888 with only 12 clubs including Burnley, Blackburn Rovers, Everton, Accrington, Preston North End, Bolton Wanderers, Aston Villa, Notts County, West Bromwich Albion, Stoke, Derby County and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Sunderland joined in place of Stoke but only after agreeing to pay the travelling expenses of the other teams who objected to travelling all the way to Sunderland.
In 1890 the Newcastle Road ground saw their first Football League game, a 3 - 2 defeat by Burnley followed by a defeat by Wolverhampton, but after the introduction of Teddy Doig in goal, Sunderland went on to lose only one home match in the next six years and would remain in the top flight for 68 years, a record only recently broken by Arsenal. They were league champions in 1892, 1893 and 1895, and finished second in 1894. In 1897 they finished second to bottom, a position which would nowadays mean automatic relegation, but prior to 1898, the top two teams from Division Two would play against the bottom two from the First Division in an early version of today's end of season play-offs.
Roker Park 1898 - 1997
In 1898 an SAFC milestone was reached as they beat Liverpool 1 - 0 in the first game to be played at what was to become one of the most famous football grounds in the country and home for the next 99 years, Roker Park. Following on from a 3rd place and then a 2nd place finish, the 1901 - 1902 season ended with another First Division championship.
Sunderland 9 - 1 Newcastle Utd
In 1905, the sale to Middlesbrough of Alf Common for £1,000 was the first ever four figure transfer fee. The 1907 - 1908 season ended in another narrow escape from relegation, but also included a Tyne v Wear derby game which ended Sunderland 9, Newcastle 1.
1912 - 1913 started badly with two draws and five defeats, but winning 25 of the next 31 games secured the club's fifth league championship. They also reached, but failed to win the FA Cup Final that year, losing 1 - 0 to Aston Villa.
Between the Wars, Roker Roars
After the interruption of World War I, the 1920s brought success but no silverware for Sunderland. Charles Buchan moved to Arsenal in 1925 having scored 209 times in 379 games, while Dave Halliday made a favourite of himself when he scored 43 times in 42 games. Their best finishes of the decade were a 2nd place and twice 3rd place. Their worst placement of 15th came in 1928 when the final game, against Middlesbrough, would see the losing team relegated to Division Two. Middlesborough went down, but with that season Sunderland ended almost a quarter century under the same manager Robert Kyle. Trainer Billy Williams also left, having been present at every game since 1897.
The building of a new main stand in 1929 almost bankrupted the club, but raised the ground's capacity to 60,000, though somehow over 75,000 people managed to cram themselves in to watch an FA Cup 6th round game against Derby County in 1933. That same year saw the debut of Raich Carter, a local lad of 18 who had attended the very same school where the club had begun as a team of teachers, and who would finish the season as an England international.
1936 was the year of Sunderland's 6th league championship, but was tainted with tragedy, too, when at the age of 22, goalkeeper Jimmy Thorpe died a few days after being kicked during a match. That year Raich Carter scored 31 times, as did Bobby Gurney who went on to score 338 times, a record which stands to this day. The following year saw the FA Cup Final won by Sunderland for the first time with a 3 - 1 win over Preston.
In 1938 they would reach the semi-final, but the 'glory years' were about to become much more scarce.
The Bank of England
War again interrupted matters and it would be the 1949 - 1950 season before Sunderland finished better than 9th in the league; they were placed 3rd, missing the championship by one point. That was the year after the original giant killers Yeovil had dumped them out of the FA Cup, the first time a non-league team had performed such a feat against a First Division side. Big crowds however meant that there was still money to spend and a record £20,500 brought Len Shackleton, 'Clown Prince of Soccer', to Roker Park from Newcastle United. His title was earned with crowd-pleasing antics: while running rings around the opposition, Shackleton would stop, put his foot on the ball, and run a comb through his hair!
Big spending was to earn Sunderland a new nickname, 'The Bank of England', and 'financial irregularities' were to earn them an FA investigation. As if that were not enough, the next season, 1957 - 1958 earned them the first relegation in their history. It would not be the last.
Under Alan Brown, Sunderland began the 1960s in Division Two. The team list included such favourites as Jim Montgomery, future manager Len Ashurst, Charlie Hurley who would one day be voted fans' all-time favourite player, and Brian Clough, who almost beat Dave Halliday's scoring record with 63 goals in 68 games. Unfortunately his playing days ended with injury after 18 months at Roker Park. Two seasons went down to final day disappointment before promotion in 1964. Alan Brown left, only to return four years later, but success just didn't come and the 1970s began with another relegation to Division Two.
FA Cup Victory
1973 brought success in the form of an historic FA Cup Final win over the (almost) all-conquering Leeds United, in a game still remembered for a single goal from Ian Porterfield and an incredible double save by goalkeeper Jim Montgomery. Many of those who watched the game that day could, even now, be moved to tears by the sight of manager Bob Stokoe, arms aloft as he ran the length of the pitch to congratulate and thank Montgomery for his part in the victory.
The Yoyo Years
Sunderland managed to finish seasons in 5th, 6th, and 4th, before eventually winning the Division Two Championship in 1975 - 1976, but it was to be a brief return to the top flight. Relegated the very next year, they would again finish 6th and then 4th before the start of the 1980s brought the next promotion. This time it was to last only slightly longer and never produced a higher finish than 13th place. It was a difficult spell and ended with relegation under the management of Len Ashurst, and a Milk Cup Final defeat by Norwich City.
The worst was yet to come, and a couple of seasons under Lawrie Mcmenemy plus the introduction of the end of season play-offs resulted in relegation to the Third Division, the club's lowest position ever.
The return journey by-passed any play-off nightmare though as Marco Gabbiadini and the team between them scored more goals than any other team that season and took the Division Three Championship. The following two seasons in Division Two ended with a mid-table finish, then 6th place, the play-offs. Victory over Newcastle but defeat by Swindon in the final would have condemned Sunderland to yet more 2nd division football had it not been for 'financial irregularities' at Swindon who were, as a result, sent straight back down. Sunderland, who took their place by default, were back, but not for long.
The 1990s began with relegation, continued with an FA Cup Final defeat by Liverpool and then very nearly another relegation. By now the top teams had split from the league to form the premiership and only one point saved Sunderland from the drop into what was now Division Two. Two years later and in familiar territory, seven games remained with which to avoid the drop. Enter Peter Reid.
The Peter Reid Years 1995 - 2002
The previous decade had seen two major disasters at football stadiums with 56 lives lost in a fire at Bradford and 96 lost at Sheffield. Football ground safety had to be improved and Sunderland had begun planning to move away from Roker Park.
Peter Reid not only steered the club away from almost certain relegation with only seven games left, but used virtually the same team the following year to win promotion to The Premiership. The future looked brighter than many long-suffering Sunderland fans could remember, but then again, there were those who had seen enough to know better than to take these things for granted. While work on the club's new home continued, yet another season ended with heartbreak on the final day and another relegation. It was a sad way to leave Roker Park after 99 years.
Into the Light
Despite relegation to the First Division, hopes were high when the 1997 - 1998 began with the opening of the Sunderland Stadium of Light, a home ground that any team in the country would have been proud of. Those hopes grew as the season progressed and culminated once again in the dreaded play-offs. The final, against Charlton was to be one of the best games Wembley would ever see, ending in a 4 - 4 draw and the even more dreaded penalty shoot-out. Heartbreak again for the Wearsiders but where there might have been despair, under Peter Reid there was spirit and determination and the following season was one of the best yet.
The magnificent success of the pairing of Kevin Phillips with Niall Quinn contributed in no small measure to a record points tally of 105 and automatic promotion, no play-off worries this year. At long last it seemed the ingredients were in place, the new stadium, managerial stability, a place in the Premiership and a team that seemed able to cope with life there.
Given the up and down nature of Sunderland Football Club over recent years it was hardly surprising that some people were ready to write off their chances of survival right at the start. The opening game, a 4 - 0 thrashing by Chelsea was later described as being like 'watching a dog shaking the stuffing out of a soft toy' and it already looked like a quick return to a lower division might be on the cards. Things did improve though and when Chelsea came to the Stadium of Light for the re-match they were themselves treated to a four goal thrashing. No-one dared talk of qualifying for Europe, survival in the top flight was all that mattered and for two years in succession Sunderland finished in 7th place.
Has anything been learned from the yoyo years of promotion and relegation, the failure to build upon the previous seasons success and seemingly endless changes of management?
Well perhaps, perhaps not. Peter Reid remained in charge for seven years and built arguably the strongest Sunderland squad in years, even decades, full of international experience and promising youth. Not a man given to rash spending he would rather seek out 'bargain talent' than big names, Kevin Phillips being but one very good example. On the other hand, the big names in today's game are not easily tempted to sign for a club without the promise of silverware, big success and even bigger pay deals.
Two consecutive top ten finishes may have been a good start to premiership life but it will take more than that and longer than that to convince anyone that the glory days are back. The 2001 - 2002 season appeared to signal a return to the bottom of the table struggles that the Sunderland fans know only too well, and the current season promises with more of the same, but at least there's hope. In Sunderland there is always hope.
Sunderland Football Grounds
- 1879 Blue House Field
- 1882 Groves Field, Ashbrooke
- 1883 Horatio Street, Roker
- 1884 Abbs Field, Fulwell
- 1886 Newcastle Road
- 1898 Roker Park
- 1997 The Sunderland Stadium of Light
Ups and Downs
- 1891-92 1st in league
- 1892-93 1st in league
- 1893-94 2nd in league
- 1894-95 1st in league
- 1896-97 Avoided relegation in early version of play-offs
- 1897-98 2nd in league
- 1899-00 3rd in league
- 1900-01 2nd in league
- 1901-02 1st in league
- 1910-11 3rd in league
- 1912-13 1st in league
- 1922-23 2nd in league
- 1923-24 3rd in league
- 1925-26 3rd in league
- 1934-35 2nd in league
- 1935-36 1st in league
- 1936-37 FA Cup Winners
- 1949-50 3rd in league
- 1957-58 Relegated from top flight for 1st time
- 1961-62 3rd in Division 2
- 1962-63 3rd in Division 2
- 1963-64 Promoted to Division 1
- 1969-70 Relegated
- 1973 FA Cup Winners
- 1975-76 Promoted to Division 1 (Div 2 Champions)
- 1976-77 Relegated
- 1979-80 Promoted to Division 1
- 1984-85 Relegated
- 1986-87 Relegated
- 1987-88 Promoted to Division 2 (Div 3 Champions)
- 1989-90 Promoted to Division 1
- 1990-91 Relegated
- 1992-93 Avoided relegation by 1 point
- 1995-96 Promoted to Premiership (Div 1 Champions)
- 1996-97 Relegated
- 1998-99 Promoted to Premiership (Div 1 Champions)