Sunderland AFC - a brief history

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Formed in 1890, Sunderland Association Football Club is one of the 'big three' clubs in the north east of England, along with Newcastle (aka 'The Skunks'), and Middlesborough (aka 'them lot who think they are part of the fierce north eastern rivalry but neither Newcastle or Sunderland fans give a toss about them').

It may surprise many football fans but Sunderland have won the Chapionship six times although only twice in the 1900s. We have also won the FA cup twice (1937 and 1973), been runners up twice (1913 and 1992) and were runners up in the 1985 league cup. Sunderland were not relegated from the top division until 1958 but our darkest days were in the 1986-87 season when Sunderland dropped into the old third division for the first, and hopefully the last time.

Fighting their way back up, they won the third division title the next season, thanks largely to the goals of Marco Gabbiadini who had arrived from York after manager Dennis Smith. In the 1989-1990 season, Sunderland were promoted to the old first division under extraordinary circumstances. After winning in the semi-final of the playoffs against Newcastle (a 2-0 win at St James Park included) Sunderland lost in the final to Swindon but were still promoted after their opponents were found guilty of payment irregularities.

Back in the top flight, Sunderland struggled and were eventually relegated on the final day of the season. Gabbiadini and Dennis Smith were soon on their way out and Malcom Crosby, Smith's assistant, took over, steering the club to the FA cup final only to lose to Liverpool 2-0. Striker John Byrne was the hero of the cup run, scoring in every round except the final.

Over the next three seasons the team seemed to deteriorate. Under first Terry Butcher and then Mick Buxton, league results were poor, culminating in a relegation fight in the 1994-1995 season which saw the club's position looking bleak. Relegation seemed likely until Peter Reid arrived to take over as manager with only seven games left and kept the club in the new first division. The season after saw an unbelieve able acheivement as Reid, without spending much money, took the club to promotion in his first full season as first division champions. Once again however, Sunderland's first season back at the top was to prove a one-off as lack of investment in the team cost us dear and another nailbiting final day ended in heartbreak and relegation.

It has been within the last three seasons that Sunderland have really become a force to be reckoned with. The club began the 1997-1998 season in the brand new 42,000 seater Stadium Of Light, moving from the aging Roker Park. Although the season started slowly, the emergence of Kevin Phillips and his partnership with the veteren Niall Quinn, shot the team to the playoff final once again, their opponents being Charlton. This time heartbreak was to come in the form of a penelty shoot out and Michael Gray's now infamous miss in suddedn death after one of the most thrilling matches ever seen at Wembley - 4-4 was the score after extra time.

After coming so close the club was not to be denied again. The 1998-1999 season saw them sweep the first division, losing only three times and reaching the semi-final of the league cup. Kevin Phillips scored 25 goals despite being out for several months with a toe injury.

And so to the current season and although Sunderland fans did not dare to hope for more than survival, the club is, at time of writing (9th Feb 2000), sitting at 6th in the table, having been second at one point. A memorable 2-1 victory over Newcastle has already been recorded and Kevin Phillips cannot stop scoring - he is the Premiership's top marksman with 22 and a regular in the England squad. Instead of survival, the fans are now thinking of Europe and stadium development is already underway which will ensure a capacity of 48,000 next season.

The future's bright, the future's red and white.

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