The History of Sunderland A.F.C.


How it all Began.

Sunderland Association Football Club began life back in 1879, at a meeting of school teachers headed by James Allen. At first, the club was called Sunderland and District Teachers A.F.C, but after the first non-teachers were allowed to join, it was renamed Sunderland A.F.C.

After brief stints at grounds in Hendon, Ashbrook, Roker and Fulwell, Sunderland finally moved to Newcastle Road and what would become Roker Park.

Following an influx of unpaid Scottish players, James Allen left the club with many of its stars and formed Sunderland Albion. It wasn’t long until Albion folded and the city was left with one club.

At the time, Sunderland was one of the richest clubs in the game, albeit still an amateur side. This financial clout allowed the club to buy the best talent around and become the so-called “Team of all Talents.” In 1870 Sunderland A.F.C were elected to the Football League, two years after its creation.


Glory Days.

Turning professional would see the club rise to the summit of the Football League within 20 years. Derby day delight against bitter rivals Newcastle United, beating them 9-1 at St. James’ Park, confirmed who was the superior team in the north-east.

When the League restarted after World War I, Sunderland started to excel. The 1912/13 season saw the club win 25 of the final 31 games, giving them their fifth League title. Before long, Roker Park was redeveloped, with new concrete terracing replacing the old wooden structure, giving a capacity of 50,000 fans.

These early years set the tone for the future of the club. Once described as an enigma, Sunderland would be superb one season then find themselves swamped in mediocrity the following year.

The 1920’s provided much entertainment for the fans. Club legends, David Halliday and Bobby Gurney, both joined the team and quickly became record breakers. It also witnessed the introduction of the Main Stand, adding another 10,000 to the capacity.

The 1930’s are considered to be the best that Sunderland has witnessed. The club won the League in 1936, the FA Cup and Charity Shield in 1937, were runners up in the League in 1935 and reached an FA Cup semi-final in 1913. As well as the trophies and success, it was the time of Raich Carter. The star striker struck up a partnership with Gurney, and the two shone, scoring over 60 goals between them in the title-winning season. With success came wealth, and before long the club would be known as the “Bank of England Club”. With this wealth came even more development to Roker Park. The famous Clock Stand was added to the already impressive stadium, designed by Archibald Leitch, the most famous stadium architect ever.

Post-WWII saw another future hero sign for the club, one of the first to join Sunderland from Newcastle. Len “The Clown Prince” Shackleton signed for, what was then a record fee, £20,000. The club continued to buy ‘big’ and before long, were challenging for the title again.


The Hibernation Era.

If the 1920’s and ‘30’s provided the most excitement, the 1950’s certainly provided the most drama. The “Bank of England” went bust following a series of big signings and relegation. Sunderland faced the second tier of English football for the first time in nearly 70 years.

Players come and go, but heroes last forever they say, and this was certainly the case in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Jimmy Montgomery, Charlie Hurley and Brian Clough all signed, although Clough’s career came to a shockingly abrupt end due to injury at the age of 28. His goals-to-games ratio is yet to be surpassed as he bagged 63 goals in 68 games.

When football originally came home in 1966, Roker Park was chosen to be one of the venues for the illustrious tournament. This prestigious honour led to the Clock Stand being made into a seating stand, and the Fulwell end gained a roof. This was the only good thing to come in the late 60’s though, as The Lads suffered a second relegation.

However, if we have learnt anything about Sunderland A.F.C, it is that no one will ever know what is around the corner. In 1973 the club achieved arguably their greatest honour in beating the best team around, Leeds United, in the FA Cup final, most remembered for Montgomery’s double save and the late Ian Porterfield’s winner. The cup success brought the giants of Europe to Roker for the first time, however short their stay was.

More years of yo-yoing followed, ultimately ending in promotion to the top flight in 1980, but the 80’s proved to be a decade to forget. Sunderland suffered successive relegations, before finding themselves in the third division under Lawrie McMenemy.

What followed was a period of resurgence. The third division title was achieved with the help of Marco Gabbiadini’s goals, and promotion to the top flight followed. In the new Play-Off system that was introduced, Sunderland beat arch rivals Newcastle in the semi-final, only to be beaten by Swindon in the final. However, Swindon were punished due to financial irregularities and Sunderland were promoted in their place.

The somewhat fortunate promotion proved fruitless and it ended in the club’s sixth relegation in 33 years. The following season provided the thrill of a cup run, which saw the club reach the FA Cup final, only to lose out to a Liverpool team spearheaded by Michael Thomas.

Managers came and went in the early 90’s. Malcolm Crosby, Terry Butcher and Mick Buxton all enjoyed brief stints in control. It wasn’t until Peter Reid took charge in 1995, however, that the club experienced a resurgence. In just over a year the Scouser saved the club from relegation to the second division and then won the first division title the following year.

The 1996/97 season was the club’s last at Roker Park. Niall Quinn was Reid’s big summer signing from Manchester City, hoping that this would lead to the goals to keep them up. However, Sunderland waved goodbye to Roker Park and Premier League football after final day heartbreak

So it would be First Division football that adorned the Stadium of Light in its inaugural season. A brand new 40,000-seater stadium, opened against Ajax of Amsterdam.

Reid led the team to another Play-Off final, only to lose out to Charlton Athletic and four goals from their star striker, and Sunderland fan, Clive Mendonca. Sunderland bounced back and stormed to the title the next season, setting a new record for the most points, ending the campaign on 105.

Under Reid, Sunderland enjoyed relative success in the top flight. Successive 7th place finishes were achieved thanks to the ‘Little ‘n’ Large’ partnership of Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips. However, injuries and age caught up with them as they were sidelined for much of the following season.

Sunderland’s successful back-to-back Premiership campaigns led to high expectations on Wearside, but little investment and poor signings led to a disappointing 17th place finish.


The return of the yo-yo club.

The 2002/03 season saw Peter Reid leave the club after a seven year stay, to be replaced by Howard Wilkinson in October. He was appointed to work alongside and nurture Steve Cotterill, who was seen as one of the brightest young managers in the game. Fans’ favourite, Kevin Ball, returned to the club to work in the new Academy of Light – a state of the art training centre complete with youth academy.

However, the bad form continued and with nine games remaining, the Wilkinson – Cotterill partnership was dismissed to be replaced by former Ireland manager, Mick McCarthy. The appointment proved to be popular with fans, but even this new wave of optimism couldn’t save the club from relegation with a record low points total of 19.

The first season of McCarthy’s time at the helm, saw massive changes made to the playing squad. More than 20 players left the club and the manager’s Irish connections became obvious. Gary Breen and Colin Healy arrived and were soon to be followed by many more. The season saw the club reach the Play-Offs and the semi-finals of the FA Cup, only for both to end in defeat.

More changes were made the following season, as McCarthy scoured the lower leagues and picked up both experience and potential. A tight season saw Sunderland come from third place to overtake the leaders Wigan Athletic and Ipswich Town and clinch the title for the third time in nine years.

Back in the top flight, the club struggled to make the step up. Poor signings and little investment saw the club lose 22 out of their first 28 games and McCarthy was sacked.

At this time, rumours abounded that Murray was set to sell his stake in the club and let a new chairman take over. This uncertainty led to youth team coach, Kevin Ball, being given a caretaker role at the club for the final ten games. The club finished the season by breaking their own record of the lowest points by ending the campaign on 15 points. Despite only dropping one division, this was one of the lowest points in the history of the club.


The ‘Roy-volution’.

The summer of 2006 saw Niall Quinn and his Drumaville consortium complete a long and arduous takeover of the club. The former Sunderland striker sought to appoint a “world-class” manager but would not be rushed into a decision. With no manager in place by the start of the season, Quinn himself took charge, only to lose the first five games. He found the club rooted to the foot of the Championship and dumped out of the League Cup by lowly Bury and promptly sacked himself. His successor was former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland captain, Roy Keane.

Keane wasted no time in stamping his mark on the club. His transfer policy seemed to revolve around players who had links with Manchester United, Celtic and the R.O.I. Dwight Yorke, David Connolly, Graham Kavanagh, Ross Wallace and Liam Miller all signed. Jonny Evans, Danny Simpson, Anthony Stokes, Carlos Edwards, and Stern John all joined the club in the January sales, showing Keane’s clout in the transfer market.

The turn of the year was really the start of the so-called “magic carpet ride” as Niall Quinn called it. Sunderland finished the season 17 games unbeaten and on a dramatic final day of the season clinched the title at Luton, whilst rivals Birmingham lost at Preston.

Back in the Premiership once again and the spending continued. Summer signings include Craig Gordon for a record fee of £9 million, Kenwyn Jones, Michael Chopra, Paul McShane, Dickson Etuhu, Ian Harte, Andy Cole and Kieran Richardson. Keane spent £35 million hoping not just to ensure Premier League status for the club, but also to make a mark on the top flight.

Following such a successful season in his first year as a manager, there was a split in opinion over what Keane would achieve in the top flight. Talk of Europe and big-name signings seemed optimistic, and some predicted that Keane would crack under the pressure and drive the club to relegation. Others felt that Keane’s sheer grit and determination would ensure that they survived and finish comfortably in a mid-table position.

With seemingly unlimited backing from the board, support en mass from the fans, and a transfer kitty bettered by few, the future looks exciting for Sunderland.


Club Honours

  • Top Flight Champions: 1892, 1893, 1895, 1902, 1913 & 1936
  • Top Flight Runners-up: 1894, 1898, 1901, 1923 & 1935
  • ‘Championship’ winners: 1976, 1996, 1999, 2005 & 2007
  • ‘Championship’ Runners-up: 1964 & 1980
  • ‘League One’ winners: 1988
  • F.A. Cup winners: 1937 & 1973
  • F.A. Cup Finalists: 1913 & 1992
  • League Cup Finalists: 1985
  • Charity Shield winners: 1937


Club Records

  • Record Attendance: Record Attendance: 75,118 (vs Derby County, FA Cup 6th Round Replay, March 8th 1933, Roker Park)
  • Record Attendance at Stadium of Light: 48,355 (vs Liverpool, FA Premiership, April 13th 2002)
  • Additionally, Sunderland hold the record for the highest attendance outside the top flight of English football since the advent of the Premier League: 47,350 (vs Stoke City, Coca Cola Championship, May 8th 2005)
  • Lowest Attendance at the S.o.L: 11,450 (vs Chester City, Carling Cup First Round, August 24th 2004)
  • Record Victory: 9-1 (vs Newcastle United, Division One, 5th December 1908)
  • Record Defeat: 8-0 (vs West Ham United 19th October 1968, vs Watford, 25th September 1982)
  • Highest Scoring Game:
  • Most Appearances for club: 633 – Jimmy Montgomery (537 League, 78 Cup, 8 Other)
  • Most Goals in a season: 43 – Dave Halliday.
  • Most Goals for club: 228 – Bobby Gurney.
  • Transfer Record (Received): £5.5million – Don Hutchinson (West Ham).
  • Transfer Record (Paid): £7million, rising to £9million – Craig Gordon.
  • Most points in a season: 105 (Football League Division One, 1998/99)
  • Fewest points in season: 15 (Premier League, 2005/06)
  • Most back-to-back League wins: 13 (November 14th, 1891 – April 2nd, 1892)
  • Most back-to-back League defeats: 17 (January 18th, 2003 – August 23rd, 2003)
  • Longest unbeaten run: 19 games (May 3rd, 1998 – November 11th, 1998)
  • Longest run without a League win: 22 (December 21st, 2002 – August 23rd, 2003)