Elected to the Football League 1890
1880-Dec 1884 a l u v w
Dec 1884-1886 t u v
1887-1888 u w
1889-1893 t u
1893-1900 a h l r t u
1900-1904 b h r t u
1904-1905 1 t u
1908-1909 s t u
1910-1912 a t u
1912-1919 t u
1921-1922 b q r t
1939-1945 a b
1948-1951 q t
1951-1955 a b
1955-1956 Special x
3 March 1956 y
1955-1958 b t q
1961-1964 b i r
1965-1969 b r t
1969-Oct 1972 b c n o
Oct 1972-1973 u
1973-1975 b i o u
1975-1977 b i o
1977-1978 d o
1983-1985 d f k
1985-1986 d k
1986-1988 d j
1991-1994 b d f k
1994-1996 d f
1996-1997 a d
2000-2002 d f
2005-2007 a d
2007-2008 a m
James Allen, a teacher at the Hendon Board School, formed the club with some of his colleagues in 1879 as Sunderland & District Teachers AFC. A year later the club opened its membership to non-teachers and became Sunderland AFC. In 1884 Sunderland won their first trophy, the Durham Senior Cup.
In December 1884 the club dropped their original all-navy colours in favour of red and white but the familiar stripes did not appear until 24 September 1887. Instead, the team turned out in halved shirts with individual differences as was common at the time. The players provided their own knickerbockers in white, navy or black. (An alternate version is given on the club's website which states that stripes were introduced in September 1886 and worn interchangeably with the halved tops.)
In 1887, with professionalism now legal, players began to arrive from Scotland (where payments were still outlawed). A number of established players, seeing their places in the team being taken by these newcomers, set up the rival Sunderland Albion. Rivalry was intense but with wealthy directors from the coal and shipbuilding industry, Sunderland were able to build the stronger side, dubbed “The Team of All the Talents" and Albion eventually closed down in 1892.
In 1890 they became the first new club to be voted into the Football League, replacing Stoke. As the only club from the north-east in the competition, Sunderland was not a popular destination and they had to agree to pay their visitors’ traveling expenses. They made their intentions clear by erecting a sign outside the ground stating, “We have arrived and we’re staying here.” For their first season in the Football League, the team played in halved shirts although stripes were soon restored. Some of the players photographed in this outfit appear to have "SFC" embroidered onto a large pocket on the left side.
It was not long before the chippy newcomers made their mark, winning the League championship in 1892, 1893 and 1895 (they were runners up in 1894). In 1898 the club moved into their new Roker Park stadium, which could hold 30,000 spectators. In 1902 Sunderland won their fourth League title
Their fifth title came in 1913 and they almost completed “the double,” losing 0-1 to Aston Villa in front of a record 120,000 spectators at Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final. In this match the team wore the coat of arms of Sunderland on their shirts.
During the 1920s “The Roker Men” had a relatively lean time but regularly finished near the top of the First Division. The club’s sixth championship title came in 1936 and a year later they won the FA Cup for the first time. A simplified version of Sunderland's coat of arms was worn in the final and in many league matches the following season.
After the Second World War, huge crowds flocked to Roker Park and the directors’ policy of paying large transfer fees earned them the nickname of “The Bank of England.” Sunderland were one of the first clubs to install floodlights (1952) and in the mid 50s the team played against the likes of Moscow Dynamo and Hearts wearing a set of flame red shirts in shiny material to aid visibility. In March 1956 they were drawn against Newcastle in the FA Cup sixth round and wore a set of red shirts with white sleeves (probably borrowed) while Newcastle wore their white change shirts.
High spending did not bring success and in 1958 Sunderland were relegated to the Second Division after 68 years in the top flight, a record only recently surpassed by Arsenal.
During the early 1960s the club played in white shorts as they tried to rebuild and in 1964 they were promoted back to Division One. From 1966 until at least 1970 the team wore a simple monogramme on their all-white and all-red change strips but this never appeared on their striped "home" shirts. They were never far from the foot of the table and in 1970 they dropped back into Division Two. When Bob Stokoe was appointed as manager in October 1972 his first act was to restore the traditional black shorts, which was greeted enthusiastically by supporters.
In 1973, while still in the Second Division, Sunderland reached the FA Cup final where they met the holders Leeds United, then at the height of their powers. The rank outsiders famously won the match by the only goal to record one of the most romantic FA Cup feats ever. No doubt due to this success, the monogramme worn in the final became a permanent feature for the next four seasons.
It took until 1976 for Sunderland to regain their place in Division One but a disastrous season saw them relegated immediately in 1977. For the 1977-78 season a new crest was introduced that featured a ship (to symbolise the town's association with shipbuilding) above the club's signature stripes.
In 1980 Sunderland returned to the top flight. The traditional kit was abandoned between 1981 and 1983 for an odd concoction designed by French firm Le Coq Sportif. This proved deeply unpopular and was replaced in 1983 with a more traditional design. Despite these sartorial changes, Sunderland struggled near the foot of the table every season until they were relegated in 1985. Then in 1987, the unthinkable happened and they were relegated again, this time through the new play-off system to Division Three. The humiliation was short lived and the club stormed to the Third Division championship. Only two seasons later, in 1990, Sunderland returned to Division One in extraordinary circumstances. They were beaten in the play-off final by Swindon Town but the Wiltshire club were later denied promotion as a punishment for making illegal payments to players and Sunderland went up instead.
From 1991, the clubs crest was modified slightly, the ship now appearing out of a black background rather than blue and the football was reversed out.
The return was brief and Sunderland were back in Division Two after one season. The 1990s brought promotion and relegation with astonishing frequency.
In 1997, after 99 years at Roker Park, Sunderland moved into their brand new Stadium of Light, one of the most impressive grounds in the country at the time. A competition was launched to find a new nickname for the club, with over half of the 11,000 fans who participated voting for “The Black Cats.” An interesting account of the association between the club and black cats can be found on the club’s web site. A new badge was also introduced. The ship was dropped (the shipbuilding industry was by now long gone) and two local landmarks were added. Above the shield is a winding wheel (the Stadium of Light was built on the site of the Monkwearmouth Colliery). The traditional red and white stripes, so beloved by the passionate supporters of this community minded club, remained.
- (a) Sunderland Official Web site
- (b) Football Focus
- (c) Football Cards
- (d) True Colours (John Devlin 2005)
- (e) Club Colours (Bob Bickerton 1998)
- (f) Sporting Heroes
- (g) One Hundred Years of Goodison Glory (Ken Rogers 1992)
- (h) Association of Football Statisticians - provided by Pete Wyatt
- (i) Pete's Picture Palace
- (j) Iain Affleck
- (k) David King
- (l) safc blog
- (m) Football Shirt Culture
- (n) Football League Review
- (o) Alick Milne
- (p) Toffs
- (q) Simon Monks
- (r) SAFC Photo Archive
- (s) British Film Institute Archive (Youtube)
- (t) Keith Ellis (HFK Research Associate)
- (u) Paul Robinson
- (v) Pioneers of the North (Paul Joannou & Alan Candlish, Breedon Books 2009)
- (w) Michael Peters
- (x) British Pathe courtesy of Graham Brack
- (y) YouTube courtesy of Graham Brack
Modern crests are the property of Sunderland AFC.