Victorian Football


One of the most successful Football League sides of the Victorian era, Sunderland AFC began life in 1879 as the Sunderland and District Teachers’ Association Football Club. Formed at the Hendon Board School by headteacher James Allan, the club initially played its matches at the nearby Blue House Field – and played in blue jerseys.

Sunderland’s first recorded match was on 13 November 1880 against Ferryhill, and resulted in a 1-0 defeat. The club opened its doors to non-teachers in 1881, when it adopted its current name. The catalyst for Sunderland’s success was the advent of professionalism. The club was one of the first in England to recruit Scottish professionals, and gradually built up an impressive squad, including the likes of prolific centre-forward John Campbell, goalkeeper Ted Doig, and centre-back John Auld.

Club founder James Allan, disillusioned by the growth of professionalism, quit in 1888 to form Sunderland Albion, creating a bitter, if short-lived, rivalry. By now, Sunderland were playing in red and white stripes, at the Newcastle Road Ground, and were managed by the great Tom Watson.

The club was elected to the Football League in 1890, having promised to pay travelling expenses to opponents making the trip to the North East. Driven by Campbell’s goals, the ‘team of all talents’ won the league three times in its first five attempts.

In an 1889 column entitled ‘Dressing Room Chat’, the Northern Echo revealed the latest behind-the-scenes gossip from Sunderland. The club’s new signing, John Auld, had been installed as the manager of an ‘extensive’ boot and shoe shop opposite Sunderland Railway Station. However, he was unlikely to frequent any of the town’s pubs. ‘Six members of the Sunderland team, including Auld, are teetotallers,’ revealed the paper, ‘and there are seven non-smokers.’

Above - Sunderland AFC 1894-95, from Famous Footballers 1895-96.

This is an edited extract from The Victorian Football Miscellany.

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