Having won six Championships before the Second World War and survived in the Football League from 1890 until 1958 without ever being relegated, Sunderland cherished their claim to be the only club never to play outside the top flight. However, since that first ever relegation in 1958, 'The Lads' have become one of the proverbial 'Yo-Yo' clubs and haven't finished in the top half of the top division since ninth place was achieved in 1956. Considering this prolonged period of failure at the top level - with the sole exception of the glorious day in 1973 when Sunderland became the first Second Division side in forty-two years to win the FA Cup - it is amazing that Sunderland can still count on such sizeable and optimistic support. Then again, it is the fact that Sunderland have such fanatical followers that makes them such a fascinating club.
Once the club had got over the difficult years involved in establishing an organisation that would have the ability to survive financially, Sunderland experienced the best of times very quickly. The first club to be elected to the two-year-old Football League in 1890, the Wearsiders quickly dominated it. Seventh in their first season, when the deduction of two points cost them fifth place, Sunderland, having found their feet in the competition, went on to win it three times in the next four years, being runners-up in the year they were pipped for the title. Dubbed, 'The Team of All the Talents', by William McGregor, the founder of the Football League, after he watched them destroy Aston Villa 7-2 at Villa's Perry Barr ground on April 5th, 1890, Sunderland dominated the sport. In those days, the stars of the side were Scottish international goalkeeper, Teddy Doig, forward, Johnny Campbell and captain, Hugh Wilson, although 'the Team of All the Talents' evidently didn't have a weak link.
Teddy Doig won four Championship medals with Sunderland and was known as 'the Prince of Goalkeepers.' Johnny Campbell took only 53 games to score 50 goals and was top scorer in five of Sunderland's first six league campaigns. In 1891-92 Sunderland scored an amazing 217 goals in all games, including the many friendlies played and Campbell was reckoned to have scored at least half of them! A well-built speed merchant, Campbell was the First Division's top scorer three times. Wilson was the only player to play in both Sunderland's first league game in 1890 and the first match at Roker Park eight years later. A Scottish international, he was renowned for his long, one-handed throw-in, which prompted the powers-that-be to change the rules of the game so that two hands had to be used to throw the ball in. A most influential captain, in 1896 he also became the first ever Sunderland player to be sent off and was the first Sunderland player to score a penalty in the league.
While Sunderland were a leading power in the game in the final decade of the nineteenth century, they weren't involved in the opening of the Football League. When the League was formed, it was dominated by clubs from the north west and midlands. Sunderland was felt to be too far north and so, initially, Sunderland weren't able to become Founder Members. Sunderland had been in existence for nine years when the Football League kicked off in 1888. The club was formed in October 1879 as Sunderland and District Teachers' Association Football Club by James Allan, a former Edinburgh schoolmaster who came to work at Hendon, in Sunderland, at Thomas Street Boys' School. Allan organised a meeting in The British Day School on the corner of Norfolk Street and Borough Road. The building is still there and is now a hotel. Allan must take the credit for introducing football to Sunderland and at the inaugural meeting he took the post of vice-captain, with John Singleton elected captain and another teacher, John Graystone, taking on the role of secretary. Initially based south of the River Wear, the club's first ground was at the Blue House reld in Hendon, a site now occupied by Valley Road Infants School, while the club's first headquarters were in the now demolished Norman Street...
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