When James Allan arrived at Hendon Board School from Glasgow University as second assistant master the only football in Sunderland was rugby. He watched Sunderland Rovers play where the gas tanks are now in Commercial Road, but he didn't join in. He returned from a holiday back home with a round ball and began kicking it about the Hendon schoolyard. John Grayston, the first secretary of the teachers' association football club, and a pupil teacher at Hendon at the time, said that that yard was the spiritual home of the Sunderland Football Club.
The yard was still there, up until the late 1970's, with dips and curves. The old school was latterly used, in the main, as storage premises. What a coincidence that thirty-five years or so later a boy, Raich Carter, was born nearby and played in that same schoolyard and for Hendon School, Sunderland Bays, England Boys and England and then led Sunderland to . their long-delayed first Cup Final win.
In mid-October, 1879, Allan got interested teachers to meet at the British Day School at the corner of Norfolk Street and Borough Road. The stone-edged building is still there. Robert Singleton of Gray School was made captain. There was scarcely anyone to play against and many Saturdays were spent practising. The few clubs in the North East formed the Northumberland and Durham F. A. and began a knockout tournament. But some of the teachers were feeling the expense and it was decided to open the club to outsiders. People were invited to take part in practice matches.
New clubs appeared most often in colliery areas. The two leading early clubs in the North East, excepting the longer established Cleveland clubs, Middlesbrough and Redcar, were Newcastle Rangers who played at Leazes Terrace, later St. James' Park, and Tyne who defeated Sunderland in the 1883 Final on their ground near Brandling Park, Newcastle, before a "large assemblage".
With more clubs about, the expense of travelling made the association form into separate counties and the Durham F. A. had its inaugural meeting at Mrs. Brown's Three Tuns Hotel in Durham on 28 May 1883. Sunderland was one of the nine clubs represented.
In the Durham Senior Cup's first season, Sunderland, as winners of the Northern section of Birtley, Catchgate Red Stars, Hamsterley Rangers, Hobson Wanderers, Jarrow, Milkwell Burn, Tantobie and Whitburn, met Darlington, the southern section winners, in the Final at Newcastle Road. Sunderland won but Darlington protested that there had been interference by Sunderland supporters and the referee said that three Sunderland players had threatened him and that he had never given the fourth goal.
The Final was replayed at Birtley and excursion trains were run from Sunderland and Darlington. I should think this would be the first football excursion train from Sunderland, on 3 May, 1884. The game didn't start till 4.20 and Sunderland scored twice to win their first trophy.
The players had a pride in physical fitness and Grayston, who at twenty-one weighed 12 – stone, said although they changed in the Wolseley pub when they played at Horatio Street most of them were teetotal. They were nonplussed by the team play and short passing of Port Glasgow when they came down, Grayston touched the ball only three times in the first half. The Scotsmen won 11-0, but Sunderland learnt their lesson.
At Abbs Field for 1884-85 Sunderland trained twice a week and were as "hard as nails and as fit as pugilists". They had a reputation for being rough. In fact they were trained by a pugilist at the time and once in Newcastle this worthy knocked down a spectator who was rushing at a Sunderland player.
On 8 November 1884, Sunderland played in the English Cup for the first time, at Redcar, where they were beaten 3-1. The players paid their own expenses. Sunderland had suggested to Redcar earlier that they should play what was then termed as home and home matches, but the secretary of that old club asked: Where was Sunderland. Later, when Sunderland were the better known club they refused to meet Redcar in friendlies.
Darlington and Sunderland met again in the Final of the Durham Senior Cup, Darlington winning 3-0. Sunderland protested on six counts, one of them that the game was played in Darlington. Their protests were dismissed, so they didn't enter the competition the next season. Towards the end of 1884-85 when playing an army eleven in Dumfries there was the first reported bad injury: a compound fracture of the leg to Watson, a back who had just joined them from Birtley. A benefit match was arranged immediately. Jimmy Allan, treasurer, was accused of bribing the unfortunate Watson with £2. He quietened his accuser by threatening court action. The payment, if there was any, would have been for Watson to play for Sunderland.
The game was ostensibly amateur but some players, in the main Scots playing in Lancashire, were being paid and found jobs. Sunderland was one of twenty-eight clubs who in 1884 supported professionalism. They were the only club to do so in the North East, in fact the only other one outside of Lancashire was Aston Villa.
Jimmy Hunter who had been invited to come from Dumfries was fixed up with a job at J. L. Thompson's shipyard and was probably the first player to receive a back-hander. A small sub-committee was formed for this, operating independently. The club got an injection of players from Workmen‘s Hall team, mainly a shipyard team, including Fred Dale, who became captain and much later caretaker manager for a brief period; Arnie Davison, right winger, and Bill Kirtley, who played in goal right through to League football. Old Bill looked after the billiards room in the old corner offices at Roker Park up to the mid-thirties, fifty years on.
Sunderland played 31 games in 1884-85, winning 21 and scoring 100 goals to 41 against. The only tabular derivation at the time was that of balance of goals: in favour, 59. A and B reserve sides were now being run. Committee meetings which after the move over the river had been held at Thomas Street School near the Wheat Sheaf, now finally moved out of schoolrooms first to the Workmen's Hall, in Whitburn Street nearby.
Both J. L. and Robert Thompson, the shipbuilders, came on to the committee, as well as James Marr and the Rev. Robinson Hindle of Eppleton. Alderman J. W. Wayman was president. Committee members paid 10s/6d, and the hundred or so ordinary members and players 5s/-. Travelling expenses for 1885-86 were paid out of funds. The gateman at Abbs Field got 10s/-and the policeman 2s/6d.
Up to December of that season receipts were over a pound only three times. Then Port Glasgow came down again, on New Year's Day, 1886, and after paying all expenses including the Scotsmen’s, Sunderland were £3 to the good. This time they were beaten only 2-1. In the New Year the Rev. W.A. McGonigle and Grayston were given the job of approaching the Misses Thompson for the regular use of the field in Newcastle Road. The first game was played there on 3 April 1886. Darlington, agreeing to be friends again, were the visitors. Sunderland won 3-1. People came more readily to the new ground which was nearer to the town on the side of the main highway north. On Easter Monday over three thousand were there to see the illustrious Sheffield side who won 4-3.
Expenditure for 1885-86 was £95. For 1886-87 it was nearly £350. Gate receipts were more than that and with subscriptions there was a balance of f67. E41 was taken for one match, that against Accrington, the first professional side to come to Sunderland. Sunderland gladly paid them their asking price of £25. Two Middlesbrough players who strengthened Sunderland were paid 3s/- each for loss of work. Accrington won 3-1.
The expenses shocked some people. Was not the club supposed to be amateur. Eleven pairs of boots at 6s/11d each; eleven shirts at 6s/1 d each and a pair of gloves for 7s/6d (they must have been good), caused the local press to observe that this was the nearest approach to professionalism known to them. And as for f45 for entertaining teams. What did that hide?
Dowk Oliver from Southwick began that season at left back. He was the only player from those times to become know nationally and once was reserve back for England. In 1886-87 Sunderland had their first English Cup win. over Morpeth Harriers 7-1.
Late in the season Jimmy Allan after scoring an acrobatic goal against a Sunderland and District team was badly injured. A substitute came on for him. Over five thousand people saw this match and the takings, for charity, were an impressive £50. Few of the teachers were left now, although Grayston often acted as umpire. Allan was being superseded, his treasurer's office going to Samuel Tyzack, a coal owner. Robert Thompson became president and James Marr chairman. These men developed Allan’s work and outlook. Insurances were taken out, an accident fund paid into. There was a cabin for reporters, high in the stand. Sunderland brought leading clubs in 1887-88 paying £40 to Renton and £30 to Blackburn Rovers. Seven Scots, four from Dumfries, were paid to play. Receipts and expenditure both soared to nearly a thousand pounds. The elimination of local men was deplored by some people.
Money was flowing in. Sunderland were now keen to make a name nationally and after knocking Morpeth Harriers out of the English Cup again, receipts were £70 when they defeated Newcastle West End. They were then drawn to meet Middlesbrough. Oddly, the clubs had never met. Nearly 8,000 sew a dramatic match at Linthorpe Road where Middlesbrough fought back to draw 2-2.
In the replay, before their biggest crowd so far, Sunderland won 4-2, and seemingly were through to the last sixteen and a home tie with Old Foresters.
That night in a pub two Middlesbrough supporters heard one of Sunderland's Scotsmen telling the story of how he'd been paid 30s/- for playing. With this evidence Middlesbrough protested about the qualifications of three of Sunderland's Scots. F. A, enquiries were held at Darlington and then London. Sunderland lost, had to pay the cost of the enquiries, the three players were suspended for three months for professionalism, and Middlesbrough were given the tie. There was antipathy between the clubs for years.
Then the rebuffed club was hit by Jimmy Allan and nearly disintegrated. He called dissatisfied members and most of the Scottish players to a meeting in the old Empress Hotel in Union Street and formed Sunderland Albion. And he had the ground for them – the old Blue House Field at Hendon with headquarters at the Waverley Hotel in Norman Street between Hendon School and the field. He offered Grayston the position of paid secretary and when Grayston refused it, did not speak to him for three years.
James Hartley, Junior, of the Wear Glassworks, Millfield – Allan lived nearby in Whitehall Terrace, poured money into Albion and seven of Sunderland’s Scots joined them, as did Alderman Dr. Potts, Sunderland’s first president.
Allan organised quickly and well and before that season was over Albion had beaten Newcastle West End. For the start of 1888-89 they fielded four sides. The struggle for survival was on. The season was dominated by it. There was not sufficient support in the town for two major clubs.
In the Cup Sunderland beat Elswick Rangers and Newcastle East End, each tie attracting about 5,000 spectators. Albion, entering earlier. knocked out Shankhouse Black Watch, Newcastle West End and Birtley and then the two Sunderland clubs were drawn against each other. They were also drawn to meet in the Durham Challenge Cup.
Rather than put a lot of gate money into Albion's hands Sunderland withdrew from both competitions. James Marr said that Cupties had served their purpose and the unhealthy excitement they caused made scientific football impossible – they could now safely be abandoned.
There was an unprecedented outcry, so sustained that Sunderland reluctantly agreed to meet Albion in a friendly and suggested paying them £20 for expenses with the rest going to charity. Albion said Sunderland could give their share away if they wanted to, but they couldn't afford to.
Over 10,000 turned up to see the first local derby. Sunderland won 2-0. Albion's share of the net profit was £70, so Sunderland may as well not have withdrawn from the Cups. With the whole town behind them Albion pressed for a second meeting. Sunderland refused to go to Hendon, so Newcastle Road was the venue again, on 12 January, 1889.
Again some 10,000 people were there, and with trouble feared twenty policemen were on duty. About the kick-off the Sunderland Echo wrote: "Then the rivals faced each other in breathless expectation, with eyes on the alert and straining muscles, every movement dominated and dictated by the all-supreme will. At 2.20 p.m, Breconridge dealt the tegumentary cylinder a resonant thwack, and as it swished through the ambient air a multitudinous roar of 'They're off‘ proclaimed that THE GAME had begun." They had real kick-offs then, not just taps.
Albion were leading 2-0 at halftime, but just before the end, with the score 2-2, most of their players left the field in protest when a goal was given after a clearance from their goalkeeper rebounded from Breconridge. They maintained that the ball went over the crossbar. There were no nets then.
Stones were thrown at the Albion's brake in North Bridge Street as they returned, and Allan, struck in the eye, had to be taken to a surgery. A complaint of "brutal conduct" by Sunderland supporters was dismissed after a four-hour enquiry in the Grand Hotel. Sunderland were annoyed at Albion importing players for the match and Allan's behaviour – he had been on the line as umpire—was criticised.
W. T. Wallace, the Sunderland secretary, said Allan had been doing his best to break up the Sunderland club. Allan retorted in the Echo that the Sunderland club was indebted to him for its existence, and if he had felt disposed he could have shown the club's early Cup opponents the true standing of nine of the Sunderland players.
Albion went on to meet Grimsby in the First Round Proper. They did not meet Sunderland again for three years. Most of Sunderland's team departed at the end of the season: only four were left.
Albion were now the stronger and but for the determination of the Sunderland committee the senior club could have dropped back into a minor role. It didn't because Robert Thompson decided that a good full-time paid secretary was needed. Grayston said he knew just the man, a man who was out of work in Newcastle. Thompson gave him E10 and said fit him out and bring him to Ellerslie Terrace.
Sunderland were to take blows in the future especially in 1904 and 1957, but they always had momentum to carry them on. They hadn't much of that in the close season of 1889, but it was enough to bring them greatness. The feelings and decisions of such as Robert Thompson were crucial. The story after 1889 is really one of the ups and downs of football, not of survival.
The side which came in 1889 was the one dubbed the Team of all the Talents, and this was before Sunderland got into the League. When they beat Aston Villa 7-2 in an arranged fixture, William McGregor, the founder of the League, said Sunderland had a talented man in every position. They played 55 matches that season.