Sunderland, founded in October 1879, were one of the earliest of teams of any note in the north-east of England. The principal founders were teachers who taught at Hendon Board School. They created a team with the prolific name of the ‘Sunderland and District Teachers Association Football Club’. The first football season passed with few games played and no real home ground. In 1880 the club became open to outsiders and were aptly renamed Sunderland Association FC, attracting more members to join. The club chose Blue House Field as their venue, nothing more than an unenclosed field and laying next to the original Blue House public house. The stay here would only last two years and Sunderland AFC moved on to Groves Field in the Ashbrooke District, only to reside here for just one season. In 1883 a move was made to Horatio Street, just off Roker Avenue, to a patch of land locally known as the Clay Dolly Field because of its heavy pitch. Again the stay was very short, just for one season. The club found a new home at Abbs Field, Fulwell Road.
Even this properly enclosed venue was to be only of temporary base as in 1886 yet another move was made, this time to Newcastle Road, located just above Crozier Street. Sunderland AFC developed this ground into a fully enclosed proper venue with a grandstand and open terraces on all four sides. Among the opponents they entertained here were the poetically named Shankhouse Black Watch and Aston Villa, the latter attracting a record crowd of 22,000 in 1897.
Yet, the ground appeared to be too small to cater for big attendances. The move over the short distance to another venue was made in 1898 to a place that became known as Roker Park. This once intimidating venue became synonymous with vocal support due to the passion the fans displayed. In time the supporters of Sunderland AFC became generically known as The Roker Roar and gave their club the nickname The Rokerites. Legend has it that sailors from a German ship abay in the harbour once sounded the alarm when they heard a deafening noise coming from ashore. Apparently, Sunderland had scored…..Today, German sailors may still be startled by a cacophony of noise, this time coming from the Stadium of Light built on the site of the former Monkwearmouth Colliery. Sunderland AFC moved here in 1997.
Although some still prefer ‘Mackems’ today’s official nickname is The Black Cats. Another legend has it that many years ago, during a bad spell, a black cat crossed the pitch during a match and changed the club’s luck. However, it is not superstition that gave rise to the present nickname. It originates from the 18th century when a battery of guns protecting the mouth of the River Wear bore the name , their shape being resemblant to the silhouettes of black cats. Of course to outsiders all from the North-East are Geordies – something
that is highly insulting to the inhabitants of Sunderland. Folk from Sunderland are Mackems, from the pronunciation of the words “make them, and “take them”. Geordies from Newcastle would pronounce this as “meyk em and teyk em”, whereas in Sunderland it’s “mack em” and “tack ‘em”.
Back to the cats. They may have been black, but the players sported blue shirts, blue knickerbockers and a white stripe, inspired by the colours of the Hendon Board School. In 1890 the League elected Sunderland to join in place of Stoke. A few years later Sunderland became known as ‘The Team of All Talents’, now sporting red and white halved shirts, the selfsame colours worn by their fiercest rivals, Newcastle united. After one year in the League Sunderland changed to now famous red and white stripes.
Sunderland’s first official badge depicts a black cat perched on a football, set on a red and white shield. The crest is taken from the town’s coat of arms, representing an ancient ship coloured black in allusion to the now bygone coal traffic of the district.
In the 1937 Cup Final Sunderland wore shirts which carried the town coat of arms, badges donated by the town council. What is perhaps less well known is that the council asked for the badges back after the successful Final against Preston!!
Team pictures from the mid-Sixties show all-red shirts with a superimposed ‘S’ with AFC underneath. The next emblem, from the late sixties into the early seventies, was another simple design which had SAFC in a box above two red stripes with a white stripe between them. A curly SAFC monogram adorned the shirts during the 1973 FA Cup final against a star-studded Leeds United.
The next badge, introduced in the same year, shows a ship, fording the river Wear, above red and white stripes and a football. It was worn on the shirts until SAFC left Roker Park. The Stadium of Light saw the introduction of the present emblem. The top left quarter of the shield shows the Penshaw Monument, a local landmark, with the sun behind it and the bottom right quarter shows a detail of the Wearmouth Bridge. The motto ‘Consectatio Excellentiae’ means ‘In search of excellence’. The wheel in the crest at the top is a colliery wheel relating to the now vanished mining industry.
The two lions on either side represent the supporters, taken from the town’s coat of arms. In turn, the lions are from the arms of the See of Durham. For more than seven centuries, closing in 1836, the County of Durham lay under the palatinate jurisdiction of the Bishops of Durham, and it is therefore natural to find the county making use of the arms of the See, a gold cross and four lions. The lions denote Deira, the southern part of the Northumbrian Kingdom, to which a lion had been attributed out of compliment to the great family of Percy.
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