Sunderland and District Teachers’ Association Football Club (later to become Sunderland A.F.C.) was formed / founded in October 1879, following a meeting at the British School, Norfolk Street. This “fact” has been published hundreds of times over a period well in excess of 100 years.
However, there is no mention of Sunderland A.F.C., or the predecessor teachers’ team, in any newspaper or publication until the autumn of 1880. Recent research has uncovered new information that casts significant doubt on both the established date and venue of the club’s formation.
The “1879” tab of this webpage provides a detailed look at where the October 1879 date came from. All the sources are basically anecdotes written well after the formation event. The sources are littered with inaccuracies and inconsistencies which are undoubtedly the result of people misremembering events and placing them in the wrong sequence.
The original source from which 1879 emerged appears to be articles entitled “Football in Sunderland”, published in the Sunderland Echo in December 1887. By the author’s own admission he had only 2 days to research the story and relied heavily on the memories of members of the team at the time.
The new information has sprung up mainly because of the excellent search facilities in the online resource “British Newspaper Archive”. That information has provided new lines of research that has enabled a catalogue of events around 1879 and 1880 to be established. These events aren’t memories, they are primary source facts reported to newspapers as they happened. The “1880” tab of this webpage provides these facts.
Even some of the “1879” anecdotes support 1880 over 1879. For example, “when the club formed there was only one cup competition for the Northern counties” means the club could only have existed after the Northumberland and Durham Challenge Cup was introduced in May 1880; “the club was at the Blue House Field for 2 years until 1882” does not correspond to a formation in 1879.
There is a lot to examine, but the “1879” evidence requires a leap of faith to just “believe”. The “1880” evidence is based on primary, explicit and respectable contemporary sources and accompanying strong circumstantial evidence. The only logical conclusion that can be drawn is that Sunderland and District Teachers’ Association Football Club was formed on 25th September 1880 at Rectory Park Schools.
The October 1879 meeting at Norfolk Street has been remembered so often that it did probably happen. In the context of the “1880” facts it is likely that this meeting was no more than James Allan introducing interested teachers to association football and encouraging them to try it. In the minds of the participants’ years later, this is the initial meeting they remember, it is interpreted incorrectly as the club formation, written up and published and becomes repeated “fact”.
We are happy for anyone to download / print the linked PDFs for their own perusal; all we ask is that if you find some information you haven’t seen before, and use it elsewhere, you give a mention to
If anyone discovers any further information, we are happy to incorporate it and give appropriate credit. To let us know, email firstname.lastname@example.org with details of information and its source.
We provide our own interpretation of the formation story at the “The Real Story?” tab.