The long-standing belief that Sunderland A.F.C. was founded in October 1879 at the British School, Norfolk Street, is based entirely on anecdotes published many years later. The following is a chronological list of well-known sources used by historians over the years. Fuller detail of each source can be examined here:
December 1887: Football in Sunderland. The first attempt at a history of the club, cobbled together in 2 days by a local Sunderland Echo reporter. Littered with inaccuracies, it states only that the club was formed “towards the end of 1879”, and is provided in full here:
March 1895: Robert Singleton (a founder and first club captain) dies and his obituary in the Sunderland Echo refines the formation to October 1879 at the British School, Norfolk Street.
October 1911: James Allan (a founder and considered the prime mover) dies and his obituary in the Sunderland Echo aligns with Singleton’s adding that the formation was shortly after his arrival in the town in 1879.
1924: Jack Anderson (the first “Argus” of the Echo) publishes a history of the club to date. He maintains the formation was October 1879 in a room “now on the site of the Adult School, Norfolk Street”. He repeats some errors from “Football in Sunderland” virtually word for word.
Autumn 1927: Alec Watson, in a regular column in the Football Echo, states the club formed “in the month of October 48 years ago”.
August 1929: Argus (i.e. Jack Anderson again) writes in the Football Echo that “In October the club will complete 50 years of existence” and formed “in a small room in Norfolk Street, now the site of the Adult School”.
September 1929: William T. Wallace (club secretary in the mid to late 1880s) had a regular Football Echo column of his reminisces. He repeats the now established story of the formation.
September-October 1931: John Grayston, one of the club’s first players, publishes his memoirs in the Sunderland Weekly News. He is nearly 70 years old at the time and there are many inaccuracies. He goes along with the Norfolk Street, October 1879 story, claiming he was the first club secretary. The memoirs are provided in full here:
May 1937: The Cup Final Day Football Echo (Jack Anderson again) provides a potted history of the club, repeating the established formation story. John Grayston (now 75) indignantly writes to the Echo, claiming his role in the formation is ignored.
September 1939: James Douglas, in a regular column in the Sunderland Echo, mentions that the club is about to celebrate its Diamond Jubilee, and is “certain” the formation meeting took place in Norfolk Street in October 1879, and even speculates it was on 17th of the month.
1961: Arthur Appleton’s “Hotbed of Soccer” is published. The Sunderland section repeats the established story. He repeats an error from both the 1887 Echo articles and the 1924 Jack Anderson history, indicating he had examined one or both of these.