This was the last season prior to the Football League being formed. It was the season where Sunderland began to establish themselves nationally, taking on some of England and Scotland’s top teams in friendlies such as Blackburn Rovers, Derby Junction, Blackburn Olympic, Renton and Cambuslang.

The famous red and white striped shirts were adopted on 24 September 1887, against Darlington St. Augustine’s. Newcastle Road attracted its first 10,000 strong crowds. However, it was far from plain sailing…

Previously, there was a pride in the town that the Sunderland team were all local lads. Several Tyneside teams had been mocked for fielding Scottish players. So there was some consternation when 4 Scottish players appeared in August. Three of these, George Monaghan, Andrew Hastings and Joe Richardson had been recruited from Dumfries and Ayrshire; the fourth, Sammy Stewart, had arrived in Sunderland with his parents a few months earlier.

Sunderland started the season well, and the disquiet subsided. They believed they reached the FA Cup First Round proper after beating Middlesbrough in a replay. Boro protested that Sunderland fielded professional players in Monaghan, Hastings and Richardson. Initially, the Durham FA exonerated the club (unsurprising given Monaghan and Hastings played in county matches); however the Teesiders took the matter further and eventually Sunderland were thrown out of the cup and the three players were banned for three months. Sunderland’s “crime”? Paying the train fares of the three players to bring them to Sunderland at the start of the season.

Middlesbrough reached the Quarter-Finals, WBA won the cup. Sunderland’s disqualification intensified the debate about the imports; by December, 7 Scots were first team regulars. In January an attempt was made to form a “bona-fide” town club consisting only of locals; named Sunderland Rovers, they were short-lived as the quality of football was poor, and they simply could not attract fans in great numbers.

Sunderland continued to impress, lifting the Durham Challenge Cup for the fourth time, despite the absence of their banned “stars”; they also defeated Newcastle West End at St. James’ Park, in the annual challenge match with the Northumberland Cup winners.

James Allan, however, was not happy. His reasons aren’t clear, but perhaps he was concerned that the club were about to abandon their import policy. The new club he formed were called Albion (the ancient name for “Great Britain”), and the Scots followed him to his new club. Allan ended his duties as treasurer at the AGM on 2nd May 1888, and was not even thanked for his services. He would have been forming Albion for some weeks whilst still working for Sunderland AFC as Albion played their first game only three days later, so bad feelings were inevitable. Somewhat ironically, Sunderland ended the season with a “local” team.


We can be confident that this website provides a complete record of Sunderland's matches for this season. The playing record published at the AGM before the final two fixtures: played 37, won 26, drawn 4, lost 7, goals scored 118, conceded 68. This exactly matches the playing record recorded here.


Sunderland now had many of the best players in the county, however FA Cup duties meant that none were present in the Durham teams that lost 7-0 to Staffordshire at Stoke on 22/10/1887, and that beat Northumberland 5-4 at Darlington on 26/11/1887.

10/12/1887: Oliver, Hastings, Monaghan and Gloag played for Durham in a 3-2 defeat to Cleveland at Middlesbrough.

31/12/1887: Kirkley, Dale, Hastings, Halliday, Monaghan, Gloag and Davison all played in the most prestigious Durham fixture to date, a 4-2 defeat to the Corinthians played at Sunderland’s Newcastle Road ground. The admission price was doubled for the game.