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Nov 12, 2010

A brief history of Sunderland

Formed: 1879
Previous names: Sunderland and District Teachers
Admitted to Football League:1890
First Division: 6
Second Division: 5
Third Division: 1
FA Cup: 2

Sunderland were one of the first powerhouses of the Football League. They won three titles in four years in the 1890s, and two more by 1913.

They have won only three major trophies since then: the most of those, in the 1973 FA Cup, is one of English football's most romantic stories.

A local schoolteacher, James Allen, founded the Sunderland District & Teachers Association Football Club in 1879, although the name was changed to Sunderland AFC two years later. They were not founder members of the Football League but became the first team to be elected to it in 1890.

The impact was instant. Sunderland won the title in 1892, 1893 and 1895, and the League's founder William McGregor christened them "The Team Of All Talents". They also played the Scottish champions Hearts in 1895, winning 5-3 and being christened "Champions of the World".

A move from Newcastle Road to Roker Park followed in 1898, and Sunderland won their first title at their new stadium three years later. It was the start of a mixed decade. Sunderland were fined for an illegal payment to a player in 1904; their manager Alex Mackie was suspended, along with six directors. Four years later they trounced their rivals Newcastle 9-1, still a club record.

In 1913, Sunderland came within a whisker of the Double. They won their fifth league title but were beaten in the FA Cup final by Aston Villa. The Twenties were most notable for a few near misses in the league - Sunderland finished second in 1923 and third on three occasions - and the prolific goalscoring of Dave Halliday.

Halliday left for Arsenal in 1929 but a new group of players won the club's sixth league title in 1936 and followed it up a year later with victory over Preston in the FA Cup final.

After the war, Sunderland went on a remarkable spending spree, as a result of which they were called the "Bank of England club". Apart from a third-placed finish in 1950 it was horribly unsuccessful. Money continued to define the decade: in the 1957, the chairman and three directors were suspended after Sunderland were found guilty of paying players in excess of the maximum wage. Two years later, to complete a miserable decade, Sunderland were relegated.

They returned to the top flight in 1964 but struggled consistently and went down again in 1970. It was from Division Two that the club would have its most famous day. In the 1973 FA Cup final, Bob Stokoe's side beat the apparently invincible Leeds 1-0 thanks to a goal from Ian Porterfield and one of the all-time-great saves from Jim Montgomery. It was so improbable that commentators on both English TV channels shouted 'Goal' when the ball left Peter Lorimer's foot.

For the next 25 years Sunderland flitted between the top two divisions. They also dropped into the third tier for the first time, for one season only in 1987-88. Their spells in Division One usually involved a struggle against relegation, and Sunderland did not finish in the top half of the top flight between 1956 and 2000. They also took part in one of the great Wembley games: a 4-4 draw against Charlton in the Division One play-off final of 1998, with Sunderland losing on penalties.

They were promoted the following season under Peter Reid, winning the title with a mighty 105 points, and finished seventh in their first two seasons back in the Premier League, thanks in no small part to the textbook little-and-large strike partnership of Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn.

The success was short lived. Sunderland were relegated in 2003, with their total of 18 points a record low for the Premier League. It was a record they beat three years later when they went down with just 15 points. They returned to the top flight a year later and settled in mid-table. They weren't quite back at the summit but when Darren Bent became the first Sunderland player to score for England in over 50 years, hopes were high.

And, even after the sale of Bent to Aston Villa for a club record £24 million, Premier League safety was stil assured and under Martin O'Neill there were hopes that the club would be able to improve on a 13th placed finish.

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