Formed in 1879 by a former school teacher, the club was initially known as Sunderland And District Teachers AFC, and were an almost instant success, being declared a "team of all talents" by William McGregor, then head of the football league. The Roger Goodell of his time.
However, having won the football league in 1892, just one season after joining the league the team were embroiled in a payments to players scandal a couple of years later which saw the club fined and management suspended. To put this spectacular rise and fall into perspective, imagine a new franchise team winning the Superbowl in it's second season of existence, only to realise later they'd been well over the salary cap.
This wasn't to spoil things too much, and once it was all said and done further league titles came, as well as afamous FA Cup victory in 1937 after beating Preston North End in the final 3-1.
Sunderland would go on to be a successful and big-spending side, later given the nickname "The Bank Of England Club" they broke national and international transfer fee records to sign the likes of Trevor Ford and Len Shackleton. Given the size and stature of the club, it would be akin to when the Miami Heat added Lebron James and Chris Bosh to supplement the resigning of Dwayne Wade. An almost unstoppable team.
However, as you'll come to realise following Sunderland, when things are going well, they really couldn't go any worse...
In 1950 some further financial trouble hit the club when involved in paying players more than the maximum. An example in the USA would be to avoid going over the salary cap simply giving players money as gifts. Every week.
This was never really recovered from and a few rocky years, including relegation on numerous occasions lead the club to some of it's lowest of lows.
This was all redeemed however in 1973. If you're new and you're going to remember one thing. In 1973, Sunderland -- from Division Two -- beat Division One and Europe-conquering Leeds United in the FA Cup final. Without a marker for lower-leagues in the USA it's a difficult one to match against anything, but consider it say the current Jacksonville Jaguars beating the '85 Bears in their prime.
Every single member of that FA Cup winning side has gone down in club folklore, and rarely will you see them having to pay for their own drinks on Wearside to this day.
Since then however we've been waiting for Sunderland to taste glory again. It's been a very, very long 40-years. Also since then we've been up and down and up and down, promoted, relegated, promoted, relegated and so forth. The club has certainly lacked stability, barring a decent spell in the early 2000's where the club twice finished inside the top seven of English football. We're still waiting to return to such 'lofty' heights.
Obviously the main rivalry is with that to fellow North East-based side Newcastle United. To call it a rivalry would be somewhat tame... to many it's a hatred.
The Wear-Tyne (two rivers which run through both cities) Derby is one of the most heated and passionate anywhere in the world, and almost certainly in the UK. Outside of Glasgow's Rangers and Celtic meeting, it's probably the number one. Way ahead of the likes of Manchester's United and City.
In the weeks leading up there's plenty of banter between fans about who will come out victorious but on the day itself you'll find yourself with shredded nerves, a lack of fingernails and most likely a drinking problem, win or lose.
In the mid-1990's away fans were banned from travelling to each others grounds for the derby owing to the fact the police simply couldn't control two raging sets of fans. Even now, fans arrivals are met with a hefty police presence and escort to the stadium.
Games against Newcastle have been hit and miss. We've been destroyed 5-1, we've beaten them 3-0. On the day it genuinely comes down to who has the bottle to withstand 50,000 screaming fans. Need further proof of the hostility? Following Sunderland's 3-0 win last season a Newcastle fan was so dismayed at the result he punched a police horse. Doesn't get better than that.
There are other teams with whom Sunderland have a rivalry. Middlesbrough are an obvious one given they are also located in the North East, however it's nowhere near as intense, not even remotely. Generally they're the third-wheel in this relationship. It's like the Baltimore Orioles saying "Hey, us too" to the New York Yankees while they take on the Boston Red Sox.
Other rivalries come with teams further afield. A quasi-rivalry with Leeds United comes from that previously mentioned 1973 game, while there's also one with Coventry City which in all honesty, people need to let go of.
Sunderland fans, much like their opposite number, see great amusement in their rivals misfortune.
Sunderland have many club legends you'll need to grow accustomed to, so we'll just rattle them off quite quickly so that you know who they are and what they did to earn such status.
Bob Stokoe (FA Cup winning manager in 1973), Jimmy Montgomery (1973 Goalkeeper, pulled off one of the most incredible saves of all time), Ian Porterfield (Goalscorer, 1973 FA Cup Final), Bobby Gurney (Prolific striker, all time top scorer) Raich Carter (Striker, one of the club's all time top goalscorers), Len Shackleton (Incredibly talented player, noted for his humour), Brian Clough (Superb striker, career curtailed by injury. Went on to be a legendary manager), Kevin Phillips (Superb striker, only Englishman in history to win European Golden Boot), Niall Quinn (Formed prolific partnership with Kevin Phillips, later became owner of the club for a period), Kevin Ball (Former captain, noted for his tough-tackling and aggressive play. Now reserve team manager), Bobby Kerr (Midfielder and 1973 FA Cup winning captain).
That's the main ones anyway, although there's a fair few others worth getting to know too...
Why aren't these in the "Legends" section you might ask, and rightly so. I don't honestly know about any "Cult Heroes" aspect to American sports, but in short it's a series of players who gave their all and were liked by nearly all fans despite their obvious limitations as a player.
I could regale you with many names but you're better off just checking out our site. We've an entire section filled with "Cult Heroes" right here - http://www.rokerreport.com/sunderland-safc-cult-heroes
Fans & Stadia
The fans are known to be vocal, passionate and have one of the most dedicated followings in English football, and are generally well-respected for this.
There are some key instances of this dedicated support, including a hospitable rivalry with Norwich City. When the two clubs met in the 1985 Milk Cup Final (a minor, secondary tournament to the FA Cup) the fans got on so well that "The Friendly Cup" was born. An unofficial trophy handed to the winners whenever each side meets. Read more on that HERE.
Usually away allocations in the Premier League are around the 2-4k mark. Sunderland tend to sell this out very quickly, and home games are played in-front of usually around 40k fans at home in the 48k capacity "Stadium Of Light". Given the club hasn't lifted a trophy of note for 40 years, this is quite incredible.
The Stadium Of Light has been the club's home stadium since 1997, having relocated from the famous "Roker Park" (after which this site is named). Roker Park was fairly dilapidated and way below the standards of modern stadia, but the fans passionate support never wavered, resulting in what has now been dubbed the "Roker Roar" which was the screams and chants from fans around the ground, often intimidating visiting teams.
Despite the Stadium Of Light having all the modern conveniences you would expect, the noise level is still one of the highest around.
There's various terms you'll have to learn in order to keep up to speed on what people are talking about.
Things such as "Mackem", which is a nickname given to the inhabitants of Sunderland, and stems back to the area's ship-building days.
There's also a very distinct accent to people from Sunderland, which many people choose to type with for whatever reason., so to give a quick synopsis and rough translation for you;
Ha'way - Roughly translates to "let's go". For example "Ha'way The Lads" would be "Let's Go Sunderland"
Gan On - Roughly translates to "go on", in the form of encouragement to a player or individual.
Marra - Roughly translates to "friend" or "mate".
Nee - Roughly translates to "no". For example "Nee bother" would be "No problem".
Hew - Roughly translates to "hey". For example "Hew marra" would be "Hey mate".
Gerld - Roughly translates to "gold". Used in the context of something good,
Owa - Roughly translates to "over". For example "Sess had them all owa" would be "Sess had them all over the place"
Divvent - Roughly translates to "don't". Sometimes used with "Kna" meaning "know". For example, "I divvent kna" meaning "I don't know"
Some of these are used throughout the North East and not strictly limited to Sunderland, but it's worth keeping up on this as a second language of sorts.
References, Running Jokes & Points Of Interest
There are a few running jokes and other things which you'll need to get yourself acquainted with. To list just some of these;
Joan's Cafe - A popular diner/eatery near opposite the ground where you can purchase hot and cold food at a reasonable price. An institution of sorts.
A Love Supreme (ALS) - Sunderland's most popular and longest-standing printed fanzine. We write a column in there too, and it's available on a monthly basis.
Mags - A nickname for Newcastle United and their fans, derived from their nickname of "The Magpies".
Scum - A more harsh labelling of Newcastle United and their fans.
Hell On - Stemming originally from the exclusion of Ryan Noble from the first team. A prolific goalscorer as a young player, he was never given much of a chance. Mainly on account that he wasn't muscular or big enough for Premier League football, this caused outrage among a small section of fans. This has been turned into a popular joke of sorts for any young player not being given a chance in the first team.
FTM - Can be seen to have two meanings. "Follow The Mackems" being the polite version, or what most Sunderland fans know it to mean "Fuck The Mags".
Seaham Hall - A very fancy hotel near Sunderland, often known to house potential signings. Has since become the butt of many a joke on account of numerous supposed (and false) sightings of players checking in there.
Little Trees - A point of annoyance for one or two Sunderland fans which in turn took on a life of it's own. The trees which surround the club's training ground don't appear to be growing quick enough for some folks. Perhaps a real-life metaphor for the impatience of some people. It has since transcended this to become something to add to the end of a list of annoyances.
Pink Seats - This is another incredibly minor peeve for fans, which has in turn become a larger issue and a bit of a joke now that people will complain about it. When the Stadium of Light was built, the seats were red. Now having been exposed to the sun for around 15-years, they've become pink in patches. WHEN WILL THE CLUB SORT THIS OUT?? I hazard to think they'll just try and get the team to play better, and no seats will be revealed due to full-houses every week. It's pretty much the same 'joke' as Little Trees.
You're best off not having any. The one thing you can absolutely bet your house on is that Sunderland will continually let you down. When things seem like they're going well they're almost certain to go bad -- and quickly.
Promotion is often followed by relegation, and we rarely if ever have much of a foray into the cup competitions. The club is starved of success. We're not quite the Chicago Cubs, but virtually the Cleveland Indians.
What You'll Need
A strong head, and stronger stomach.
Sunderland will take you on a journey from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, and sometimes even lower than that.
If you're looking for a team who wins all the time, this isn't the one for you. If you're looking however for one with a penchant unpredictability then you'll be right at home.
A vociferous and unwavering support, a team which is often overlooked by mainstream media for not being flashy or exciting enough or having enough big name players, then this is for you. The perennial underdogs.
There's a never ending hope that something MIGHT happen, that this MIGHT be the year things turn around. It fills you with excitement like no other team can before bringing you crashing back down to reality. There's truly no other team like it.
Does this sound like you? Welcome aboard.