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Would Sunderland AFC as we know it have ever existed had it not been for this game v Preston?

In 1889 Sunderland were desperately trying to find their way into the Football League, but in order to make a lasting impression they had to make their performance in their first ever meeting with league champions Preston North End count.

Sunderland were a non-league side when they first played Preston North End, who arrived at Newcastle Road on Monday 29 April 1889 as the inaugural League Champions. PNE had also won the FA Cup only weeks earlier by beating Wolves 3-0 in the final to also become the first side to complete the prestigious League and Cup ‘double’.

Despite it being a friendly match it was keenly anticipated amongst Sunderland fans, players and club officials, who having seen the success of the first League season were hoping to join their opponents in Division One.

The Football League AGM was being held four days later at the Douglas Hotel, Manchester and the main business of the day was to be the re-election process. The four clubs that had finished at the bottom of the League (Burnley, Derby, Notts County and Stoke) were up against ten Non-League applicants including two from Sunderland in Sunderland Albion and Sunderland AFC. The very fact that so many clubs were keen to join demonstrated that the Football League was here to stay, although, significantly, none were from the south and it was only when Arsenal joined in 1893 that the League moved to be truly national. Clearly victory against PNE would be an indication that Sunderland would not be out of place if they were elected to take part in Division One in 1889/1890.

The visitors travelled to Wearside from Glasgow where they had beaten Queens Park. The admission price had been raised, but this did not prevent a crowd estimated at around 8,000 attending on a fine day.

With there being no floodlights, the game started at 6pm and many of the crowd had rushed from work to watch the action. There was prolonged cheering when Sunderland took an early lead when James Raylston swung the ball over and Bob Brand headed it beyond James Trainor, who during his career was capped 20 times for Wales, but was to die in poverty in 1915. The Wearsiders maintained the pressure and the ‘keeper was given plenty to do.

When PNE did get forward Jack Gordon, who formed a fine partnership down the right with Jimmy Ross and the pair had notched thirteen times in a record-breaking 26-0 success against Hyde United in the 1887/88 FA Cup first round, had a shot that was blocked.

The away side did though equalise when John Goodall, who had finished as the top scorer with 20 goals in the inaugural Football League season, beat Bill Kirtley, with a soft shot. The game thereafter swing from end to end and either side might have taken the lead. Trainor continued to impress in the PNE goal.

Bob Holmes, who played more than 300 appearances at left-back for Preston and was president of the initial Football Player’s Union in the mid-1890s, frequently came to his side’s rescue with some towering clearances.

Just before the interval the home side retook the lead when Alec Brady, who later won the League title with Everton in 1890-91 and the FA Cup with Sheffield Wednesday in 1896, found Arnold Davison whose cross was crashed low past Trainor by Breconbridge.


When the second half began, PNE demonstrated some fine combination play but Sunderland defended superbly. When Donald McKechnie sent a long kick upfield it was collected by Brand who cleverly beat Holmes and then as Trainor advanced he pushed the ball beyond the ‘keeper to make it 3-1. In response Goodall had a fine shot saved by Kirtley.

Goodall made fourteen appearances for his country and scored twelve times, including two marvellous efforts when England beat Scotland 4-1 in April 1892. This might not have pleased his Scottish father! Goodall combined great speed and clever footwork with a willingness to shoot from distance, and his accuracy in front of goal made him one of the best marksmen the game has ever seen. Goodall was to quit PNE during the summer of 1889 by moving to Derby County and accepting the tenancy of a local pub.

Sunderland’s success was ensured when Davison’s cross was converted by Brand for his hat-trick to make it 4-1. PNE continued to try and reduce the deficit with Goodall constantly dangerous and open, only to be denied by a remarkable save from Kirtley who prevented a certain goal.

At the end of the game the crowds enthusiasm at Sunderland’s 4-1 win knew no bounds. The home XI had played as well as they had ever done with Brady outstanding with Kirtley also playing a fine match. Receipts for the game amounted to £205.

Sunderland: Kirtley, McDermid, Oliver, McKechnie, Raylston, Gibson, Davison, Brady J, Breconridge, McKay, Brand

PNE: Trainor, Robertson, Holmes, Kelso, Russell, Graham, Gordon, Ross, Goodall, Thomson, Drummond

In the event, Sunderland failed to gather sufficient votes at the Football League AGM to be elected to the Football League with all four League clubs being re-elected.

Sunderland though had laid down an important marker by thrashing PNE, who also won the League in the 1889/1890 season, at the end of which the Wearsiders did win sufficient votes at the Football league AGM, allowing them to replace Stoke in Division One in there 1890/91 season.

Mark is author of THE ORIGINS OF THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE - The first season 1888/89 that was published by Amberley Publishing. Mark’s co-authored book on Fred Spiksley, which is called FLYING OVER AN OLIVE GROVE - available at the ALS shop - is set to become a documentary film in the next year. Readers interested in Sunderland’s initial years should purchase Paul Days two books on the FOUNDING FATHERS: THE MEN WHO MADE SUNDERLAND AFC and which are available via

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