Burton Albion travel north to play Sunderland away for the first time on Saturday. Baring a miracle by either side there seems certain to be a second such occasion next season in English football’s third tier.
The Wearsiders have, of course, played at such a level back in the 1987-88 season when one of the pleasures was travelling to grounds and places where Sunderland had never previously played a competitive match. These were as follows: Aldershot, where Sunderland lost 2-1, Chester City, a 2-1 win, Doncaster Rovers, a 2-0 win, Southend United, a 4-0 victory and Wigan Athletic, a 2-2 draw on a mud bath.
It was back in 1987 that automatic promotion from the top flight of non-League football to the fourth tier was introduced. As such the third tier is now a very different beast and a relegated Sunderland would come up against some clubs that have very recent League histories and others who they have never played.
One such side would be Accrington Stanley. Sunderland did face the first senior side from Accrington, known as th’ Owd Reds, in their first three seasons of League football between 1890/91 to 1892/93. When Accrington were relegated to the Second Division in 1892/93 they tendered their resignation to the Football League and were later dissolved in 1896. The ground on which Accrington played on was Thorneyholme Road, which is today used for cricket.
Accrington Stanley, known initially as Stanley Villa, was formed in 1891 and went out of business in 1962 before being revived six years later. After clawing their way back into the Football League in 2006-07 they have now made it up to the ridiculously named League One.
Wycombe Wanderers also look like they may gain promotion from League Two and the Choirboys will participate in their 26th season of League football in 2018/19. Sunderland has never previously visited Adams Park, where the record gate is 9,921 versus Fulham in the FA Cup in 2002.
Sunderland have played away to Shrewsbury but in the event the Shropshire side fail to gain promotion then a first ever trip to Greenhouse Meadow, opened in 2007 and with a capacity of 9,875, beckons.
Rotherham too has new surroundings since Sunderland last played competitive football in the South Yorkshire town. The New York Stadium holds just over 12,000 and was opened in 2012.
Meanwhile, whilst Sunderland did play at Glanford Park, Scunthorpe in a pre-season friendly in the summer, they have yet to play their in a League match on a ground that holds just over 9,000 spectators. The home end remains a standing area. There will also be a first ever trip for a competitive match to Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, capacity 15,123.
Fleetwood Town only gained entry to the Football League when they won the Conference in 2011-12. ‘The Cod Army’ stayed just two seasons in the fourth tier before gaining promotion and they will play their fifth season in League One in 2018/19. The Highbury Stadium holds a modest 5,133 and away fans will be split between seats in the Main Stand and a standing area behind the goal. Sunderland and Fleetwood have never previously crossed paths.
Sunderland has previously played Oxford United on a number of occasions but never on the three sided Kassam Stadium, opened in 2001, where the ground capacity is just over 12,500.
Sunderland has also yet to competitively face Rochdale - and no I don’t count the Carabao Cup, which is being used as a stalking horse by the bigger clubs who eventually want to see their B teams being allowed to play in the Football League - and assuming the Dale can stay up, then a new ground beckons for many Sunderland fans. Spotland holds just over 10,000 with away fans seated down one side of the pitch. Look out for the pies inside the ground as they are pretty good.
At this current time it looks unlikely that Northampton Town will avoid relegation to the fourth tier but if they do then Sunderland will make their first trip to Sixfields, opened in 1994 and capable of holding just under 8,000 fans.
Finally, AFC Wimbledon, formed in 2002 when the Football League wrongly allowed the owners of the original club to move it to Milton Keynes, is currently playing at the Kingsmeadow Stadium, capacity of 5,027, in Kingston-upon-Thames. Planning permission for a new stadium back at Plough Lane, were Sunderland first played and were beaten 3-0 on 12 April 1986, has just been granted but the 11,000 seater stadium is unlikely to be ready until the late part of the 2018-19. Away fans at Kingsmeadow occupy both a seated and standing area. This who like to stand might note that the view of the pitch is limited.
Now this season a limited view of any pitch Sunderland has been on would have been welcomed, but surely next season we will have some victories to watch!