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Sunderland are aiming to get “back to where we belong” - but where is that exactly?! (Part II)

By looking at Sunderland’s final position in the league as our only parameter, we look to see what that tells us about our standing in English football. Our second part takes us from the 1970’s all the way through to the present day and we find out our overall historical league position.

Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Sunderland v Birmingham City Photo by Adam Davy/EMPICS via Getty Images

How many times do we hear that Sunderland should be “back where we belong”? Well, based on final league positions since the very first year Sunderland were elected to the Football League, we are going to take a look at exactly where that might be.

Breaking it down over era’s and decades we see what the averages were for each one as well as across the board.

Following on from part one, in this part we cover the 1970’s up to the present day and also find out our historical league position.

1970 – 1989 – Rise and Fall

The 1970’s started in disaster and found us return to the Second Division as we suffered relegation for a second time in the club’s history. Although the early part of the decade sees our most recent major cup competition victory in winning the FA Cup we flatter to deceive in the Second Division.

Although we threaten to achieve promotion under the guidance of Bob Stokoe, we arguably take too long to gain promotion when considering the talent at the club, and have to wait until 1976 to finally return to the top tier, only to suffer immediate relegation.

Another promotion in 1980 provides five consecutive years of top flight football where the highest we finish is 13th in Division One, but this promise is followed by relegation the following season combined with defeat in the Milk Cup final to Norwich City.

This relegation is the catalyst for the clubs first drop into the third tier of English football under Lawrie McMenemy in 1987 requiring Stoke City legend Denis Smith to enter the fray fresh from managing York City. He very quickly rejuvenates the club in spectacular fashion as we end the 1980’s consolidating our position in Division Two with a young squad that is hungry for First Division football.


Highest Final League Position: 13th Division One (top tier)

Lowest Final League Position: 1st Division Three (tier 3)

Average Final League Position: 6th Division Two (tier 2)

1990 – 2009 – Field of Opportunity

Our return to Division One in 1990 was not taken advantage of and what followed were some pretty bleak years when, at best, we managed to claw ourselves into mid-table in the newly formed Division One which was now the second tier behind the Premier League.

Only the FA Cup run of 1992 gave us anything to cheer until Peter Reid managed to bring a smile to his own face and take us on a meteoric rise that burns out with two top seven finishes in the Premier League to begin the new millennium.

As so often throughout the club’s history we again missed an opportunity to establish ourselves and spend the opening decade of the new millennium bouncing between fighting for promotion or fighting off relegation.


Highest Final League Position: 7th Premier League (top tier)

Lowest Final League Position: 21st Championship (tier 2)

Average Final League Position: 2nd Championship (tier 2)

2010 – 2020 – Kicker Conspiracy

What can I say about the last decade that the graph below or our current position doesn’t tell you?


Highest Final League Position: 10th Premier League (top tier)

Lowest Final League Position: 8th League One (tier 3)

Average Final League Position: 7th Championship (tier 2)


For Sunderland’s league history it’s a game of two halves. Before the clubs first relegation it was, on average, a comfortable mid-table finish in 8th in the top flight before our first relegation, and since that first relegation the average drops to a high finish in the Championship.

Overall, since our first election to the Football League in the 1890’s to the present day, our average final league position comes out at 16th in the top tier. Fairly respectable but the opportunities have been there to establish ourselves as one of the top sides in the country, maybe one day we’ll take advantage of one.

Average Final League Position 1891-1958: 8th Premier League (top tier)

Average Final League Position 1959-2020: 4th Championship (tier 2)

Average Final League Position: 16th Premier League (top tier)

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