As we learned in Chris Wynn’s excellent article last month, back in the 1880s and ‘90s, football was quite different from how it is today. The Football League had a competitor in the form of the Football Alliance, and Sunderland AFC was briefly challenged by a break-away club Wearside club, Sunderland Albion.
Disillusioned by the increasing commercialisation the club he founded as Sunderland & District Teachers Association Football Club less than a decade earlier, James Allen was joined by seven SAFC players when he formed Albion in 1888, They played at the Blue House Field in Hendon for five seasons, as a founder member of the Football Alliance and in the Northern League.
Eventually, it was overwhelmed by the pulling power of Sunderland AFC who, unlike their new rivals, had achieved election to the more powerful Football League in 1890, and then won it in 1893. Albion resigned from Football Alliance in 1891 and, in 1892, the club decided to fold. We’ve been a one-club town and city ever since.
This week, however, as disillusionment at the state of English domestic football grows and and discord rages between leagues and clubs in ways not seen since the turn of the last century, it seems that Sunderland Albion are back...
After seeing the new old club’s social media postings over the last few days, I had a few questions I needed to ask. And lifelong Sunderland fan and re-founder of Sunderland Albion, Kieran Proudlock, had the answers.
RS: Who are the people behind the reformed Sunderland Albion FC, and how did you come together to get it up and running?
KP: The people behind the reform of Sunderland Albion are a group Sunderland fans who decided they wanted to have a club that was more personal to them and more enjoyable for them. We’ve had season tickets for well over a decade and started to feel disconnected from the modern game as time has gone on. Even back in the premier league days we were feeling disconnected, so its not just because of the recent downfall.
The idea to re-form was brought up in discussion over a pint in Greens pub. After some research into Sunderland AFC’s history, we all felt it was a shame to see a club die in a city that is as passionate about football as Sunderland is.
The club is looking to grow its board and are hoping to welcoming backers in through the door ASAP. We have held discussions with local companies and some more recognisable figures as of late. However, they are just as of yet discussions and details will be released as and when developments happen.
RS: How far along the process of starting up is the club? Have you applied to join any league?
KP: In terms of how far along we are with the club I must stress it is very early days. We want a full infrastructure in place and a clear plan set out before games get arranged.
We are in this for the long haul so we cant just scrape together 11 players and join a league because that simply isn’t good enough.
We have a vision to become the community’s club. We have future ideas on how we can help and support a community whether that be youth teams, charity events or simply a sense of belonging to people who need it.
We are not rushing into anything we want to make sure we are doing things correctly and have the suitable people in place. We have made contact with very experienced people including someone local who has experience running a high profile team with which he achieved success.
We want experienced coaches in place along with a manager who is committed and understands our vision. Conversations with potential candidates are on going.
Once the infrastructure is in place, we will move onto trials and build a team we will be confident in achieving success on the pitch.
So, to come back to the initial question, there are still a lot of things that need checking off the list. However, we are being patient and making sure we are confident that the club is self sustainable and that the foundations are laid to build something on.
RS: It’s reassuring that you’re not rushing into anything and that community will be at the heart of your initiative.
The original Sunderland Albion was formed by James Allen in protest at the commercialisation of the professional game. So, will it be a strictly amateur club - like Clapham Community FC - and do you have plans for the club to be member-owned?
KP: Clapham CFC have a great model and have shown people that a community ran football club is more than capable of competing. We will absolutely be looking into the formula of Clapham CFC as a reference point for our club. However, this is one of many options and avenues we are willing to explore. Some other clubs we think of very highly are FC United of Manchester and Sheffield FC to name just a couple.
We understand the origins of the formation back in 1888 and are proud of our history, so we need to find a balance to be respectful to our history and the original ethos of the club, while also transitioning that idea into todays footballing structure.
These are some of the things we are considering currently and will all be considered when drawing up our plan, which once complete will become public to give fans a clear understanding of what we want to achieve, when we want to achieve it by and how we want to achieve it.
Lots of our readers will be wondering whether or not reforming a protest club that disbanded in 1893, right now, is a reaction to the ongoing ownership issues at Sunderland AFC. Do you see the new incarnation of Sunderland Albion as a protest club?
KP: I think there will be a section of supporters that will be annoyed and a section of supporters that will be excited. The twitter page has been live since earlier this week and messages and replies have already shown a split.
We’re under no illusion its a controversial club due to the previous reasons for being formed, but we are not being re-formed as a protest - we are reviving a part of Sunderlands great and rich history.
We are giving the city a club in which they will have no issues supporting both Sunderland AFC and Sunderland Albion FC.
As mentioned before we are building the club for the community and people of Sunderland, not building it out of spite for Sunderland AFC.
RS: You and your team must have put some work to prepare for going public, you’ve already put out some nice videos and graphics on social media, so I guess you’re keen to get others with different skills and experience involved in the club too.
What do you need most, and how should people get in touch with Sunderland Albion if they’d like to help out?
KP: Social media is a vital tool in getting us where we want to be. We need people to know about us first and foremost. Its a long project we have planned, like I said, and we want to build a genuine fan base.
In terms of others we want to get involved, I think its a no brainer we would appreciate anyone with experience at non-league level. Whether its players, board members, coaches or just everyday running of the club we are open to all.
The people we want involved in the club need to have a passion for the city and the people, as mentioned community is a massive priority for us and the team we build on and off the pitch need to be fully invested in our vision.
RS: Thanks Kieran, good luck with the project and keep us up to date with how things are coming along.