In 1957 Sunderland’s status as the ‘Bank of England club’ was fading rapidly. Despite high expectations and big-money transfers, our team was struggling to avoid what would be, our first relegation from the top flight, with stars such as Len Shackleton, Don Revie and Trevor Ford failing to provide any notable success in this era.
The Easter fixtures of the 56/57 season produced three colossal opponents - Leeds United, Arsenal and Man United. Over 90,000 fans packed Roker Park out over two matches against Leeds and Arsenal. Two huge home wins, 2-0 and 4-0 respectively proved crucial in the run-in. Despite losing comfortably at Old Trafford, the four points gained made all the difference as we narrowly survived dropping into the second-tier for the first time in our history.
The joy was short-lived, however, as we eventually succumbed a year later to relegation in 1958.
Fast forward twelve years and history was repeating itself, with Sunderland struggling to avoid another relegation from the top-flight.
Sitting rock-bottom of the pile and with games running out, we faced the critical Wear-Tyne derby with Newcastle United at Roker, sandwiched between a trip to Coventry City and Derby County back at home.
The fixtures looked somewhat daunting, given all sides were comfortably in the top half. Alan Brown’s team had struggled for goals all season and it was a case of ‘now or never.’
In actual fact - we remained unbeaten. The three matches all had the same scoreline 1-1 which actually were decent results. Derby County were managed by Brian Clough who won the league two years after. Three out of six points (two points for a win don’t forget) was okay, but it was a bit too late for any kind of real progress.
We were relegated in second bottom position... but it wasn’t too long before a certain famous day at Wembley.
Are you sensing a theme here? Another crucial Easter period as we battled relegation from the top-flight again. Despite at one point scoring 16 goals in three home matches in February, we entered the busy Easter period in the bottom three.
The traditional big-gate game was against our nearest and dearest Newcastle United. Over 46,000 crammed into Roker Park to see us blow a 2-0 lead against the Mags, having to settled for a point.
The other two fixtures were also biggies - a solid point was gained at Elland Road against Leeds United in a 1-1 draw and then we beat the mighty Man United 2-1 back at Roker on the Easter Monday.
Such results lifted us well clear of the drop zone into 16th. However, we went into the final day of the season - played on a Thursday due to fixture congestion - still unsure of our position.
We played Everton at Goodison Park. Our two relegation rivals - Coventry and Bristol City in case you needed reminding - played each other at Highfield Road.
Kick-off was delayed. We lose. A certain individual orders it to be flashed up on the scoreboard. They play out a farcical draw. They both survive. We go down.
Jimmy Hill. Never forgotten. Never forgiven.
The last time Sunderland were in the third tier was the very first time we had ever dropped down to this level.
Lawrie McMenemy’s disastrous reign had resulted in us relegated to the old Third Division (League One to the youngsters), and new boss Denis Smith was attempting promotion at the first attempt.
The feel-good factor was back at Sunderland. We had been top virtually all season, but a wobbly 2-1 loss at York City meant we went into Easter needing two positive results to regain our grip on the title.
On the Saturday we travelled to Grimsby, and narrowly edged a 1-0 win to set us up for the second fixture - Chesterfield at home. That was far less routine but despite falling behind we eventually won 3-2 to set us up for the final run-in.
We went on to win five of the remaining six matches to clinch the title with 93 points. With the G Force of Gabbiadini and Gates, we bounced back to the second division or the Championship in today’s money at the first attempt.
If only promotion from the third tier was as easy this time round...
Who can forget the amazing Roy Keane promotion season of 2006/07? ‘The magic carpet ride’ was promised by Sir Niall Quinn, but in actual fact, it was more of a hard slog to the top of a rocky mountain.
In October we were as low as 19th in the table and it was looking like a two-season job for Keane. By the turn of the year however results had very much improved and helped by shrewd signings such as Jonny Evans, Carlos Edwards and Stern John, we started to motor up the table.
Unbeaten in the first three months of 2007, winning became a habit at the Stadium of Light. As the Keano/Hey Jude song was belted out by supporters home and away, we approached the Easter period with promotion in our sights.
Jumping from 11th to 2nd in the table, we had two difficult-looking matches on the horizon - Wolves at home on the Saturday and Southampton away on the Monday. Both sides were dangerous opponents, and both were hot on our heels in the Play-Off positions.
Wolves was first on the Saturday at the Stadium of Light. Managed by preceding Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy, the visitors battled hard, but Keane’s lads came out on top narrowly 2-1.
Over 2,000 made the long journey to Southampton, and saw two storming strikes from Edwards and local hero Grant Leaditter to turn a 1-0 deficit into another 2-1 win and send us top of the league.
The Keane momentum was in full swing and an unstoppable force. Despite a wobble at Colchester, we won all of the other games that season at clinched the title at Luton Town on the final day.