Sunderland and red and white stripes just go together, don’t they? And it’s been that way for an awfully long time. However, it wasn’t always the case.
For the first few seasons, the club’s colours were blue and then a move was made to red and white halves – think Blackburn Rovers, with red replacing the blue.
This style of shirt only lasted a couple of seasons, however, and early in the 1887-88 season the lads were bedecked in the red and white shirts we now so naturally associate the club with.
The fixture against Darlington St Augustine’s at Newcastle Road marked the debut of the new-style shirts, and the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette reported:
The home team appeared in their new costume – and red-white perpendicular striped jersey, with white knickerbockers.
The Newcastle Daily Chronicle, meanwhile, told readers:
The home team figured in new uniforms, which looked very pretty when on the field.
Evidently, lavish and overly produced kit launches weren’t a feature of football in the late 19th century.
The game against Darlington St Augustine’s (who, a couple of years later were a founder member of the Northern League) kicked off at ten past three, and Sunderland quickly christened the new-style shirts in the best possible style: Sammy Stewart playing a lovely pass into Arnold Davison who scored a ‘beautiful goal’.
George Monaghan went close to increasing Sunderland’s lead after good work from Davison, while Darlington keeper McGuire punched away a shot from John Oliver.
An end-to-end second half followed with both keepers kept busy. Sunderland thought they’d extended the lead when free-kick was adjudged to have gone straight into the goal without another player touching it (presumably an indirect free kick) while with 20 minutes left Sunderland had the ball through the posts again, but the goal was disallowed for handball. and the game finished 1-0.
While white ‘knickerbockers’ were on display for our red and white stripes’ first outing, the club quickly introduced black shorts which have subsequently remained for the vast majority of time ever since, bar a spell in the 60s, and the Le Coq Sportif aberration in the 80s.
The club continued this season, as they had been doing, playing a full fixture list of friendlies, and FA and various local cup competitions. The club’s signing of four Scottish players – including George Monaghan and Sammy Stewart – proved controversial, as previously the team had been made up of local lads.
During the course of the season, a breakaway team – Sunderland Rovers – was formed, in protest at Sunderland’s inclusion of non-local players, but the venture didn’t last long.
Incidentally, in the FA Cup this season, Sunderland beat Middlesbrough after a replay but were subsequently thrown out of the competition after Middlesbrough accused Sunderland of fielding professionals, in the form of Monaghan, Hastings and Richardson. The club were eventually found guilty of paying the players’ train fares in the summer, and were kicked out of the cup – and the players were banned for three months.
Still, at least they looked good in red and white upon their return!