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Sunderland v Newcastle United Divison Two Play Off Semi Final 1990

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The year the FA left Sheffield Wednesday hOWLing – much to our delight

Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday do have playoff-related promotion history - and Sunderland can claim victory despite the sides never meeting on the pitch.

A play-off journey like no other - promotion despite a Wembley loss
| Photo by Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty Images

Our visitors on Friday may believe they have a playoff score to settle with us.

After 32 years memories may have faded, but for those of us of a certain age, it involved a playoff saga which was so typically Sunderland.

I’m talking about 1990, and I’m sure those who were following the Lads at the time can remember where they were when Sunderland got promoted to the First Division.

I was sharing a train carriage with ten Sheffield Wednesday fans!

It truly was the best of times and the worst of times in the playoffs that year - a Roker rollercoaster of a semi-final pitting us against the noisy neighbours up the road. We arrived at Wembley Stadium off the back of a brilliant night at St James’ Park courtesy of the G-Force, and in high hopes against Ossie Ardiles’ Swindon Town.

What transpired was a woeful performance from Sunderland, and without Tony Norman the result could have been a lot worse. We were beaten by the better team, but the real disappointment was the way we played, as had we been on our game we could and should have been celebrating victory.

Resigned to another year in the second tier, we were all shocked by the unfolding drama of Swindon Town’s tax transgressions, and suddenly the FA decided that Swindon would be relegated - so the final spot was up for grabs.

Soccer - Barclays League Division Two - Playoff Finals - Swindon Town v Sunderland - Wembley Stadium
Swindon’s celebrations were short-lived
Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

It quickly become apparent that two clubs had the strongest claims to the final Premier League spot - Sunderland, as the defeated playoff finalists, and Sheffield Wednesday, who had finished third from bottom in the top flight.

Wednesday put in an impassioned plea that only two should be promoted, and therefore they should remain in the top division. Sunderland simply pointed out that had they won the playoff final the issue would not have arisen, as we and the Yorkshire side would be swapping places.

Naturally, there were weeks of debate and discussion, rumour and counter rumour as to what the mandarins in Lancaster Gate would or had decided to do.

The FA finally decided that they had to make a decision and went for the team in red and white not blue and white stripes.

As the news filtered out, I was travelling to the North East in my, still favourite, blue Sunderland away shirt on the train. All was well and well other than sharing this cramped carriage were ten Owls’ fans who were less than happy at being finally relegated, and also having a Mackem in their midst.

To be fair there was a bit of verbal “banter”, but thankfully they kept their hands to themselves.

It might not have taken place beneath the famous Twin Towers, but Sunderland does have a victory over the Owls in a fight for a final promotion spot, and we can only hope we can do so again beginning at a packed Stadium of Light.


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