The Sunderland football pitch which was as smooth as a bowling green

Sunderland Forge v Lynns at the TLF (Thompsons, Laings and Forge) in1950-51
Sunderland Forge v Lynns at the TLF (Thompsons, Laings and Forge) in1950-51
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There are very few Wearsiders today who can recall the fun they had when playing at ‘the dollies’ (clay fields).

 Nor could they recall the day when the TLF Sports Ground and indoor sports and gymnasium was set up.

Sir James Marr

Sir James Marr

 Well, we can enlighten them on the day when media attention centred on a new venue for Sunderland.

 It was actually in December 1922 when the TLF opened and it was such an occasion that it attracted national and even international interest.

 The reason we can recall this momentous occasion is thanks to the excellent Sunderland Antiquarian Society.

 It has shared this enlightening history and our thanks go to the society for delving into the history books and going back to 1922.

 TLF was a trend setter, a venue to break new ground in the way it catered for workers. Those were the days when the provision of such amenities for employees were rare – and more especially as this was to be for apprentices.

 TLF stood for the three associated companies of Joseph L. Thompson and Sons, Sir James Laing and Sons and the Sunderland Forge and Engineering Co. (Thompsons, Laings and Forge). In 1892, about three acres of land on Fulwell Road, which had formerly been a clay pit and a general dumping ground, had been purchased by Mr R Thompson, for industrial purposes and it was on this land, in 1922, that the new facilities were built.

 The TLF Recreation Ground and Boys’ Institute, as it was first officially described, was formally opened on December 12, 1922.

 Apart from the spacious sports fields, there was the Institute building itself which housed a well set-up gymnasium, a library and rooms with tables for chess, draughts and writing.

 There were also, what were then called, ping-pong tables together with showers, a photographic dark room, a theatre and facilities for dancing. The building also had an attractive gallery.

The year 1922 was a difficult one.

 There had been a big slump in shipping (three yards on the river were without even one launch) –and there was a feeling of dissatisfaction and restless impatience over the realisation that the war to end wars had not brought peace and prosperity.

 It was Sir James Marr who formed the TLF. And when he opened it on that December day 90 years ago, he remarked that it was their ambition to pick up boys as they entered the shipyards and make something better of them. They aimed to entertain boys in good company and make them first-class workmen – they would not open on Sundays so as not to interfere with the lads’ church-going.

 They also wanted to get the boys to a higher level and make England the greatest manufacturing country in the world. They wanted to create trade in a manner which would produce goods from a pin to a steamer at a figure at which they could sell them – the material welfare of the boys was their first concern and this they hoped would lead to a prosperous future for them.

 The Mayor, Samuel Storey, could not attend the opening but he sent a message stating that he hoped that the TLF would draw employers and employed together in friendship and mutual confidence.

 Indeed, through the years that is what the TLF did. It drew a spirit which endured right through until its closure in the late 1960s.

 Few Wearsiders can recall the early days of the TLF but there are many who can remember visiting and even playing football on what was regarded as the best playing surfaces in the town.

 There were two pitches with the first one being called ‘The Institute’ and the playing surface was like a bowling green. The other pitch ‘The Railway’ was situated near to the railway line. The TLF Juniors usually kicked off at 1pm and on a Sunderland match day there was usually a decent crowd watching them before going on to Roker Park.

 Sadly, the TLF is no more and today there is a private housing estate built on its site in Fulwell Road – Fairlands.