SPORTY Wearsiders will be playing up a special anniversary this weekend.
Ashbrooke Sports Club is to mark the 125th birthday of its West Lawn ground with three days of fun, games, events and activities – and an open invitation has been issued to all.
“Few Victorian multi-sports clubs like ours have survived, so this is a very special time for us,” said the club’s historian and archivist Keith Gregson.
“Ashbrooke is the home of sport in Sunderland.”
Kicking off the celebrations will be a Sportsman’s Dinner tomorrow, featuring former England footballer Viv Anderson, and on Saturday a free Family Fun Day will be held from 11am to 4pm.
An It’s A Knockout contest, live music and balloon race are planned for Sunday, and the annual Ashbrooke Beer Festival will run throughout the weekend – as will a display of club memorabilia.
“We have been digging through the archives and have found some fantastic photographs and documents,” said Keith.
“Not just from when the ground opened in 1887, but much earlier as well.”
The origins of Ashbrooke Sports Club date to at least 1808 – the year the importation of slaves was banned in America – when details relating to Sunderland Cricket Club were first documented.
The club was officially constituted in 1834, as Bishopwearmouth CC, but later merged with Hendon Terrace CC.
A change of name accompanied the merger, to Sunderland Cricket Club.
“Records show it then moved to the Blue House field in Hendon – later an early base for SAFC,” said Keith.
“Sunderland CC is acknowledged as the oldest established sports club in Tyne and Wear.
“There may have been some cricket played locally during the wars with Napoleon, but the firm club records upon which sports historians base their judgement exist from the 1830s onwards.”
A new club base in Holmeside opened in 1864, but railway developments eventually forced a move to Chester Road.
The windswept spot, in the shadow of a workhouse, proved an unpopular choice.
When the chance to move to Ashbrooke arose in the 1880s, club officials “jumped at the chance”.
A Whitsuntide Sports Meeting was held on May 30, 1887, to mark the ground’s official opening.
“Ten acres of land were purchased from five different owners,” said Keith. “Press reports show that the first sporting event on the ground was a 100-yard foot race won by local lad W Jenkins.”
Cricket, football, gymnastics, athletics, tennis, quoits, PE sessions and “development of the human frame” were offered by Ashbrooke in its early days, with hockey, bowls and squash soon following.
It did not take long, however, for Ashbrooke to become known as “The Lord’s of the North,” and a two-day Durham v Australia cricket match in 1926 drew a packed house of 20,678 spectators.
Today Ashbrooke is one of only a handful of Victorian multi-sport clubs to still survive in Britain – with the growth of specialised training schedules seeing many others fold, or focus on fewer sports.
“The ground has an atmosphere that is uniquely English. Perhaps that is why it has meant so much to so many people,” said Keith. “Why not come along and find out more this weekend?”
For more details on events, or to buy tickets, call Ashbrooke Sports Club on 528 4536.