SUNDERLAND’S first pre-season game of the summer will be against Darlington 1883 on Saturday, July 19, kick-off 3pm.
The game will be held at Heritage Park, the home of Bishop Auckland FC, and is set to raise funds to help the Northern Premier League Division One North side settle into its new Blackwell Meadows home.
The ‘Return to Darlington’ game, marking Darlo’s return to a place in the town, is a major boost for a club which has strong Sunderland connections - not least through manager and “former Black Cats’ midfielder Martin Gray.
Gray is thrilled at getting his former club’s support and said: “It is a fantastic show of support from Sunderland and a real coup for us to welcome them in what will be the opening game of their pre-season.
“It will provide a rare opportunity for our players to play against Premier League opposition as we ourselves prepare for a very important season ahead.
“I thank everyone at Sunderland AFC for helping to make this fixture happen.”
Sunderland’s head coach Gus Poyet commented: I am absolutely delighted to be opening our pre-season schedule against Darlington.
“It is a historic club, with a loyal and passionate fan base, who have sadly endured some difficult times.
“For us and our fans to be able to support them as they work to regain their professional league status is something that I’m very pleased about.
“I am sure our fans, as always, will turn out in numbers to give us their support but to also show solidarity to a local team that needs our help.”
As the game is a fundraising affair, ticket prices are a one-off - adult tickets priced £12 and under 16s and over 60s, £6.
Ticket purchase information will be announced in due course but the match could well be a sell-out with the ground capacity limited to 2,000.
The fixture means that Sunderland will allow fans an easy opportunity to run the rule over the club’s new signings this summer with a trio of local friendlies.
As well as the Darlington game on July 19, Sunderland play Hartlepool at Victoria Park on Tuesday, July 22 and Carlisle United at Brunton Park on Wednesday, July 23 - both those games are 7.30pm kick-offs.