Sunderland football plaques remember bygone era

Members of the Valley Road Primary School Football team with their coach John Burnikell and the blue plaque in Commercial Road, Hendon marking Sunderland Football Club's first ground at Blue House Field.
Members of the Valley Road Primary School Football team with their coach John Burnikell and the blue plaque in Commercial Road, Hendon marking Sunderland Football Club's first ground at Blue House Field.
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SAFC may be most famous for the Roker roar, but over the decades the Black Cats have played in eight grounds across the city.

Now blue plaques have been put up to mark the historic sites so that fans can walk in the footsteps of their sporting heroes.

Janet Pringle with the blue plaque which has been put up at Thompson Park social club.

Janet Pringle with the blue plaque which has been put up at Thompson Park social club.

The project is the brainchild of club historian and publications editor Rob Mason. Two years ago he hosted a tour of the sites as part of the city’s annual heritage open days.

Realising the interest there was in the old grounds, Rob set the ball rolling on the blue plaques project, gaining approval from Niall Quinn, Sunderland City Council and from the people associated with the sites.

Financial support was provided by the SAFC Supporters’ Association.

Rob said: “Most people know where Roker Park is as Sunderland played there for 99 years. A few keen supporters may be vaguely aware of the other sites, but most people wouldn’t know where the sites are at all.”

Budding footballers of the future now play on the site of Sunderland’s first ground, the Blue House Field in Hendon.

When Valley Road Primary School laid down their pitch on the field, they used maps to try and place the centre circle on the same spot as the original Sunderland ground.

Deputy principal George Stobbart said: “We feel it is an honour for the site to be recognised in this way. SAFC is such a strong part of Sunderland’s culture and the community.

“When you tell six-year-olds about it, they look a bit confused, so we tell them it was the first Stadium of Light. It’s not true in one sense, but it helps to put it into context for them. It comes as a shock though because they have always associated SAFC with the Stadium of Light.

“The plaques put history into perspective.”

On the other side of the Wear, the plaque at Thompson Park Social Club, off Newcastle Road, represents SAFC’s sixth ground used between 1886-1898.

Sunderland’s first league game took place here on September 13, 1890.

Janet Pringle, chairwoman of the social club, said: “I’ve been associated with the social club for 46 years and over the years old chairmen have mentioned the link, but it came as a surprise to a lot of people.

“We have a bar here which people come to on match days and it’s great to think they can come for a drink where Sunderland once played.”

l The Blue Plaques Project will be featured on BBC1’s Inside Out programme at 7.30pm on November 29.