The History of the Wearside League

Formation 1892

Charles Kirtley

The origins of the Wearside League can be traced back directly to one man: Charles Kirtley. He was secretary of the Sunderland Swifts club in the early 1890s, which played friendlies against other amateur teams on Wearside.

Kirtley recognised the need for some form of league competition for local clubs (the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup had started 3 years before). The Football League had been formed only four years before in 1888.

Two years later the area had its first League club when Sunderland were elected. In a letter published in the Sunderland Daily Post and Herald on June 15th 1892 (a similar letter appeared in the Sunderland Daily Echo the following day) Kirtley outlined his plans for a local league.

At the subsequent meeting the foundations of the Wearside League were laid. The clubs that formed the first competition were: Seaham Harbour, Sunderland Swifts, Monkwearmouth, Ryhope Colliery, Boldon Star, Sunderland Celtic, East End Black Watch, Wearmouth Swifts, Seaham Albion, South Hylton and Sunderland West End. Kirtley became the League's first secretary, while John Jackson was made chairman. Major Ernest Vaux became the first president and Captain T.W. Pinkney, J. Marr and R. Thompson were made vice-presidents. John Reay was elected treasurer.


The Wearside League's first season got underway with eleven clubs competing. Inevitably the new league had its teething troubles. The quality of the grounds were not of a high standard, most did not have the facilities to take a 'gate'. For example, East End Black Watch played on the Town Moor. Sunderland Swifts played at Abbs Field, Fulwell, which a decade before had been the home of Sunderland Football Club. A club called Roker Park, which later joined the Wearside League, also played at Abbs Field. Because most clubs could not charge an admittance fee the League set club subscriptions at only 5/- (25p).
There was also the problem of clubs not fulfilling fixtures. On October 1 st 1892, Black Watch were supposed to meet at the town's railway station at '1.40 prompt' to travel to Boldon for a match. However, the Boldon Star secretary received a telegram at 3.30 p.m. stating that the Black Watch could not raise a team. The home side kicked a goal and claimed the match.
In the following January, Sunderland Celtic and Seaham Albion were due to play a League match, but the game was called off because Celtic could not raise a team and the Albion players did not appear at all.
Even when both teams turned up the weather sometimes had a hand to play. On January 9th 1893, the game between Sunderland West End and Sunderland Swifts on a snow covered Hylton Road Ground, had to be delayed until the referee arrived.
Cancellations and re-arranged games in turn caused fixture pile-ups. Black Watch were scheduled to play two games on the afternoon of April 8th 1893. At 2.30 they kicked-off against West House in the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup on the Town Moor.
They planned to make only one team change against Seaham Albion at 5.00 p.m. However, the game was abandoned, no doubt to the relief of the Black Watch players, who had been beaten 6-3 in the cup-tie.
South Hylton started the season but did not complete their programme, leaving ten clubs who went the course.
The first ever Wearside League Championship was not decided until the last game of the season, Seaham Harbour eventually took the title by one point from Monkwearmouth.



Despite the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup having started three years before the Wearside League was born, by the close of the 1892-93 season, there had still only been one winning club. That season Sunderland "A" team lifted the trophy for the fourth successive year (a record never equalled).

The trophy had been donated by Councillor Robert Thompson and money raised from the competition went to Monkwearmouth Hospital (in the days before the N.H.S.). To this day funds raised by the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup go to the hospital.
In the first year of the Wearside League its members set out to break the dominance of the Sunderland "A" team. In the first round Black Watch drew a crowd of 2,500 spectators for their match against Bishopwearmouth C.I. on the Town Moor. The home side ran out 4-1 winners.
In the same round Sunderland "A"s received a bye and then went on to beat Sunderland Swifts 6-0 in the next round.In the semi-final they beat West House, who had knocked out Black Watch in the previous round.
Sunderland "A" team then met Southwick in the Final at Newcastle Road. Southwick had reached that stage with a walk-over and victories over Monkwearmouth and Ryhope Colliery. A crowd of about 1,500 greeted the Cup Finalists. The Sunderland Daily Echo's football correspondent was not impressed with Sunderland "A" team's attire. He reported "both teams were uproariously welcomed. They presented a striking contrast, the A's wearing a washed-out edition of the red and white striped shirts of the seniors, while the "Suddickers" sported blue shorts, and presented a workmanlike exterior." The Sunderland second-string proved too strong for the Wearside League side and ran out 3-1 winners, thus maintaining their 100 per cent record in the competition.