A romp through the history of Sunderland kits. And a prize competition

Simply the worst? Home top 1981
Simply the worst? Home top 1981

What are the best and worst SAFC shirts you can remember? Below, our occasional contributor John Penman takes you on a colourful tour of his own history of owning them whether good, bad or plain ugly.


Salut! Sunderland and Classic Football Shirts combine to offer all SAFC fans around the world – in other words, no Guess the Score-type restrictions on overseas delivery addresses AND no one is ineligible to enter – the chance of winning a £50 voucher to spend, choosing from the huge Classic Football Shirts collection of original football kits from around the world.

‘Whether new products with the tags still on, rare player issue items or pre-owned classic shirts from the past, our site has something for any football fan,’ says CFS’s Danny Taylor, who describes working with a stock of 300,000 tops as like being a museum curator.

‘It couldn’t be simpler to enter all you have to do is answer the question: who is Sunderland’s all-time top goal scorer?’.

Enter the competition by sending your reply to marketing@classicfootballshirts.co.uk before the closing date of midnight on December 18 . No answers or comments below – the winner will be selected at random from all correct entries received. There is no special consolation prize for answering: ‘It’s either Jozy Altidore or Danny Graham.’

Every entrant will receive a £5 voucher towards purchases at Classic Football Shirts

And now over to John Penman for a look at the Sunderland replica kit he has known and loved …

In Scotland everyone who supported a Scottish team always had a favourite English team as well.

Most of the boys in my class chose the more popular clubs like Manchester United, Liverpool or Leeds. However I was taken in by the feat of Sunderland in 1973 by beating Leeds so I adopted Sunderland as my English team in the misguided belief that after such fine giantslaying in the cup final this would mean endless years of success for me to enjoy. There was also a connection of Dick Malone who had played for my Scottish team, Ayr United.

In those days, owning a replica shirt was not the norm for football fans. The colours of your scarf and bunnet (a flat Scottish cap) usually sufficed in showing your support for a team. I owned a red and white scarf, a very small and neat lapel badge which I proudly wore on my school blazer and adorned my bedroom wall with a variety of Sunderland players and team photos cut out of my Shoot magazines.

Or this one? 'I cannot believe I ever wore one of these,' says Monsieur Salut:
Or this one? ‘I cannot believe we ever wore tops like this; no wonder we lost the cup final playing in them,’ says Monsieur Salut

It wasn’t till a chance stroll into a well known sports shop in Glasgow during the autumn of 1981 that I found my first Sunderland strip.

The white background with red pinstripes looked elegant and was quickly purchased as it was hardly surprisingly the only one in stock. I became very attached my new purchase and during the spring of 1982 wore it to an Ayrshire nightclub after Lord Rowell has scored the winner in a 3-2 win at WBA to trigger another of these great escapes from relegation ( yes we also did these in the 80s). I can remember chatting to a very attractive young lady during the evening who remarked on how smart my ‘tee-shirt’ was but I was less impressed when she asked whether the name Sunderland on the badge indicated the designer!

As the years progressed and more fashionable gear found its way into my wardrobe the strip was relegated to workwear. I was a labourer on a building site at this time which included a number of supporters of other teams most of whom cared little about Sunderland but sadly Gary the Geordie did and guess who he supported. Gary could be most irritating with his attempts at unfunny pranks and dull football banter . My quest to silence him was helped by us reaching the League Cup Final but not helped by the subsequent loss to Norwich and relegation a few weeks later. However when I found a dead mouse under the floorboards and then noticed that Gary had left his piece box with his cheese sandwich unattended the cheese was removed to be replaced by rodent and cement for lunch. The look on his face as he sunk his teeth into his lunch as he realised exactly he was eating was priceless.

By the mid 90s I had moved to the Highlands of Scotland so visiting Roker Park to bid a fond farewell at the end of the 96-97 season was looking unlikely. I did however purchase by mail order the special souvenir strip which was released at the start of the season and kept safely stored away in a cupboard or so I thought. My girlfriend at the time had in my absence decided that my wardrobe was stuck in the 1980s and needed a clear out and in some cases it was hard to argue as my ‘ Miami Vice’ sparkle suit, Tukka boots and ‘Frankie says relax’ shirt were to be consigned to the fashion history books. On my return from a course I noticed a clearer wardrobe but not only was my 80s gear now dispatched to the local dump apparently but my souvenir Roker Park strip had gone as well. My horror was only compounded by my girlfriends ignorance of what she had done and she was next to be despatched to the local landfill.

By now strips were being changed usually every 2 years and latterly every year. I next bought the 1999 version which was inspired to part with my cash for by seeing Super Kev arms aloft running away after scoring a beauty against Chelsea in a 4-1 win. The black cat silhouette on the sleeve was an excellent idea and should have been kept on all subsequent Sunderland shirts. I still own and wear this top if only to remind me of the glory days when were consistently a top 7 Premiership club (well for a couple of years).

But doesn't this home top from 1991 tick all the right boxes?
But doesn’t this home top from 1991 tick all the right boxes?

I moved back to the Central belt of Scotland in the early 2000s and was now within easy access of the SOL. Sadly the club decided to take a timeout in our quest for world domination by being relegated twice and with some embarrassingly low points totals. Always darkest before the dawn I said and right on cue just when we were all beginning to despair along came Roy Keane. I parted with my cash to purchase the top for that season which on receipt I felt it was made of thinner material that previous strips had been. It had a ‘vicar‘ like collar but had an excellent ‘cool’ feel to it. All of a sudden everything in the garden was rosy as we shot up the table and after an excellent second half of the season we achieved up till now our last promotion. I sat in the SOL on a balmy Friday night decked out in aforementioned strip with sweating armpits for much of the evening as the game and promotion was in the balance. It was probably one of the most exciting games to be played there against Burnley and worthy of the Carlos Edwards rocket that clinched it.

The seasons from then on kind of merged into a similar theme and with strips being changed every season and whether one was bought or not dictated by the aspirations for the season and more importantly by cost. I bought strips in 2008 and 2009 despite the fact they were almost identical and any real hopes for a comfortable season challenging for the top 10 were dashed usually in mid October as we slumped to our routine scrap against the drop.

Further purchases in 2012 and 2014 were bought on the back of apparently exciting managerial appointments in O’Neil and Poyet although it was tricky to see any dramatic design changes from season to season apart from shirt sponsors. It’s amazing how the August sunshine, the smell of freshly cut grass and new season hope can fool you into purchasing the season’s new strip. The exciting appointments however true to form were far from exciting and these strips were party to some of the most turgid displays I have witnessed in 40 years.

And who remember this from 1997?
And who remember this from 1997?

** Don’t forget, you can enter the Salut! Sunderland/Classic Football Shirts competition by emailing marketing@classicfootballshirts.co.uk. And once again, every entrant will receive a £5 voucher towards purchases.

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