Matthew Warburton, writer and Sunderland fan, looks back at the striped but also – figuratively – chequered history of the SAFC home kit …
Sunderland AFC have been around for a long time; since 1879, as any properly educated schoolboy would tell you.
As fans, we’re quite proud to say that the home kit hasn’t changed too much since the early days of the club’s history. Although the first few seasons the team wore navy blue, since 1884, it’s all been about the red and white. Here we look back through time at Sunderland’s home kit.
Though the design hasn’t changed too much, the designers have. In 1975, it was Umbro, then Le Coq Sportif in 1981 (the ones who made such a pinstriped mess of the traditional design), followed by Nike in 1983, and then Patrick, Hummel, Avec, Asics, Nike again, Diadora, Lonsdale before heading back to Umbro.
Thankfully, Sunderland has stuck with Adidas since 2012, and they seem to be doing a pretty good job, last year’s effort aside.
This year, the kit looks more like a proper Sunderland kit, with traditional wide red and white stripes, a round collar and less of the crap. The shorts are black (or red on occasion) as are the socks.
Shirt sponsorship also didn’t start until later in the history. Our first sponsor was Cowie’s in 1983. Then it was Vaux (or Vaux Samson) for many years. Lambton’s beer made a famous appearance in 1997, and then Reg Vardy held the contract from 1999–2007.
It’s only since 2007 that the sponsorship deals have been short lived. There’s been Boylesports, Tombola, Invest in Africa, Bidvest, Dafabet and Betdaq. Don’t be too surprised by the influx of betting companies. Around half of Premier League teams now have an iGaming sponsor on their shirt, and this is becoming increasingly normal across all divisions.
Changes to the design have been little and not often. Since 1987, we’ve had the popular red and white stripes that have evolved to this day. In the 1913 FA Cup Final, the team wore the Sunderland coat of arms on the kit, and in 1937, the year after winning the championship for the 6th time, they wore a simplified coat of arms on the kit for many league games as well as the FA Cup Final.
In the early 1960s, shortly after the team’s relegation to the 2nd division after 60 years in the top flight, they introduced white shorts to represent a new start, but the traditional black shorts were brought back as soon as Bob Stokoe became the manager in 1972, much to the delight of fans.
The biggest break to tradition came in 1981 when Le Coq Sportif made a mashup of double stripes that angered a lot of people and was quickly replaced again in 1983.
Any changes to the design since then have focused on subtleties around the collar and shoulders, aside from the bold (but ultimately unwelcome) move toward thinner stripes in 2017. The message remains: fans like the thick red and white stripes, preferably with black shorts!