The History of the Wearside League


The new century began with a Wearside League record that has been equalled but never broken. Royal Rovers took four successive League titles from 1900-01 to 1903-04. The first two championships were also accompanied by both the Shipowners' Cups and the Monkwearmouth Charity Cups. The club's dominance, however, was almost broken in the 1902-03 season by Southwick. The 1902-03 final League table read:

As goal average or goal difference was not then used to separate clubs at the top, a deciding match was arranged to decide who would hold the championship. The game on April 30th was understandably a tense affair. Southwick had the chance to clinch the game and the title when they were awarded a penalty. Unfortunately, Wardle chose the occasion to miss his first penalty in 27 attempts. The game ended level and a second match was needed to decide the fate of the championship.

This game had to be held over until the beginning of the new season. The teams met again at Roker Park on September 23rd. Southwick made the early going but Berry broke away and scored for Royal Rovers. In the second half Brown added a second. Rovers added a third and despite a thick fog settling on the field the match was completed.

The match report in the Sunderland Daily Post the following day stated "the spectators frequently disagreed with the referee's decision, as was shown by their shouting and hissing."

The following season Royal Rovers secured their fourth League championship in a row, despite a late charge from the runners-up Seaham White Star. In a ten-day period White Star played nine matches and took 17 out of 18 points. The Seaham club also carried off the Durham Amateur Cup that season. Between 1904 and 1905 four players joined Sunderland AFC from Wearside League champions Seaham White Star. Kelly, Bell, Tomlin and Holley all went on to make their League debuts for Sunderland.

Royal Rovers played with a rugby ball before they could afford a football

The most famous was George Holley, who played over 300 league and cup games for Sunderland, scoring 154 goals. He also appeared for England in 10 internationals. Before moving to Roker Park, Holley had played for three different Seaham clubs: Athletic, Villa and White Star. The quality of the Wearside League was demonstrated when Holley made a scoring debut in the First Division in the month after signing for Sunderland. During the Edwardian era, Royal Rovers provided Sunderland with four League players: W. Robinson (1902), T. Stewart (1904), T. Brown (1907) and G. Gibson (1909). For the 1905-06 season, home clubs had to pay the referee's fee of 5/- (25p) and 3rd class rail fare.


Royal Rovers - 1900-01
Winners of
Shipowners' Cup - League Championship Trophy - Monkwearmouth Charity Cup

Sunderland Boys' Orphanage is now in use as the East End Community Centre

The Shipowners' Cup was inaugurated in the 1898-99 season by Alderman Ralph B. Annison. The money raised from the competition went to the Boys' Orphanage on the edge of Sunderland's Town Moor. A Wearside League club were the first winners, when Royal Rovers had the first of their triumphs. They beat Whitburn 2-1 in the final, after a drawn game, raising £50 for the Orphanage.

The Orphan Asylum was built in Sunderland's East End at a cost of £4,000. It opened for 'inmates' on October 17th, 1861. The boys in the Asylum were from the homes of lost seaman. On average there were 40 boys at the Orphanage at any one time. Their education had a strong nautical flavour. There was a sailing ship in the grounds for instruction in rigging etc. It was not surprising, therefore, that many of the boys went to sea. Between 1901 and 1902 alone, one old boy received the freedom of the borough for service in South Africa, one passed as Extra Master, one as First Class Engineer, one as Mate while another was appointed Master of a Workhouse in Northumberland.