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Sunderland Albion – The Non League Years

After proving to be a very popular guest author in recent weeks, @acidphire is back once again talking about his Sunderland Albion save and giving us an insight into the non league years.

Me again as I’ve had a few requests, instead of diving in with the follow-up of to the golden generation here is the history of the club Sunderland Albion so without further ado here is “Sunderland Albion, The Non-League Years”:

Sunderland Albion were formed by some members of Sunderland A.F.C. who did not like the commercial direction the club was taking. The two clubs were fierce rivals – when they were drawn together in both the FA Cup and the Durham Challenge Cup in the 1888-89 season, Sunderland withdrew from both competitions rather than allow Albion to benefit from the increased gate receipts. However, there was so much demand locally for the clubs to play each other that 2 friendly matches were arranged, both won by Sunderland: 2-0 on 1 December 1888, in front of 18,000 spectators and 3-2 on 12 January 1889, in front of 12,000 spectators.

Albion were founder members of the Football Alliance in 1889, but when Sunderland joined The Football League in 1890, Albion’s crowds began to suffer. To try to gain extra support, Albion joined the Northern League as well, playing in both leagues in the 1890-91 season before concentrating on the latter. However, when Sunderland won the Football League title in 1892, Albion disbanded.

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Until 2014/15 I created my own league file down to Level 9 across all of England, (didn’t include county cups) I then created a single league in Step 10 containing Sunderland Albion feeding into the Northern League Division one only and that is where we begin the journey. With no staff and no players the summer was spent bringing in a full squad to work with and in addition a few members of backroom staff to assist me the key transfers this season were Dave Swarbrick, Ollie Herbert, Joe Holt and Martin Smith, we began the season with back to back victories over Tow Law (2-0) and Seaham Red Star (5-1) to spell the path of the season, fifteen games unbeaten took us into the new year as Robbie Burns ran riot in the league finishing our top scorer with 20 goals, into march we sat top of the table and the youth intake  produced Luke Graham and Phil Armstrong who would play a big part in the clubs future. Before five wins in the run in sealed the Northern League Division two title over Norton & Stockton Ancients

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 1ST IN EBAC NORTHERN LEAGUE DIVISION TWO

FA VASE: 1ST ROUND

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Into the Division one north we made a few additions with the aim of consolidating in the league before pushing on, the bookmakers priced us as favourites to go up though which was unexpected. But still out top scorer last year Robbie Burns was poached by fellow division one club Whitby he was replaced by one of last year’s Youth Prospects Phil Armstrong who at the tender age of 16 managed to notch himself 9 goals in 16 games before injury ended his season, Dave Swarbrick filled the void notching 19 goals to become our top scorer this year as again Joe Holt from the left-wing provided the service to frontman, A good 1-0 win against Penrith got us underway as two defeats got us top of the league heading into the new year, again however the FA Vase was disappointing as defeat saw us eliminated in the first round again. We continued the form into the second half of the season with a big win over 2nd place Shildon essentially sealing promotion Luke Graham was also essential at the heart of the defence as we built using the youth academy

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 1ST IN EBAC NORTHERN LEAGUE DIVISION ONE

FA VASE: 1ST ROUND

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Onwards and upwards as a change in formation to a flat 4 midfield with a Luke Graham sat in front of the back four as I was expected to be the underdogs this year didn’t work out so well, despite grabbing 3 points on the opening day with a 4-1 win over nelson, we struggled losing four of next seven games and it looks like we would be heading back to the ebac as we were on the foot of the table, but Armstrong found his form he would late go onto shine with we managed a 5-2 victory over Droylsden then hit four past Radcliffe Boro and Blyth it was the kick we needed as we went on a great run losing once in the next 7 back to back defeats in early December to Marine and Nelson looked to have killed our hopes of a mid-table finish but only 4 defeats from the remaining 21 games in which we managed to put four past Ossett Albion (4-1), Runcorn (4-1), Buscough (4-1) and five past Marine (5-1) and Shaw Lane (5-1) the win against Shaw Lane on the final day of the season saw us into the play-offs in fifth place to play Workington who we had failed to beat all season (2-2, 1-2) but we pulled out the bag as Armstrong netted in a 2-0 win, Ramsbottom we felt more confident against having beaten them 2-1 in February but we weren’t expecting much and the 5-3 win after Extra time saw us into the Northern Premier I was gobsmacked. It was Phil Armstrong’s 26 goals in 42 games that got us here and Dave Swarbricks 21 goals in 41 apps from the right-wing. The Process of building from youth paid off as we had a youth prospect firing us towards the football league.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 5TH IN THE NORTHERN PREMIER LEAGUE FIRST DIVISION (Play-off winners)

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With only two promotions away from the football League I wanted to strength the first 11 but also stick with the youngsters and Adam Robinson who made 24 appearances last term was released at the end of his 1 year deal, which allowed youngster Luke Graham to move back into his favoured centre back role, Nick Brannan was brought in to fill the DM spot, Dominic Plant was also a casualty as Kevin Parker was brought in to play alongside another academy graduate Matty Craig.

Eight goals in the opening two games against Macclesfield and Salford got us off to a flying start I felt confident with the squad we had that survival was a bit too low of a target, With only the top two getting auto promotion I knew it would be a difficult task to get promoted but 6 wins from the opening 8 games had me sat 2nd and looking good before a run of three wins in the next 10 saw us fall away massively the poor form continued as only a further 3 wins from the next 6 saw us in mid-table and we were happy with that the midfield had other ideas pulling us up the table with a great run of form as Matty Craig continued his development netting 20 goals from 48 games Swarbrick continued to score for fun as his 22 in 32 games from the right win was enough to claim top scorer Phil Armstrong had an issue with injuries this ear only netting 14 times in 26 games

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 3RD IN THE NORTHERN PREMIER LEAGUE

FA CUP: 2ND QUAL ROUND (Albion 1-2 Ware)

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We were really happy with the decent cup run that boosted our finances a little but after finishing 3rd last year we wanted to go one better this year and get into the Conference North and more changes were afoot in the name of strengthening the side, Joe Holt faded a bit towards the end of the season so Marc McNamee was brought in to provide cover, another youth prospect came in with Jordan Tait providing cover between midfield and attack and a new right back in Ian Talbot signed for a free to replace the outgoing Zack Reynolds.

Into the new season we flew out of the traps as we only suffered defeat twice before December 18 goals in our first 4 games showed the force we had at our disposal for this campaign, followed by six straight league wins including a 8-0 win over Coalville cemented our place atop the table, 2 wins in 6 showed our first wobble before 18 wins in the final 23 games of the season saw us pick up a total of 107 points and comfortably make it to the Conference North.

It was a good season for Armstrong now he was over a his injuries as he bagged 29 goals in 42, Jordan Tait another academy lad hit 21 in 37 and Veteran Dave Swarbrick hit 12 in 32 he is yet to hit less than double figures in a season for us.

We did a lot better in our second outing in the FA Cup this year though as we managed to beat Kings Lynn 3-0 then Rusden & Diamonds 5-2 to make it to the 4th Qual round where we forced a replay with Flyde only to lose on pens

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION 1ST IN THE NORTHERN PREMIER LEAGUE

FA CUP: 4TH QUAL (Albion 2-2p Flyde)

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Our biggest signing of the summer was with ex-league player Roger Collins, also coming into the heart of the defence was John Haworth, and in midfield another youth prospect was rising as Karl Norris cemented his place in centre midfield alongside Matty Craig. But the biggest change was between the posts as Ollie Herbert was relegated to the bench after being our number one keeper for five seasons, his replacement was polish keeper Max Stryjek.

And it was a tough start to the season as only 4 wins from the opening ten games had us flirting with the drop zone. But a good run leading up to Christmas saw us with only 3 defeats in the next 11 saw us rise quickly up the table, Phil Armstrong’s goals being instrumental to this run, a 7-0 win over Halifax and putting 5 past Guiseley were highlights of the pre-Christmas run in we were within touching distance of the top but only two wins in 8 over Christmas saw us slip away from the title race, we matched them all game for game in the run in as 9 wins from 10 saw us finish 4th and claim a play-off spot. Defeat against Harrogate saw us out and it means another crack at the conference north was required.

Again it was Phil Armstrong with the goals that carried us on as his 22 in 36 was joint top scorer with Jordan Tait who hit 22 in 39, Swarbrick continued his goal tally notching 17 in 43 while Stryjek made 35 apps as number one keeper this year.

In the cup it was a fantastic year, the FA Cup in particular we started the campaign with a win over Radcliffe Boro in Qualifying round 2, before a win over Southport in qual round 3, we took Alfreton to a replay in the 4th qualifying round but prevailed to claim a 1st round proper spot, a draw at home to Gateshead forced a replay but a narrow win put us in round 2 hoping for a league 1 or 2 team, and we got the team rooted to the bottom of league 2 in Scunthorpe who we beat easily 4-1 for round 3, Please be Man Utd! Please be Arsenal! We got a trip to Anfield for our troubles and despite getting hammered 6-0 we got a massive boost to our finances.

We bombed out of the FA Trophy in the 1st round to Accrington which after the FA Cup run was disappointing.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 4TH IN THE VANARAMA NORTH

FA CUP: 3RD ROUND (Liverpool 6-0 Albion)

FA TROPHY: 1st ROUND (Accrington 1-0 Albion)

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A switch in formation as the now familiar 5-3-2 wingbacks made its first appearance and with that players needed switching round, the retirement of Dave Swarbrick was a major blow for us, but the arrival of Ray Gutteridge to play right wingback Daryl Hornby was pushed forward from left back to left wingback and Ryan Palmer slotted into centre back. In midfield the arrival of Andrew Pritchard and Tom Chadwick made appearances limited for Matty Craig and Karl Norris, where as we now partnered Jordan Tait with Phil Armstrong instead of one or the other.

One defeat in the opening 10 was a good start as a 4-1 win over Worcester on the opening day was a good start, only a further 2 defeats in the opening 15 games was a great start to the season as we hit top spot early and stayed there four goals against Retford Worcester and 3 against North Ferriby were the biggest wins in the first half of the year.

Into the second half of the season and we only lost twice as 7 defeats in the league saw us finish top of the table with 87 points 16 more than last year, with slightly fewer goals but less conceded.

Jordan Tait was this year’s top scorer as 33 goals in 56 games made him our highest ever scorer in a season, Phil Armstrong was a close second with 29 but his were in 8 games fewer than Tait, we also got 9 from Pritchard, and 8 from Chadwick in midfield and even 8 from centre back Roger Collins

In the cups we again reached the 3rd round of the FA Cup as wins over Corby (2-0), Padiham (1-0), Lincoln City (3-1) Grimsby (1-0) and Matlock (3-2) saw us into round 3, but a disappointing draw saw us take on Torquay and edge it with a late winner, round 4 again didn’t bring us the big name we craved as we travelled to Reading going down 1-0.

A good run in the FA Trophy though was a highlight as Matlock were defeated 3-2, Sutton Utd breezed past 2-0, Margate were hammered 3-0 before edging Ashton over two legs to set up a final against Carlisle where a spot kick win saw us lift our first cup.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 1st IN THE VANARAMA NORTH

FA CUP: 4th ROUND (Reading 1-0 Albion)

FA TROPHY: Winners (Carlisle 1-1p Albion)

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So on promotion to go, and little to no rebuilding needed, Taylor, Palmer and Ashby continued at the heart of the defence with Armstrong and Tait continued as the front pairing with little more than mid-table and a possible push toward the play-offs in the plan.

But things didn’t go to plan as we had an excellent start to the year with 10 wins in our opening 11 games, including beating the likes of AFC Wimbledon Bristol Rovers 2 wins in the next ten sent us tumbling back down the table as we became a bit of a draw specialist with half of them being a solitary point. Some of those were hard-fought too as a 1-1 at Lincoln was a struggle as was a 1-1 at Accrington.

The turn of the year we hoped would bring a revival in our fortunes but things weren’t looking great as we struggled to hold onto that final play-off spot. Four league defeats in five with disappointing defeats to Torquay and Bolton being hard to take but our early season form returned as only 2 defeats in the last 21 games of the season was enough for us to clinch 2nd in the table behind Bolton, into an unexpected play-offs we went as we only finished 2nd by 2 points as our 91 points wasn’t quite enough for another promotion. The play-offs were won though as despite a first leg defeat we managed turned it around in Extra time against Cheltenham to set up a play-off final against Woking and despite drawing 1-1 on the last day of the season we managed to edge this game and join the football league for the first time in our history.

Again it was Armstrong and Tait who got the goals as Tait bagged 27 goals in 40 appearances with Armstrong notching 21 in 46 leading the line Zeidan in midfield also notched 11 but Pritchard was more the creative centre midfielder. Even Stryjek scored twice as he took over Free kick duties but more on that later!

The cups we did ok again despatching Gresley in the 4th Qual round of the FA Cup before losing to Hartlepool in the first round proper in a replay after a 3-3 draw.

In the FA Trophy after defeating Braintree and Wrexham we were eliminated by Notts County in the 3rd Round.

FINAL LEAGUE POSITION: 2nd IN THE VANARAMA CONFERENCE

FA CUP: 1st ROUND (Hartlepool 2-1 Albion)

FA TROPHY: 3rd ROUND (Notts County 2-1 Albion)

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So that is the story about how my life got flip-turned upside down and I liked to take a minute and sit right there and tell you how I became…a football league club, after 8 years it may have look easy but it wasn’t we ran on a budget going for youth players over established expensive freebies the balance had to be brought up from £0 the squad and staff needed building from scratch but we made it, stage one was complete we had made the football league and started playing how I like my sides to play.

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