Sport in the North East 1700 to 1999


No evidence supports the belief that Romans introduced football to the region although some annual Shrove Tuesday games at Alnwick, Chester-le-Street and Sedgefield may have pre-Norman origins. Football is recorded as early as 1280 when a man was killed during a match near Morpeth, but organised football teams did not appear until the 1870s. Middlesbrough was formed by cricket players in 1876, Sunderland in 1879 and Newcastle United in 1892 by uniting Newcastle West End FC with Newcastle East End. Darlington formed in 1861 (re-formed 1883) and West Hartlepool of 1881 became Hartlepool United in 1908. In 1888 Sunderland and Middlesbrough were troubled by rival break-away teams called Sunderland Albion and Middlesbrough Ironopolis, both of which folded before the century was out.


Sunderland won the league championship three times in the 1890s under manager Tom Watson who later established Liverpool as a force. Sunderland peaked too early to benefit financially but Newcastle reaped rewards for successes in the first decade of the 1900s being champions three times and reaching the FA Cup Final three times before winning it at the fourth attempt in 1910.


From time to time amateur football sides like Bishop Auckland find fame and success through Cup runs, but the most extraordinary feat of any side was achieved by West Auckland FC in 1910. The team was invited to take part in a competition in Italy to compete for the soccer World Cup. West Auckland won the competition against some of Europe's biggest sides and defeated the mighty Juventus 2-0 in the final. West Auckland successfully defended the title the following year.


Sunderland's Alf Common became the world's first 1,000 player when he was signed by Middlesbrough in 1905. Other greats were Charlie Buchan, George Camsell and Hughie Gallacher. In the 1930s Wilf Mannion, Raich Carter and Bob Gurney shot to fame, the last two being joint top scorers for Division One in the 1935-36 season. Heroes after the Second World War included Joe Harvey, Jackie Milburn, Len Shackleton and Brian Clough while Newcastle's Malcolm Macdonald was a great name of the 1970s. Goalscorers a ttract fame, but goalkeeper Jim Montgomery's double save which helped Sunderland win the 1973 FA Cup Final is often remembered. Players of the 1980s and 1990s include local born internationals like Peter Beardsley, Paul Gascoigne, Chris Waddle and Alan Shearer.


Football is now the big spectator sport in the region but for much of the 19th Century it was rowing. There were many organised teams or schools, particularly on Tyneside. They competed against each other and against rowers from the Wear, Tees, Thames and Mersey. Rowing was extremely popular and attracted crowds of thousands and rowers like the keelman Harry Clasper were great celebrities. Rowing was also a great tradition in Durham City where an annual regatta was established in 1834 (before Henley Regatta) and has been held continuously ever since.


Early races were mentioned in 1613 at Woodham near Aycliffe and were held at Newcastle's Killingworth Moor from 1632 before moving to the Town Moor. The 'Pitmen's Derby' or Northumberland Plate was held from 1833 and moved to Gosforth in 1882. Georgian races were held at places like Barnard Castle, Bishop Auckland, Blaydon, Chester-le-Street, Darlington, Durham, Gateshead, Hebburn, Heighington, Lanchester, Ryton, Sedgefield, South Shields, Stockton, Sunderland, Tanfield, Whickham and Witton Gilbert. A 1740 Act banned smaller meetings but some meetings like Durham survived into the late 19th/early 20th Century.


Racing may have taken place at York since Roman times and York's Knavesmire has held races since at least 1731. Middleham claims to have trained horses since Henry VIII. Doncaster has held the St Leger race since 1776 and Catterick has held races since 1 783. Thirsk Race Course opened in 1855 and racing was recorded at Ripon as early as 1664. At Redcar, horse races were held on the beach until the present racecourse opened in 1872. The remains of a Georgian grandstand can be found at Richmond where a mee ting was once held.


The Blaydon Races, a popular musical hall song first sung by Geordie Ridley at Balmbra's Music Hall in Newcastle in 1862, gives an idea of some of the characters attending the old meetings. These races were held on an island in the middle of the Tyne and were last held on September 2, 1916. A riot broke out after the winning horse was disqualified and the event was discontinued.


Probably a Scottish import but it is said to have been played by St Cuthbert on the dunes of the Northumberland coast. The region's oldest club was Alnmouth founded in 1869 - the fourth oldest in the country and is now Alnmouth Village Club. Golf appeared in County Durham in 1874 at Seaton Carew while at Redcar, the Cleveland Golf Course of 1887 is the oldest in Yorkshire. Tyneside Golf Club at Ryton dates from 1880 but there may have been earlier courses in the region. During the Civil War, King Charles played 'Goff' in the fields near Newcastle during imprisonment in the town.


Cricket has long been a popular sport in the North-East and is said to date back to Elizabethan times. Yorkshire County Cricket Club was formed in 1863 and Durham County Cricket Club in 1882. After many years of success in the Minor Counties Championship, Durham joined Yorkshire in the senior counties championship in 1992.


Athletics is a sport of rising popularity since the success of North-East athletes like the Hebburn-born Brendan Foster in the 1970s and Jarrow-born Steve Cram in the 1980s. Both won international medals and broke world records in middle and long distance running. Brendan Foster established the annual Great North Run, one of the best known half marathons in which thousands of participants run from Newcastle to South Shields.