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August 16, 2022 5 min read

They both play in red and white stripes and play pivotal roles in their communities. Their biggest successes came before the modern era but they met in the Premier League for a decade between 2008 and 2017. This weekend, Stoke and Sunderland come up against each other once again, this time in the second tier of English football, for the first time in five seasons.

Both sides were in existence at the turn of the twentieth century. Stoke were one of the original 12 members of the Football League but lasted two seasons before Sunderland replaced them in the division. Using their proximity to Scotland, where players were familiar with the passing game which could outfox the English teams which lumped it long, Sunderland won the First Division three times inside five seasons. They did the double over the repromoted Stoke in 1891/92, 1892/93 and 1894/95, with scorelines including 4-1, 3-1, 4-0 and, in 1896, 5-0. 

After renewing their rivalry in the 1930s, including an 1932 FA Cup tie which went to a second replay, the teams were very familiar with each other by the 1960s, where they were in the exact position they find themselves six decades later. From 1958 to 1963 they met each other in the second tier and, in 1964/65, they were both decent enough to become First Division regulars for six seasons to 1970.

Stoke’s goalkeeper was the World Cup winner Gordon Banks, and key players included future Manchester United striker Jimmy Greenhoff and midfielder George Eastham, the man who had helped abolish the maximum wage after using freedom of contract to move from Newcastle to Arsenal.

Sunderland’s players would have been grateful to him even as they had trouble winning away from Roker Park, winning just once in 1968/69 and being relegated the following season after taking 13 games to win a game either home or away. It meant that three years later, with the side made up of lads who had come through their academy, they had the team spirit and luck to become the first second-tier side to win the FA Cup in 40 years. The Golden Anniversary of that win comes around next year, making this a season of celebration for Sunderland fans.

Both Sunderland and Stoke fell out of Division One in 1985. Stoke embarrassed themselves, with no away wins, six away goals and only 17 points; this made Sunderland’s 40 points look impressive by comparison even though they could only manage 40 goals themselves. The talent in the Mackem ranks included Chris Turner, Barry Venison, Gary Bennett and Clive Walker, who all played in the 1985 League Cup final against Norwich, which they lost 1-0.

Stoke beat Manchester United for their only league win between September 1984 and March 1985. After a victory against Arsenal, they lost their final 10 league games including, sadly, a 5-0 pasting at Old Trafford. Defender Steve Bould would eventually move to Arsenal and England international Mark Chamberlain went to Sheffield Wednesday. The Potters were condemned to the second tier for over two decades. 



As Stoke struggled, Sunderland regrouped and, with goals from Marco Gabbiadini, went back up to the top tier in 1990. They tumbled back down in 1991 and reacquainted themselves with Stoke in 1993 in the renamed Division 1. Then came another promotion and relegation for the Mackems. In 1998, a Sunderland side containing Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn put three goals past Neville Southall but the season ended at Wembley in a famous play-off final against Charlton Athletic.

That season, conversely, Stoke went down along with Manchester City and Reading, meaning that their first season at the Britannia Stadium was played in the third tier. Regulars included goalkeeper Carl Muggleton, defender Bryan Small and Australian midfielder David Oldfield, names which would pale in comparison with those who represented the Potters in the Premier League.

After 25 years of purgatory, Stoke played in the top tier again in 2008. They beat their foes from Sunderland with a team of international players: Irishman Rory Delap, Danish goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and goalscorer Ricardo Fuller from Jamaica. The opposition line-up included Scotsman Phil Bardsley, showing the link with the Sunderland side which had won the league in the 1890s, but also French striker Djibril Cissé and Trinidad & Tobago, with the pair of Kenwyne Jones and Dwight Yorke.

Manchester United youth graduates Ryan Shawcross and Kieran Richardson played against one another, as did Senegalese team-mates Salif Diao and El Hadji Diouf. It was a time for clubs like Stoke and Sunderland to pick up players whose services weren’t required by clubs like Liverpool, who had signed the Senegal internationals in 2002. For the next decade, aided by smart managerial appointments and burnished by TV money, both clubs survived season after season in the Premier League, often playing out close games.

In 2011, Sunderland went 3-0 up after half an hour in a match which finished 4-0 at the Stadium of Light. Richardson had by now been joined by Wes Brown and John O’Shea, while Arsenal had washed their hands of Nicklas Bendtner. Simon Mignolet did so well as a Mackem that he became a Liverpool player in 2013, while his opposite number Asmir Begovic replaced Petr Cech at Chelsea in 2015. He left a Stoke side which had former Tottenham, Arsenal and Real Madrid players in Peter Crouch, Jonathan Woodgate and Jermaine Pennant respectively. Through it all, Rory Delap was still there lobbing his long throws towards the head of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross.



This week, the clubs prepare to meet for the first time since Sunderland suffered a double relegation in 2017 and 2018, taking four years to return to the Championship, into which Stoke had fallen in 2018. Stoke’s defence contains the solid English pair of Aden Flint and Ben Wilmot, with the experienced Phil Jagielka in reserve. Dwight Gayle will offer Championship expertise upfront, while Lewis Baker has something to prove after deciding not to rot away in Chelsea’s reserves or go out on loan for a tenth time. He joins Nick Powell, the prodigy who joined Manchester United as a teenager, and Shaun Wright-Phillips’ son D’Margio. Perhaps grandpa Ian Wright will be at the Britannia this weekend.  

Regardless, it is still early in this World Cup-interrupted season. Fans of both clubs can charge their glasses to their team courtesy of Bohemian Brands. Stoke supporters have two bottles of vodka and one of gin available for them, all branded with a club crest. Given that both clubs play in red and white, the Strawberry and Rhubarb vodka is available for both sets of fans, who must make sure that they grab the correct bottle with the right crest.