• Keith Gregson

Happy Birthday, Dear Ashbrooke

Updated: May 15, 2019

May 30th 2019 sees the 132nd birthday of the club now known as Ashbrooke Sports Club. On May 30th 1887 the then Sunderland Cricket and Football Club celebrated the opening of its new ground as the two clubs (founded in 1834 and 1873) joined forces thus forging a combination which is still in force today. The opening was celebrated with a sports’ day – something which had already been something of an annual event for the two combined yet officially separate clubs for a number of years. A magnificent photograph of the event, taken from behind the point where the tennis hut stands today, has survived as has the Echo’s account of our ground’s first ever sporting event;

‘The new ground at Ashbrooke was opened yesterday when the annual sports of the Sunderland Cricket and Football Club were inaugurated. The attendance, notwithstanding the threatening state of the weather, during the morning and afternoon, was very large; in fact so great was the crowd waiting for admission to the sixpenny ground that it was three o clock before the last of them were admitted’.
The Opening Day of the Ashbrooke Sports Ground, 30th May 1887

According to a York newspaper the attendance was in the region of 6–7,000 – about the size of the biggest crowds which turned out for the November Fireworks in more recent times. The picture is worthy of close examination – for example can anybody spot a spectator who is not wearing some form of headgear? Note also where the pavilion stood then as well as the remains of the fireworks display just outside what is now the pavilion entrance. It is also possible to see some of the Victorian houses in Tunstall Vale which were later to be destroyed in the Second World War. Both the running track and tennis courts are clearly visible.

A programme from the Whit Sports Festival

The annual Whitsuntide Sports were to continue well into the 20 th century and formed a vital part of the funding of the new club. A huge book containing all the handwritten detail of these annual sports has survived with lists of entrants and prizes and copies of adverts used for each event. I have done a great deal of research on these sports and have a folder full of information on them.

A list of the Whit Sport Competitors

The survival of this record has created great interest in the world of academic sporting history and allowed me to collaborate with leading sports historian Professor Mike Huggins to produce an article for the International Journal of the History of Sport in 2014. The reference for anyone who might like to follow this up is Ashbrooke Whit Sports, Sunderland and its records;

A case study of Amateurism in Late Victorian and Edwardian Athletic and Cycling Competition (IJHS, vol.31 number 9 May 2014 pp 994 -2012)

Get in touch if you would like to look at the folder mentioned above or, indeed, the original record. Most of the competitors were local and there may be an ancestor or two in there.

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