History surrounds you at Sunderland AFC. The walls of the Academy of Light and Stadium of Light are bedecked with old photographs, be it of successful teams of the past, or graduates of the youth set-up. Some carry quotes from the greats talking about what the 140-year-old institution and its fans mean to them.

A statue of Bob Stokoe, frozen in time celebrating one of the greatest FA Cup wins, stands outside the stadium. In reception, in pride of place amongst the various footballing mementos and miners’ banner, is a painting of a 4-4 draw with Aston Villa at Newcastle Road in 1895. It is the oldest in the world of a football match.

If you can come away from either of these modern buildings without the sense you have visited a historic football club, you must have spent the whole time blindfolded.

 

But just in case, on Thursday, the current squad received another reminder of the past with the visit of Jimmy Montgomery, the hometown goalkeeping hero when Stokoe’s Second Division team beat Leeds United in the 1973 FA Cup final, and Sunderland’s record appearance-maker.

History can hang heavy on some clubs. Of Sunderland’s six league titles five came before World War One, and the other, like the first of their two FA Cups, was also before World War Two. Even the last four digits of the ticket office phone number are 1973.

Manager Jack Ross, never mind his players, was not born the last time the Black Cats – or as they were then, the Rokerites – lifted a major trophy but that history is such a big part of what defines them as a big club. That sense of being part of something significant goes a long way to explaining why the away sections of Accrington Stanley’s Crown Ground will be so busy on Saturday.

Some managers would shirk from that history, worrying the ghosts of the past will haunt the players of the present. Most recent occupants of the Stadium of Light manager’s office have embraced or at least tolerated it, which is why the decor is so museum chic. Ross is inspired, not daunted.

“I see Jim a lot at home games,” he says of Montgomery. “I see him at various functions because of his role (he hosts stadium tours and former players). I have always given him that open invite to come (to training) whenever he wants. He mainly watches the goalkeepers, speaks with Craig (Samson, the goalkeeping coach), I think it is important you strike a balance between acknowledging the history and not harking back to it all the time but certainly those who’ve played a big part, you have to show respect for them.

“The depth of individual players’ knowledge of the history will probably vary but I think most of them will have a general awareness of who people are, especially those around the club on a regular basis. Most of the time you will find players do have a healthy respect for those who have achieved success in their careers because they recognise it’s not an easy thing to do. Winning silverware at any level is tough going and I think people who’ve played such a big part in the club’s folklore deserve that level of respect.”

Read More

Accrington vs Sunderland build up

History is something Ross is unafraid to use to inspire and attract players.

“We had opportunity to be the first team since 1973 to win at the national stadium (reaching last season’s Football League Trophy and League One play-off finals) and if anything it reminds those players that it’s an opportunity to make themselves part of the folklore of this club, not just by winning at Wembley but being successful this season,” he argues.

“When we pitch to bring players to the club there’s a lot about how we think we can make them better as players and how they can play a part in the progression we’re trying to make here as a club but there’s also the facilities we have here to help back that up, the fanbase and the history. You’re coming to a proper football club.

“Hopefully all these things come together in a perfect storm in terms of your ability to recruit players. It doesn’t always work but I would hope if there’s not a lot to differentiate between clubs from a financial point of view, that element helps attract players to the club.”

 

It takes a certain personality to embrace that. The references some Leeds fans gave Laurens De Bock when he completed a deadline-day loan to Sunderland this month were less than flattering but playing for a fallen giant like the club of Revie, Bremner and Charles is no bad dress rehearsal for the Stadium of Light. The Belgian, not match-fit enough to face Accrington, talked a good game when he said this week: “I think that’s why everybody plays football, to play in full stadiums and I think I play a little bit better when the pressure is there.”

It was a bonus when Ross went looking for a new left-back but not a requirement.

“He’s dealt with playing in big-pressure games in European football from his time in Belgium so you’d worry less about somebody like that coming in but it can’t always be like that,” Ross points out. “You look at the likes of (Luke) O’Nien and (George) Dobson who’ve come from very different backgrounds in terms of the club they’ve been at previously (Wycombe Wanderers and Walsall respectively) so you’ve just got to make sure that the ones who come in for very different reasons are able to deal with it.

“Being a good player is the starting point but having attributes that fit our financial parameters, the willingness to be part of what the club is trying to do and your character, temperament and ambition all come into it, there’s loads of different things. You’d love a player who ticks ten out of ten but that rarely happens, if you can get players who tick most of the boxes, that’s great.”