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From Roker Roar to Stadium of Light – Carl Marston’s Travels with Town

PUBLISHED: 17:00 06 February 2020 | UPDATED: 17:57 06 February 2020

Marcus Stewart is kept at bay by the Sunderland defence during Town's FA Cup defeat in January, 2001. Picture: PAGEPIX

Marcus Stewart is kept at bay by the Sunderland defence during Town's FA Cup defeat in January, 2001. Picture: PAGEPIX

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Football writer Carl Marston has visited 120 Football League grounds, many of them reporting on Ipswich Town. Here he sheds light on Sunderland’s Stadium of Light

Herman Hreidarsson tries to force his way through the closed ranks of the Sunderland defence during Town's FA Cup defeat of 19 years ago. Picture: CARL MARSTONHerman Hreidarsson tries to force his way through the closed ranks of the Sunderland defence during Town's FA Cup defeat of 19 years ago. Picture: CARL MARSTON

Even today, 23 years on from the move to the Stadium of Light, there are Sunderland supporters who still mourn the demise of Roker Park.

Just as some older Derby County fans cherish those heady days at the old Basball Ground and, closer to home, some Colchester United supporters still prefer to dwell on the good old days at Layer Road, so a selection of Sunderland fans still wish that their club were playing their home games at Roker Park.

But time stands still for no man.

The Black Cats have been based at the Stadium of Light since 1997, an impressive football arena on the banks of the River Wear, and Ipswich Town fans have another chance to marvel at the delights of this mighty stadium on Saturday afternoon, while naturally enjoying an equally impressive away victory on the pitch.

Marcus Stewart gives the assistant referee a piece of his mind, during the FA Cup defeat at the Stadium of Light in January, 2001. Picture: PAGEPIXMarcus Stewart gives the assistant referee a piece of his mind, during the FA Cup defeat at the Stadium of Light in January, 2001. Picture: PAGEPIX

True, though, Roker Park was a 'mighty' place to play football, and to watch football, and the 'Roker Roar' was famed throughout the footballing world.

There is a lot of history locked up in this old home, and indeed in the history of the football club.

- The night Jimmy Bullard made his Town debut - Carl Marston's Travels with Town

Sunderland's Stadium of Light. Picture: PASunderland's Stadium of Light. Picture: PA

In fact, only five clubs have bettered Sunderland's excellent record of six top-flight titles, although three of these were achieved in the 19th century (1892, 1893 and 1895), and the other three were claimed pre-World War II (in 1902, 1913 and 1936).

And that's not forgetting the two FA Cup winning seasons of 1936-37 and 1972-73 (I am old enough to have watched the second one, live, though not the first one).

Roker Park was home to Sunderland FC from 1898 to 1997, but the club had little choice but to look for a new base when the implementation of the Taylor Report required all-seater stadiums in the top flight.

A bird's eye view of the Stadium of Light. Picture: PAA bird's eye view of the Stadium of Light. Picture: PA

Roker Park would have needed to be expanded, to accommodate all the seats, and that was not possible because the ground was basically hemmed in by residential streets.

Hence, the move to a new site, at Monkwearmouth, on the site of the old Monkwearmouth Colliery.

The coal mining heritage of the North-East is reflected in both the name of the stadium, and the Davy Lamp monument that stands at the entrance to the ground. .

And Town have never found Sunderland an easy place to get a result, either at the new ground or at the old Roker Park.

Seven of Town's nine visits to the Stadium of Light have ended in defeat, as did eight of their 16 trips to Roker.

A 'Wear-i-some' record.

The low-down

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- Club: Sunderland

- Founded: 1879 (141 years ago)

- Ground: Stadium of Light (since 1997)

- Town's first visit (to Sunderland): 2-0 away win on September 20, 1958

- Town's last visit: 2-0 away win on February 3, 2018

- Town's overall record (at Sunderland): P25 W7 D3 L15

Quirky facts

The Stadium of Light was officially opened by Prince Andrew, Duke of York, on July 30, 1997, but best not to dwell on that!

It is the ninth largest stadium in England, with a capacity of 49,000, just behind rivals Newcastle United, who are No. 8 in the rankings with just over 52,000.

The only five clubs to have won more First Division (top-flight) titles than Sunderland are Manchester United (20), Liverpool (18), Arsenal (13), Everton (9) and Aston Villa (7).

Manchester City and Chelsea, like Sunderland, have been crowned champions six times.

Town's visit

January 27, 2001: Sunderland 1 Ipswich Town 0 (FA Cup)

George Burley's Ipswich Town were going great guns at the time, having been promoted to the Premier League via the play-offs the previous season.

And they went on to have a terrific first season back in the top flight, eventually finishing in fifth spot after flirting with a top-three berth for much of the campaign.

Burley's boys finished just four points behind runners-up Arsenal.

However, their two visits to the Stadium of Light that season were low points, a 4-1 league defeat on New Year's Day, 2001, being followed by a 1-0 loss in an FA Cup fourth round tie later that month.

I remember it well.

Marcus Stewart, the Premier League's leading scorer at the time, was chomping at the bit, but he drew a blank on a frustrating afternoon.

Daniele Dichio bagged the winner with a 23rd minute header, from Don Hutchison's cross.

Still, as the band 'The Smiths' famously sung - 'There is a Light that never goes out!'

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