Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Gone But Not Forgotten - Roker Park

Here's the second in our Gone But Not Forgotten series where we look back at football grounds that are no longer with us. This time we wind our way down Memory Lane to Roker Park with Charlotte Henderson, who also writes for Arsenal View. You can follow her on twitter @lottiehenderson


Roker
Park
was the home of my beloved Sunderland AFC.  I only got the privilege of visiting the stadium twice as a very young girl and my first time in the Roker End changed my life completely.  If only I knew then that I would suffer such amazing highs and so many heartaches by supporting Sunderland would I still have gone? You bet your bottom dollar I would.

Roker Park saw its first game 1898 and closed its gates in 1997 as the club moved to the all-seater Stadium of Light.  While Roker Park wasn’t the type of high-class stadium that is built these days, it was a place that had character, magic and of course the famous Roker Roar.

It was graced by the likes Bobby Kerr, who lead us to victory in the 1973 FA Cup final; Bobby Gurney, Gary Rowell and the players I grew up with like Paul Bracewell, Gary Bennett and one of my heroes Kevin Ball and of course how could any Sunderland supporter forget Bob Stokoe whose statue stands outside the team’s new home?  I salute him every time I pass it.

Back in the day

Roker Park had a capacity of over 60,000 after years of work and upgrades but on some games would hold 75,000 (and on one famous Wednesday afternoon 75,118 watched a match against Derby County.  There were stands like the Fulwell End, which is still mentioned in songs sung by a certain club up the road, and the famous Clock Stand that was there from the very beginning (the street built there now is called the Clock Stand Close).
Roker Park was also the second ground to have floodlights installed (what would we do now without flood lights?) and not a lot of people know, but it was one of the first choices as a stadium for the 1966 World Cup and staged a quarter final.

And of course there is the famous Roker Roar - you can guess where that came from.  There’s a story, possibly mythical, that after the replay with Man City during the glorious 1973 Cup run that BBC technicians were sent back to look for microphones as they were convinced it was too loud.  Now that’s saying something

I have so many fond memories of the few times I was there and from stories I have heard, walking towards Roker Park and feeling the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and shivers down my spine, the sense of pride as you watch everyone singing and cheering as they make their way there.

Of all the games I have been to, I have never experienced atmosphere like it including derby day at the Stadium of Light (and anyone who has experienced a Tyne-Wear derby will tell you - that is an atmosphere) and a trip to the San Siro.  In those days, everyone was up on their feet - you almost felt like you were swaying, feeling everyone dive forward when there was a goal or in reaction to tackles or shots missed.  It seemed scary to a small girl but was it was also a terrific buzz.

Back to the future

The chanting was so loud you could hear and see every single person from the old men who had gone for years to the young boys at their first games.  Everyone knew the words and if they didn’t they soon learned them.  Maybe it was because it was terraced that it had such an amazing atmosphere or because we also didn’t have so many televised matches or maybe its just Sunderland supporters in general.

One thing I will say, and every Sunderland supporter I know agrees, is that Roker Park had soul, it had character and it holds so many and such different memories for each one of us.  If it wasn’t for Roker Park I don’t think I would have the passion and pride that I have for my club and football in general.

Now we take our memories and carry the Roker Roar on to the Stadium of Light where new dreams and memories are made!

Last Gone But Not Forgotten: Vetch Field, Swansea

1 comment:

Rob Goodfellow said...

Great article, brings back memories and you are right the roar that night V Man City in 73 was best I have ever experienced, I was a Roker ender, who progressed to the Fulwell, and later a seat in the Upper Enclosure just under the main stand, did go in the clock stand as well, a great old ground, something you missed was when we qualified after winning the FA Cup we had to get the floodlights all upgraded for colour tv and to European standards, like the blogs, well done Charlotte.