When The National in Abu Dhabi launched its weekend edition back in November, my colleagues on the sports desk asked people to contribute articles about the teams they supported and the sporting arenas that meant most to them. Easy stuff for the average Sunderland fan. Regulars at Salut! Sunderland will have seen the article, reproduced here, about being a supporter of SAFC. Here is what I had to say about my favourite stadium…
If I pick my way around a collection of nondescript modern houses called Midfield Drive, I can locate the spot where, year after year, I spent Saturday afternoons or weekday evenings cheering a Sunderland AFC victory or, as likely, reduced to misery by defeat.
I am not, of course, talking about the Stadium of Light, the bright, state-of-the-art stadium the club now call home, vastly superior as it may be to any other bright, state-of-the-art stadium I have seen.
Roker Park, where Sunderland played for one year short of a century, was the centre of my universe.
My part of the ground was slightly to the left of the halfway line in a standing enclosure known as the Clock Stand paddock. You had a good view of the entire pitch provided you were tall enough, though you were assured of a buffeting if there was a big crowd. I also got very wet, very cold and very dispirited there on many occasions.
But when things were good, the weather mattered little: an FA Cup replay against Man Utd in 1964 when gates were forced open by the weight of the crowds seeking entry; the ecstasy of promotion clinched in the last game of the season in 1980, and the overwhelming relief of a win to stave off relegation in 1995. By the end, in 1997, the stadium was a tattered, torn relic of a vanishing age, fit only for demolition. But if you ask me where I grew up, the answer is Roker Park all the same.