Roker Park and me: I’m still standing

Roker4

Far away, across the Atlantic, Jeremy Robson maintains unwavering support for Sunderland. And he appreciates the Stadium of Light as much as most of our fans. But his heart lies a few streets away. And where Roker Park once stood, Jeremy refuses to venture…

It’s almost 12 years since we left Roker Park.

To this day I’ve never returned to the old site. I remember standing gazing around the wonderful old stadium for as long as the stewards would let us after the Everton game, in a feeble attempt to take in the magnitude of those last few moments in the place where we’d all spent so much of our lives, and where history was written, where reputations were won and lost, but most of all a place where millions of memories were generated amongst countless thousands of us. All different, all shared and yet all unique.

OK, there was the Liverpool game coming up which I had no intention of going to. No point to that at all, I’d decided without hesitation when the fixture was announced.


“They’re going to be selling stuff off from Roker,” people would say. “What are you going to get? Some seats, some turf?”

“Nowt!” I’d found myself replying stiffly. “I’m not buying anything.”

Roker1

Most people that I had this conversation found themselves unsure of what to say next. They didn’t get it.

If I’d been going to purchase any memento from RP then it would have been “the barrier”.

I say “the barrier” because I refer to one barrier – the one we stood behind in the Clock Stand Paddock. A barrier from the Fulwell or Roker ends would have been useless because that was someone else’s barrier. It would have been legalised theft to hand over money for someone else’s heritage. That was someone else’s history. I’d have been stricken with less guilt for sacking a pharaoh’s tomb.

If I’m going to be truthful, then what I’ve admitted thus far is little more than a pitiful excuse. The simple reason that I didn’t want to buy anything was because it would be evidence you see. It would be agonising, incontrovertible and life long reminder that Roker Park no longer exists.

I mentioned at the beginning that I have never visited the site of Roker Park.

While I’m in confession mode, I really should admit that I have refused to go. This refusal remains steadfast and unrelenting. I take circuitous routes around Roker to avoid being confronted with the stark reality that Roker Park no longer stands in her rightful place.

This refusal is born of fear and dread. Fear that the image of the housing estate which has been built on the site of Roker Park will obliterate all memory of the grand old ground.

If I see it’s not there then I will no longer be able to visualise it as it then was.

I still park very close, in the same streets, that I used to park when visiting Roker. Strangely, this takes me as close as I dare venture without actually seeing what it is that I so desperately don’t want to avoid. It’s probably like a reformed alcoholic tempting himself by keeping a bottle of the hard stuff in the kitchen cupboard, just to prove that he doesn’t need it.

You are probably thinking that eventually I will submit to some strange form of curiosity and give in. Well, you’d be wrong, or at least I think that you would.

I drive as close as I dare because in my head Roker Park is still there. I’m just not allowed to go and see her. If I venture further my self deception will be revealed for the foolishness that it really is.

Moving to the new ground was of course exciting. However, I must confess that visiting the Stadium of Light reminds me of when my favourite uncle went into an old folks’ home. Clean, modern, and functional. Pleasant almost, were it not for the sad inevitability that you can’t turn back the clock and make things the way you always knew them and wanted them to stay.

It was far better when George was in his own home in South Hetton, surrounded by this nic nacs of his life. The death of a much beloved uncle and the end of an epoch that was the closure and demolition of Roker Park all happened within the space of a week. I hadn’t previously seen them so inextricably linked until now.

Over the course of the last 12 years I’ve failed to find anyone else who has refused to visit to the site of the old ground. The only exception is Darren Anderson who was with me at that final game against Everton. To the best of my knowledge, we are the only two people who have remain locked in this bizarre pact of self deception. If either of us ever decided to go back down there, I suppose it will be a joint venture.

Wondering if the two of us stand alone with this nonsense I was prompted to search for others on the Blackcats list.

Others who have engaged in this hitherto discreet avoidance have so far failed to surface. The next best thing I suppose is someone turning up there by accident.

Mark, late night reveller that he is, Mark commented: “I’ve only ever been past it once when a late-night/early morning cab back to La Fontaine drove past what used to be the Roker End.”

Presumed drunkenness and an understandable reluctance to pay the extra taxi fare by taking an alternative route is forgivable. This posting further encouraged my belief that the stadium is still standing as Mark made no reference to a “housing estate which allegedly now sits on the former Roker site!”

“A sad reflection on my life is that was the only game I ever went to at Roker. Leaving Sunderland at 11 and not coming from a family that went to games, I had no opportunity to go to RP,” reported Gerry who, despite growing up in Scotland and living away from the North East, retained a staunch allegiance to SAFC.

Some other wonderful personal anecdotes have appeared. Mick from Chester-le-Street, offered what turned out to be a harrowing account of his family’s day out at the soon to be demolished ground.

Mick, (together with his wife Linda, and baby son), decided to become film makers for the day.

In Mick’s own words:

“I walked around the ground filming the streets and the entrances and sneaked inside to film the terraces and pitch just before the wreckers started pulling it down. I stood outside the main entrance wearing my red and white shirt and cradling the baby in my arms doing a piece to camera (held by my wife) about how the backdrop was the past and he was the future of SAFC.

“Then, as we stopped filming, I turned around with him still in my arms and tripped over an unseen low wall and went head first, spilling him out onto the concrete of the players car park. He bounced a couple of times and rolled over as my wife screamed, my elbows bled and the pretentious artistic composure fell right out of my arse.”

Fortunately, the little one was OK after being thoroughly checked over in the A&E department at Sunderland General. Mick went on to say that it should have been his head that was looked at and not the baby’s.

Mick and Linda have been friends of mine for over 20 years, so that provides sufficient licence to agree with him most emphatically on this issue. Recalling those events from May, 1997, I’m sure Linda does too.

A less emotional recollection came from Ian who reminded us: “Don’t forget the home made cakes in the church hall next to the New Derby!” Ian you are ever the pragmatist.

It was interesting to note the comments of Tony Adams, prior to his return to Arsenal, during his brief reign as Portsmouth manager who said “It’s not my stadium, but they’re my people.”

This was an interesting comment, because the first thing he mentioned is the stadium. Even before the fans. The stadium is far more than just bricks and mortar. It’s the fabric of the club that glues everything else together. Players come and go, new generations of fans are born, like Mick’s son and many more. Managers, chairmen and members of the board all come and go. It isn’t the case any more, but a club’s stadium was the single edifice that remained constant. The rest is just dust in the wind. Even Roker!
Roker2

Share this post

11 thoughts on “Roker Park and me: I’m still standing”

  1. I’m visiting the Stadium of Light on saturday to see Hull City (my first team). I followed Sunderland whilst at the poly, 1977-80. My last match was against Liverpool in 1980, the day after I graduated. We’re spending the night by the sea and out of respect for your history I’ll avoid Roker Park on our trip to and from the Stadium of Light.

  2. I feel like I’ve found a soul brother in Geoff through this piece, even though I think we’ve never met.(It wouldn’t be the first time to be proven wrong on that account however!). I suspect that I’m just as fearful as you are Geoff; truth be told. The Man Utd game will be another strange farewell to the SOL for a while as I won’t get to another home game for the foreseeable future. Last one for the bairns for a while too. I doubt if it will have the same effect at the Everton finale at Roker though. At least the SOL will still be standing when we eventually return!

  3. Yes it was the Birmingham game, Colin. We drove down Roker Baths Road (where were the Baths?) and had a little sniffle as we thought of all those days stood in the old ground. Then we went off to Durham, got p***** in The Dun Cow and ended up in the Irish pub with the team. We tried to hold a conversation with Chris Makin, watched Alex Rae get the drinks in as he was on the wagon and missed the fight between two of the wives.I still drive past occasionally – and The Roker Pie Shop is still standing!

  4. A beautiful, evocative piece, Jeremy. Like lots of fans, I remember trying out different parts of the ground. First games were in the Roker End – I can still hear a man nearby shoutinng “He’ll do for us!” during the first half of George Mulhall’s home debut in 1962 (3-1 v Luton). Then it was the Fulwell, or were our season tickets in the Main Stand Paddock before that, Pete (Sixsmith)? Clock Stand Paddock with Pete & Co came much later, after I’d moved down south, but I definitely stood there on occasions (including the famous Man Utd cup replay when we were somehow just swept in after the ground was supposed to be full). And more than that. When I think of the Tanner a Bag peanuts man, it’s from there, in the CSP towards the Fulwell end, that I see him in my mind.
    I did have one season (the last one at Roker) in the Fulwell with a shared season ticket, via the London branch of the SAFCSA, but think overall the paddocks, and especially the CSP, hold the strongest memories, good and bad.
    I neither make a point of going anywhere near the old place, nor of avoiding it. Pete will remember this, though: was it after the home win v Birmingham, at the end of the fabulous 98/99 promotion season, that you stopped the car in Midfield Drive for a quick chant or two?

  5. Bloody hell Jeremy, i thought I’d written the article myself. I had no idea people thought the same as me. I have always refused to go back to the site. If I’m driving along Fulwell Road or
    Sea Road, I keep my eyes fixed firmly on the road ahead. I never let them stray to the side. I used to go to the match along Bright Street, from where you could hear the crowd and catch a glimpse of floodlight. I don’t go anywhere near there now. For much the same reason as you but with a little bit more. I’m scared that if I see what’s there now, my memories of Roker Park, the vision as you came round the corner by the pie shop, would be wiped away for ever. And I would never be able to remember what the old ground looked like. (I wrote something to that effect a couple of years ago on Into The light, a forum you might know, although perhaps not as articulately as you.) It may not be mature, but it’s how I choose to live my life.

  6. I seem to recall the green monkey disease remark, or you or Pete H have told me the story. Laugh! I thought my pants would never dry!
    I love the idea of ‘a Scotsman who wasn’t’ btw.
    I’m off to look up green monkey disease now!
    I can quash any concerns that Bill might have about the possibility of Sutcliffe being let out. He’s in there for the rest of his natural.
    The thought of Shaun ‘The Cod’ Cunnington has my blood run cold.
    Several years ago I was with my mate Darren referred to in the above article and we went to Bourne in Lincolnshire to see a car that he was interested in. Realising that we were in Shaun’s birthplace, a conversation soon started about him, which was overheard by the salesman who promptly told us that he’d recently sold a car to Cunnington’s uncle. ‘Was he a good player Shaun then,’ asked the salesman.
    ‘Ehr, no he was a cod’ we both replied. Salesman knew not what to say, and Darren didn’t buy the car either.

  7. Ray did look a bit like Peter Sutcliffe, but I loved him for his quick wit – almost as good as Jeremy’s. My mate Colin Hurworth called him “The Scotsman who isn’t” because he wore a tam o’ shanter and looked Scottish but he spoke with a Seaham/ Easington accent.
    He would disappear every so often, presumably to work offshore, but we thought he had probably cut someone’s throat with his incredibbly sharp beard.
    He had a vicious turn of phrase. He once likened Mel Holden (who was having a stinker) to Green Monkey disease and I remember him plonking himself in front of a young couple one night who had been stood on the back step of the CSP for an hour. They objected to this and he said to them in an entirely calm and fair way “It’s not the f****** pictures ya knaa. Ya pays your money and you takes your choice”.
    He also threatened the man with the radio who kept shouting out the scores of games that nobody was interested in. “If ah wanted ta knaa how f******* Shrewsbury wer gannin on aahd’ve stayed in and watched f******* Grandstand”. The radio never appeared
    again.
    Of course, Jeremy had his moments. His admiration of Shaun Cunnington knew no bounds and every time he misplaced a pass or mistimed a tackl, he was compared to a cod – and not a very good one at that.

  8. I guess you take what you can get, Jeremy. And didn’t Danny have the dubious distinction (stop this alliteration, Bill!) of not only scoring FC’s first goal but also getting FC’s first red card? In the same game. That’s nothing if not colourful.
    Isn’t there a serious move afoot to release Peter Suttcliffe from jail? Perhaps he’ll find his way to the Stadium of Light. Watch out for a guy in a crash helmet.

  9. No disrespect Bill, but I had enough of Danny the DJ and Carl Robinson when we had them!
    Pete, the bloke with the crash helmet. Are you thinking about the lad who looked like Peter Suttcliffe?

  10. We do our best, though, Pete. Toronto FC (colours: red and white) play Major League Soccer, as it’s called, in a purpose-built, 20,000-capacity stadium. Small but the atmosphere is unbelievable. We have far and away the most enthusiastic fans in North America. And some very entertaining football to watch.

  11. Great stuff Jeremy. I occassionally go past the site and I always get a lump in my throat as I think of all the good days (and some grim ones) – Kevin Arnott scoring against West Ham, Marco leaving Sergei Baltatcha on his a***, Dennis Tueart skipping down the wing and the noise at the Manchester City replay. Another thing is the camaredarie – do you remember the man with the crash helmet, the man with the radio and Big Ray with the beard and the necklace made out of rivets.
    The Stadium is impressive and can generate an atmosphere, but nothing like the Man City and Chelsea replays or that night we beat West Ham to go up. Nothing like it in Canada, mate.

Comments are closed.

Next Post