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.”
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!