In the first of a series looking back at some of England’s most iconic former footballing homes, we remember the ‘Roker roar’ at Sunderland’s old ground Roker Park.
Roker Park and Sunderland AFC will be forever etched in the history of the north-east city due to the many ups and downs the venue witnessed in its 99-year existence.
First built in 1897, 18 years after the foundation of the club – under the moniker Sunderland and District Teachers – Roker Park was to be, and still is the longest-lasting home the Black Cats have ever had.
The formative years of the club consisted of many more homes before moving to the Roker ground however.
Their first home was in Hendon, an area in the south-east of the city, where they played in The Blue Field House.
In 1882 the club moved for a short period to Groves Field in the Ashbrooke area before moving onto Horatio Street in Roker. After another short stay there, Sunderland relocated again to Abbs Field in Fulwell.
Newcastle Road then became the home of the Black Cats. This ground’s significance comes from the fact that it was the club’s home when they first joined the football league in 1890.
Charles Napier Hemy’s painting of Sunderland in a game against Aston Villa, which hangs in the main reception of Sunderland’s current home the Stadium of Light, was the world’s first painting of a football match and was depicted from a game at the Newcastle Road venue.
The eventual move back to Roker came following Sunderland’s stay at Newcastle Road. The most substantial chunk of Sunderland’s 136-year history forms around this home.
It was the club’s base for three First Division titles in the early 1900s as well the club’s only two FA Cup wins in 1937 and 1973.
Roker Park was gradually improved throughout the 20th century with developments to stands, as well as the introduction of floodlights and an under-pitch sprinkler system.
The record attendance for a Sunderland game was also in Roker Park, when 75,200 fans turned out for a 6th round replay against Derby County in March 1933.
One of the stadium’s most celebrated periods is when the World Cup came to England in 1966. Roker Park was to be one of just seven venues around the country selected. Eventual third-placed country the Soviet Union won two of their group games in Roker Park to top Group Four ahead of North Korea, Italy and Chile.
Although the early years at Roker coincided with some of the club’s most successful periods, the latter seasons there were plagued by poor performances, as the club were relegated to the third tier of English football in 1987.
Roker Park was to witness Premier League football in the 1996-97 season however, before it finally made way for a new stadium.
Although that season saw relegation straight back to the then-First Division, the real loss that year was one of English football’s most history-laden grounds, as Sunderland left Roker Park after 99 years.
The housing estate which replaced the iconic ground remembers the footballing history that came before it with street names such as Goalmouth Close, Midfield Drive, Turnstile Close, Turnstile Mews and Promotion Close.
Today’s home to Sunderland is the 49,000-seater Stadium of Light. The history of the sides which called Roker home are remembered there now too, with a statue of the Black Cats’ 1973 FA Cup winning manager Bob Stokoe at the ground’s south-east corner.
The ‘Roker Roar’ is now no more but it is remembered fondly by fans, players and mangers who frequented the ground up until the late nineties.
Rob Lyons, Pundit Arena
Featured image By HomesOfFootball (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons