Roker Park

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Roker Park
Roker Park August 1976.jpg
Kick-off at Sunderland v. Arsenal, August 1976
Roker Park
Location Sunderland, England
Owner Sunderland A.F.C.
Capacity 22,500
Record attendance: 75,118
Surface Grass
Architect Archibald Leitch
Sunderland A.F.C. (1898–1997)

Roker Park was an English football stadium situated in Roker, Sunderland. The stadium was the seventh home of the English football club Sunderland A.F.C. from 1898 to 1997 before the club moved to the Stadium of Light. Near the end of the stadium's history, its capacity was around 22,500 with only a small part of the stadium being seated. The stadium's capacity had been higher in previous years, attracting a record crowd of 75,118. [1]



Roker Park (top left) pictured from above in 1967 Wearmouth Bridge to the Sea 2nd March 1967.jpg
Roker Park (top left) pictured from above in 1967

In the 1890s, the then Sunderland chairman and his brother decided to build a bigger ground for the club, to replace what was then the club's current ground at Newcastle Road. The club had negotiated to buy farmland that belonged to a Mr. Tennant and part of the agreement was that Sunderland would have to build a house on the site as well as their new stadium. Until this house was built, Sunderland still had to pay rent on the land.

Within a year of the land being bought, Roker Park had been built, with the wooden stands only taking three months to build. The Clock Stand had 32 steps, no seats and a crush barrier for safety. The turf was brought from Ireland, and lasted for 38 years. The pitch was designed to have a slight drop of about one foot from the centre of the pitch to each corner to help with drainage. The first event at the ground was an "Olympic Games and Band Contest" on 12 August 1898. On 10 September 1898 Roker Park was officially opened by Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 6th Marquess of Londonderry. The first match was a friendly against Liverpool which Sunderland won 1–0, with Jim Leslie scoring the stadium's first ever goal. [2]

The Roker End was concreted in 1912, and by 1913 the capacity had risen to 50,000. In 1929 the old wooden grandstand was demolished and replaced by a new Main Stand, which was designed by Archibald Leitch, whose influence, the criss-cross lattice work, can still be seen at Ibrox (Rangers), Home Park (Plymouth Argyle) and Goodison Park (Everton). Fragments of the iconic lattice work would later be used to separate parts of the car park at the Stadium of Light. The work on the new Main Stand nearly bankrupted the club. By this time the official capacity of Roker Park was 60,000 but at some matches they would have crowds as large as 75,000. More work continued in the 1930s and in 1936 the Clock Stand was rebuilt. The 114 m (375 ft) long structure was officially opened by Lady Raine, whose husband was Sir Walter Raine, the Chairman of Sunderland AFC at the time.

Fragments of the Archibald Leitch lattice work from the Main Stand now form part of the car park at the Stadium of Light. Leitch lattice work stadium of light.jpg
Fragments of the Archibald Leitch lattice work from the Main Stand now form part of the car park at the Stadium of Light.

In 1943, during the Second World War, a bomb landed in the middle of the pitch and another nearby killed a policeman. [3] In 1952, Roker Park was fitted with floodlights, being only the second ground in the country to do so after Arsenal's Highbury stadium. The lights were only a temporary addition, and were replaced by permanent structures at the end of the season after proving to be a success. When England hosted the 1966 World Cup, improvements were made to the Clock Stand, involving the addition of seats, and a roof over the Fulwell End. Temporary seating was also installed in the Fulwell End. The capacity of Roker Park during the World Cup was 40,310.

In 1955, Roker Park hosted an FA Cup Semi-Final replay, between (eventual winners) Newcastle United and York City, who were then in the third tier of English Football. Newcastle won the game 2–0 in front of a crowd of 55,239. [4] Sunderland were in the other semi-final, but lost out 1–0 to Aston Villa.

During the 1970s, there were even more improvements to Roker Park. These improvements included installing underground sprinklers, upgrading the floodlights to European Standard Lux Value, installing electronic crowd monitoring systems, and re-sheeting the roof. In the 1980s, with a downturn in the club's fortunes (which included a season in the Football League Third Division), Roker Park started to decline. The capacity was severely reduced following the report in the Hillsborough Disaster of 1989, with the Roker End suffering the most.

In the early 1990s, new Football Association (FA) rules following the publication of the Taylor Report meant the stadium would have to have been upgraded to all-seater status, which would have consisted of a much smaller capacity than the sort of attendances that Sunderland could expect, as they had played in the penultimate First Division campaign (1990–91 season) before the creation of the Premier League and were aiming for a swift return to the top flight (although promotion was ultimately not achieved until the 1995–96 season). The site was too confined for expansion [5] so chairman Bob Murray decided to look for a site for a new stadium. In 1992, plans were unveiled to build a 48,000-seat stadium near the Nissan car factory in Washington, which would be part of a mega leisure complex, but Nissan objected to such a site being developed near their factory. Instead, five years later in 1997, Sunderland moved to the Stadium of Light, in nearby Monkwearmouth, on the site of the closed Monkwearmouth Colliery.

The 1996–97 season was the last at Roker Park, which was also Sunderland's first ever season in the Premier League, ending in relegation for the club. [6] The last competitive match at the ground was a 3–0 victory over Everton.

Roker Park was also one of the most recent venues in the Premier League to feature standing accommodation. The only team to have had standing accommodation at its stadium since was Fulham, who still had terracing at Craven Cottage for one season after winning promotion in 2001, after which they ground-shared with QPR at Loftus Road for two seasons before returning to an all-seater Craven Cottage.

In a special ceremony after the final farewell game (coincidentally, also a 1–0 win against Liverpool in which Sunderland midfielder John Mullin scored the stadium's final goal at the Fulwell End) Charlie Hurley (voted the club's Player of the Century) dug up the centre spot of the ground for it to be planted at the new stadium. Following the move to the Stadium of Light, Roker Park was demolished and in its place was built a housing estate. To commemorate Roker Park, the streets were named Promotion Close, Clockstand Close, Goalmouth Close, Midfield Drive, Turnstile Mews and Roker Park Close. [7]

Fan reactions to the move

Following the demolition of Roker Park, playwright Tom Kelly and actor Paul Dunn created a one-man play called I Left My Heart at Roker Park about a fan struggling with the move and what Roker Park meant for him; the play had its first run in 1997, and has been revived since. [8] [9] [10] [11]

Actor and Sunderland supporter Peter O'Toole described Roker Park as his connection to the club, saying that as a result of the change of grounds he was less of a fan. [12] [13]

In 1998, the BBC broadcast a six-part documentary named Premier Passions , which included a chronicle of Sunderland A.F.C. during the 1996–97 season, in which the club was relegated from the Premier League the year after winning promotion from the Football League First Division, and moved to the Stadium of Light. [14] [15]

International matches

Roker Park hosted the first of three full England internationals in 1899; a 13–2 victory over Ireland in the 1898–99 British Home Championship - the highest scoring game in the history of the tournament. Further Home Championship games were played at Roker Park in 1920 (v. Ireland) and 1950 (v. Wales), England winning both games. Three England B games were played at the ground, in 1954, 1980 and 1990. Roker Park also hosted four youth internationals - England U23 games in 1959 and 1970, and England U18 games in 1952 and 1956. The 1970 England U23 game against Scotland was abandoned due to snow after 60 minutes with England leading 3–1.

During the 1966 FIFA World Cup, Roker Park hosted three group stage games in Group 4, along with Ayresome Park and a Quarter Final game between the Soviet Union and Hungary. The biggest World Cup attendance at the ground was 27,793 for the group stage game between the Soviet Union and Italy.

List of full and B-level Internationals

18 February 1899 (1899-02-18) 1899 British Home Championship England  Flag of England.svg13-2Saint Patrick's Saltire.svg  Ireland Sunderland
  • Joe McAllen Soccerball shade.svg 65' (pen.)
  • James Campbell Soccerball shade.svg 88'
Stadium: Roker Park
Attendance: 13,000
Referee: Alexander Hamilton Flag of Scotland.svg
23 July 1920 (1920-19-23) 1920–21 British Home Championship England  Flag of England.svg2–0Saint Patrick's Saltire.svg  Ireland Sunderland
 Stadium: Roker Park
Attendance: 22,000
Referee: Alexander A. Jackson Flag of Scotland.svg
15 November 1950 (1950-11-15) 1950–51 British Home Championship England  Flag of England.svg4-2Flag of Wales (1959-present).svg  Wales Sunderland
Stadium: Roker Park
Attendance: 55,139
Referee: John Mowatt Flag of Scotland.svg
3 March 1954 (1954-03-03)Friendly England B Flag of England.svg 1-1 Flag of Scotland.svg Scotland B Sunderland
  • Hooper Soccerball shade.svg
  • Cumming Soccerball shade.svg
Stadium: Roker Park
Attendance: 21,048
13 July 1966 (1966-07-13) 1966 World Cup - Group 4 Italy  Flag of Italy.svg2-0Flag of Chile.svg  Chile Sunderland
19:30 BST Stadium: Roker Park
Attendance: 27,199
Referee: Gottfried Dienst Flag of Switzerland.svg
16 July 1966 (1966-07-16) 1966 World Cup - Group 4 Soviet Union  Flag of the Soviet Union.svg1-0Flag of Italy.svg  Italy Sunderland
15:00 BST Stadium: Roker Park
Attendance: 27,793
Referee: Rudolf Kreitlein Flag of Germany.svg
20 July 1966 (1966-07-20) 1966 World Cup - Group 4 Soviet Union  Flag of the Soviet Union.svg2-1Flag of Chile.svg  Chile Sunderland
19:30 BST
Stadium: Roker Park
Attendance: 16,027
Referee: John Adair Ulster Banner.svg
23 July 1966 (1966-07-23) 1966 World Cup Quarter Final Soviet Union  Flag of the Soviet Union.svg2-1Flag of Hungary.svg  Hungary Sunderland
15:00 BST Stadium: Roker Park
Attendance: 26,844
Referee: Juan Gardeazábal Garay Flag of Spain.svg
26 March 1980 (1980-03-26)Friendly England B Flag of England.svg 1-0 Flag of Spain.svg Spain B Sunderland
Stadium: Roker Park
Attendance: 14,807
24 April 1990 (1990-04-24)Friendly England B Flag of England.svg 2-0 Flag of the Czech Republic.svg Czechoslovakia B Sunderland
Stadium: Roker Park
Attendance: 15,080

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  2. Mason, Rob (13 September 2018). "Sunderland's Roker Park remembered - the roar, the stars, the big games 120 years after first match". Chronicle Live.
  3. Rippon, Anton (2007) [2005]. Gas Masks for Goal Posts: Football in Britain during the Second World War. Stroud: Sutton. ISBN   9780750940313.
  4. "Newcastle United v York City, 30 March 1955". Retrieved 9 November 2018.
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  6. "Sunderland History 1990-1999". SAFC.COM. Retrieved 23 December 2008.
  7. Brett, Alan (2000). Sunderland 'til I die. Lecture Notes in Mathematics. 1358. The people's history. p. 10. doi:10.1007/b62130. ISBN   1-902527-07-0.
  8. "'I Left My Heart in Roker Park' - Roker Report Meets Paul Dunn". Roker Report. SB Nation. 11 August 2014.
  9. "I Left My Heart in Roker Park by Tom Kelly". July 2014.
  10. Lathan, Peter (2004). "I Left My Heart in Roker Park... (And Extra Time at the Stadium of Light)". British Theatre Guide.
  11. "Share your Stadium of Light tales". Sunderland Echo. 12 May 2017 [11 May 2017].
  12. Edmondson, Davey (19 September 2011). "English Premier League: Each Club's Most Famous Fans. Sunderland: Peter O'Toole". Bleacher Report.
  13. Randall, Colin (14 September 2010). "Peter O'Toole and a lost Sunderland passion". SAFC.COM.
  14. "Premier Passions (TV Series 1998– )". IMDb.
  15. Hunter, James (11 June 2017). "Sunderland's Premier Passions remembered 20 years after fly-on-the-wall TV came to Roker Park". Chronicle Live.

Coordinates: 54°55′16.68″N1°22′31.73″W / 54.9213000°N 1.3754806°W / 54.9213000; -1.3754806