According to the betting, Sunderland’s seven years of struggle outside of the top-flight may soon be coming to an end, with a young Mackems side led by Tony Mowbray challenging for a Play-Off spot in the Championship. In patches this season they have played some wonderful football.
Should a promotion be forthcoming it will be widely viewed beyond the North-East as a deserved reward for fans that have been put through the proverbial wringer in recent times, their club’s capitulation into calamity even lending itself to a documentary that was best watched through gaps in fingers.
Located amidst a hotbed of footballing passion, it will be a treat therefore to see the Stadium of Light packed to the brim once again, hosting the great and the good of the Premier League.
And speaking of the Stadium of Light, what a ground it is, a modern, impressive edifice of brick, glass and steel that rises imperiously above its surroundings.
Sunderland may have spent time in the wilderness of late but their home has been an outstanding construction, up there with the very best England has to offer, throughout.
Yet for all of its excellent facilities and contemporary lines, what Sunderland’s ground lacks is open terraces, exposed to chilling winds whipped up by the nearby North Sea.
It lacks ornate latticework, running the length of its main stand, a trademark of football’s foremost architect Archibald Leitch. It lacks corrugated iron and soul.
Because through no fault of its own, what the Stadium of Light is missing, compared to its predecessor Roker Park, is the famed ‘Roker Roar’ and a century’s worth of memories.
Long demolished now, its footprint replaced by a housing estate, the old Roker Park may have been the coldest place on earth on particularly wintry afternoons but goodness it was atmospheric.
Visiting as an away supporter, first the blasting winds got into your bones, then the sheer volume of noise rattled the senses, the Fulwell End a cauldron of fiery exaltation.
Though it matters little in the great scheme of things, it should also be noted that the pies were always amazing.
Erected on farmland in 1898, initially with wooden grandstands, Roker Park’s vast terracing held 75,118 for a FA Cup replay in 1933, then three decades later went on to host three matches in the 1966 World Cup, even back then considered a traditional example of English stadia.
With a double-decker main stand made beautiful by Leitch’s hand, the ground proudly boasted floodlights in 1952, becoming only the second stadium to have them.
Eight years prior to that a German bomb landed square onto the pitch, failing to explode. A second almost killed a passing policeman.
When we factor in too the plethora of fantastic teams that lit up the old girl during its 99 years of existence, not least the title-winning side of 1936, complete with the great Raich Carter, that scored 109 goals to secure the trophy, and it can safely be said that Roker Park holds a significant place in the game’s history.
For thousands upon thousands, for generations, it was home.
Sunderland are among the favourites in the football betting to rise again, and the club’s future appears bright. But its past is special and treasured, and where it all happened will forever be greatly missed.
*Credit for all of the photos in this article belongs to Alamy*