My Back Pages - 6 Roker Park

Sunderland 2v2 Newcastle United
League Cup 2nd Round - 1st Leg
29th August 1979
My first away match by myself, that is without my Dad to hold my hand, happened almost 30 years ago. Newcastle and Sunderland were both in the old Second Division at the time and the old enemies were paired together for this midweek League Cup tie. This was a time when I used to enjoy the Tyne -Wear derby experience, although back then I was an angelic 14 year old who wasn’t old enough to know any better and had yet to experience the derby horrors to come.
The journey to Roker Park was usually made by train, from Central Station to Seaburn, although for this first venture into enemy territory we departed from Gateshead. This was back in the day when the town had its own train station, which was located at the end of the High Level Bridge, the platform basically sitting on the bridge itself.
I travelled down to Roker with Ian (100FGC squad#2) This was our first away match together and we’ve remained travelling companion ever since, spanning over four decades following the team that has giving us a few ups and plenty of downs. Also with us was another one of my old Toon comrades, a lad named “Windy” so called because of his intestinal gas problems. I went to home games in the old Leazers End with Windy, mostly during our relegation season in 1977/78 (My first relegation in a current series of three…Eddy)
The train journey took about half an hour. I can’t remember where the train stopped at, but it most likely would have called at Heworth and Boldon, before arriving at Seaburn in the shadow of that big windmill next to the station.
The walk to the ground was about a mile and a half away from the station, a good half an hour crawl in the company of a heavy police presence. Among those was quite a big quota of mounted coppers, as we tried our best to keep out of their way, fearing getting trampled, as well as dodging the large amounts of turd dropping scattered along our path. (what the hell do they feed them on?) Each time I made this journey the walk always seemed to take much longer than previously. The march to Roker Park was spent chanting songs which were mostly taking from the Anti-makem songbook. The usual favourites like ‘White cliffs of Dover’ ‘There is a makem-takem’ and my old favourite ‘Tiptoe through the Fulwell’ 
There wasn’t any major problems or too much trouble along this route, the appearance of red and white didn’t come into view until approaching Roker Park, where their fans used to gather in the back alleys which ran through the surrounding neighbouring streets, singing there own repertoire of Anti-Mag songs and hurling the odd object in our general direction, which in turn was returned to where it once came. 
Supporters did manage to break through the police escort and there was the odd scrap , but I never witnessed any mass brawls. I always felt quite safe when visiting Roker, although I don’t want to paint a picture of it being all sweetness and light, all hell may would have broke lose somewhere nearby, but I was lucky enough not to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Sunderland AFC (make sure you don’t forget that ‘A’) played at Roker Park between 1898 - 1997. The club was formed in 1879, playing on grounds south of the River Wear before moving north, going on to play at Horatio Road in Roker, Abbs Field in Fulwell and then three years on which was the best ground in the area on Newcastle Road.
The need for a bigger ground saw the club negotiating the use of farmland in the Roker area. Part of the deal was the club’s presence would not affect houses being built on the remaining land on the site, the club having to pay rent on all the land until the houses were built.
After the site was purchased the ground was up and running within a year. The first clock stand was built, this along with turf imported from Ireland saw the ground open in September 1898. Their first opponents (and also their last) was a friendly against Liverpool, a 1-0 win for the Rokerites.
Away supporters were housed in the Roker End, an open terrace at the south side of the ground. This was concreted in 1913, built up with large concrete supports with a long staircase where access was gained at the top of the terrace. I always thought on subsequent visits that the stairways looked at bit dangerous and the terrace was deteriorating. 
The Main Stand replaced the old wooden ’President Stand’ in 1929. Legendary football ground architect Archibald Leitch designed the stand, which had his signature of a steel criss-cross balcony. The shelf was added between the top seats and the paddock standing in 1950 given it a three tie look. The last change came in 1973 when a row of fourteen executive boxes were added on the middle tier.
The Clock Stand was rebuilt in 1936 which originally held 15,500. The clock itself sits on the centre of the TV gantry which is perched on top of the grey pitched roof with a standing paddock at the front.
The Fulwell End terrace was expanded in 1925 with the roof  added when the ground was chosen as a venue for the 1966 World Cup. Temporary seating was also added to the stand and both paddocks, as Roker hosted three matches in Group 4 as well as the quarter final between USSR and Hungary.
The record attendance was 75,118 for a Wednesday afternoon fixture against Derby County in the 6th Round of the FA Cup in March 1933, even though the official capacity was 60,000 at the time. 
They became the second club to install floodlights, following on from Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium. These were first used in 1952 in a friendly against Dundee.
After the Taylor Report, options were limited as far as upgraded to an all-seated stadium. The ground location meant expansion was limited, so this would mean a big drop in capacity, leaving the only viable option to move on and build a brand new stadium.
After the club moved to the Stadium of Light, the land was redeveloped into a housing estate . In commemoration of the old ground the streets were named Clockstand Close, Midfield Drive, Goalmouth Close, Roker Park Close and Promotion Close (where’s Relegation Road? Sorry! couldn’t resist it…Eddy)

The first leg of this League Cup tie produced a cracking game, although a poor turn out of nearly 28,000 were present that evening. Newcastle were the better side on the night but it was Sunderland who took their chances. Wilf Rostron gave the Wearsiders a half time lead and when Pop Robson doubled the advantage from the penalty spot, they looked on their way to gaining the local bragging rights as well as booking a place in the 3rd Round. 
All was not lost though, as immediately from the restart Welsh International full-back Ian Davies halved the deficit with a fine effort. United then pushed for an equaliser and the unlikely hero was local lad Peter Cartwright, a recent signing from North Shields, who was making only his second substitute appearance for the club. The youngster’s shot from the edge of the box at the Roker End sent to Geordie hordes into raptures, as the team produced great character and fighting spirit to set up an exciting second leg back on Tyneside the following week.*
After the game me and Windy had a leisurely stroll back to Seaburn train station. I don’t know what happened to Ian though. I remember him going missing during the first half then reappearing looking somewhat distressed, saying something along the lines of “we’re ganna get wi heeds kicked in after the match” That was the last I saw of him that evening. I think he just left, although I’ve never ever asked him about his disappearance to this very day. If he did nick off then he missed out on a thrilling game played in a red hot atmosphere. So Ian - if you ever read this; you can leave a comment which will clear up the mysterious vanishing act, which has remained unanswered for the last 30 years.
I attend all the Tyne-Wear derbies after this game up until the away fan ban in 1996-97, which turned out to be the last derby at Roker Park. I only visited Roker eight times in total over the next 13 years, due to the fact that both clubs weren’t competing in the same league too often. The last of those was in September 1992, not via train but courtesy of my mate Zippy’s car. That game lives happily in the memory after finally seeing a United victory courtesy of a fantastic free kick from Liam O’Brien.
To be honest these games were usually dismal affairs, my first and last matches at the ground, without doubt the best out of  a poor series of matches.
When rivalries recommenced in 1999, Sunderland were settled in there new home in Monkwearmouth. The train journeys now a thing of the past, transport to Wearside was provided free in a convey of coaches, on the advice of the local constabulary.  I hated the trips to SoL, maybe it’s because I’m getting on a bit or I’m getting too soft, or because I  just can’t be bothered with all the hassle, all that hate and bitterness directed towards us, is not something that I can say I really enjoy, even though I never seen a defeat on my four visits into the light.
After the match in 2006, I officially “retired” from the Wear-Tyne derby. Seeing Newcastle win 4-1 was a good one to finish on, I reckon that would take some beating, so I decided on the way home from that game that I won’t be going back. Since then I’ve never went back on my word, I don’t think I ever will, I’m quite happy to look back in nostalgia to those halcyon days when it was a match to be savoured and not as it eventually became - the one I always dreaded.
Teams as per programme(click pic to enlarge) except Wayne Entwistle replaced Rowell
Matchday Stats
SAFC 2 (Rostron, Robson) NUFC 2 (Davies, Cartwright)
Attendance; 27,747
Admission 70p concession (Full price £1.30)
Programme 25p  

* The second leg didn’t fail to live up to the expectations of the previous week. After a goalless first half Sunderland took the lead through Alan Brown, but United hit back with goals from Boam and Shoulder which looked to have settled the tie, but a second  from Brown deep into injury time took the game into extra time.
After no further goals in the allotted 30 minutes, the tie was settled on penalties. After 13 consecutive successful spot kicks, the unfortunate culprit to finally miss was Jim Pearson, who saw his weak effort saved by Fatty Siddle.  That penalty miss spelt the end of  his United career, a lack of confidence and nagging injuries meant this was his 13th and last appearances for the club. The Scot retired from the professional game in February 1980 before having a successful time in Non-League football. 

Simple Pieman’s first visit in 1981


Anonymous said...

woo hoo! I got a mention.....

Tim said...

Nice one Shaun. It's always good to see the backpages for a bit of nostalgia.

Ralph said...

That almost exactly mirrors my experiences of following Burnley 9 miles down the road to Ewood Park,I've been to quite a few and probably on reflection that few is now enough !

Anonymous said...

Being "slightly" older than you, my first visit was in 1957 at the age of 9. It was a reserves fixture but I can't remember the opponents, just remember that Arthur Wright was playing for SAFC. I knew him cos his daughter went to my school. I was born in Roker Baths Road, about 100 yards away.

Anonymous said...


Long time reader, first time poster. Great blog.

As a younger gentleman, i'm used to all-ticket affairs in the top flight, meaning that you need to plan attening matches weeks in advance. I'd be interested to hear what the ticketing situation was for this game? Was it pay at the gate for big games such as this?

Many thanks, keep up the good work!

Shaun said...

It's so long ago, but I'm pretty sure I paid cash at the turnstile on the night.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. As an exiled Sunderland fan now living in France, it brought back great memories of the Derby games... And the bragging rights on the Monday at work.... Or pulling a sicky if we had got stuffed :-)!

Anonymous said...

Excellent read,good times back played the game and gave it their all not like the rich brats now. Safc fan