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Why I love Sunderland AFC #16: Gillian Hall - 'Roker Park was my Church of Football'

In today's 'Why I love Sunderland' feature, Roker Report reader Gillian Hall shares her story of how a fifty-plus year love affair with our football club has never waned, despite life taking her all over the world in her many years as a supporter.

Roker Park
Roker Park
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I have loved this club for the last fifty-two years and will continue to do so for as many decades as life will allow. Through thick and thin, good times a-few, and bad times a-plenty.

At the age of 15 (you do the maths!) my parents moved to Roker from north London.

Roker Park was my church of Football. I could see the floodlights from my bedroom window, and after much persuasion, but in a very short space of time, my dad took me to my first match. I think I was hooked by the time I went through the turnstile handing over the warm money I had been so carefully clutching on the short journey to the ground.

My dad and I arrived fairly close to kick-off, and the noise that hit us when we entered the stadium was deafening. The atmosphere was buzzing, alive, electric - I'd never felt the like of it before. We stood in the Paddock that day and at all following home matches until we became season ticket holders in the Clock Stand two years later. I preferred the Paddock as it had a better atmosphere, and being able to stand made me feel so much more involved - the singing was louder singing too.

Unfortunately I can't remember who we were playing that day nor the result, but from that moment on I was in love with Sunderland AFC. Unconditionally.

I remember the faces of players that first season. Jimmy Montgomery, Derek Forster, Len Ashurst, Charley Hurley, Cecil Irwin, Martin Harvey, George Herd, George Mulhall, Jim McNab, Mike Hellawell, Jim Baxter, Neil Martin, Nick Sharkey, John O'Hare. All heroes to me. And I remember the heroes in '73 too, after all I was there and it never leaves you.

Many personal relationships have followed - including a marriage - but none have stayed with me, in my heart, as long as my love for Sunderland AFC. Unlike my marriage, it's till death do us part with this club - not until something better comes along.

Sunderland AFC is the love of my life and there is nothing I can do about it. There is nothing I want to change, after all it's a great club in a great city with great people; and we truly are a fantastic club in the finest league in the world. The Stadium of Light is a magnificent structure in a lovely setting, and even thought we might not be having the best of times right now, we will prevail once more.

I'm back living in north London again now, yet not a day goes by when I don't absorb all the news I can find from any source about this great club. I have lived overseas - in Europe and the Middle East some 27+ years ago - yet the Football Echo always dropped on my doormat wherever I was, devoured from cover to cover.

I only make it to a handful of matches a season now, but I'm there in spirit every match. I am looking forward to next season, as I do every season, with hope and expectation.

This relegation is not the end of the world, it will not finish us. The supporters would never allow that. We will turn out in our thousands come what may. That's why I'm proud to be a Sunderland supporter. That's why I love Sunderland AFC - it’s the purest of marriages, truly til death do us part.

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