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20 Years On: Remembering Roker Park - memories of a beautiful & grand old football ground

Twenty years ago today Roker Park closed its doors for the final time before being bulldozed and lost forever as a new era for Sunderland AFC dawned. This is just one man's musings as he ponders where the time went - I'd like to hear yours.

Tell us your tales!

A lost youth, the best years of your life, favourite memories & legendary games - we'd like to hear your stories about Roker Park to feature in our pages this summer. Drop us a note - or give us a nudge on social media. A few lines or a full page, its up to you.

Today marks twenty years since Roker Park closed. Two decades. Good lord.

The final game at the old ground took place on May 13th 1997, a 1-0 victory over Liverpool in a friendly played out in order to signal the end of an era. Just ten days earlier a 3-0 victory over Everton wasn’t enough to prevent Sunderland being relegated from a first ever foray in to the Premier League - a suitably poignant manner in which the old passed into the new perhaps.

Many of us have stories to reminisce about the grand old lady of Sunderland. How time flies and how memories fade. Already just two decades on, Roker already seems to belong to a long bygone era - it did even in 1997 to be honest, but that was the beauty of it.

Like many of you, I still miss it. But, my love for Roker was not one of countless decades. I grew up there and once I became a man, it closed.

I turned 21 a few weeks after that final game. I suppose that coming of age just after the old place closed was fitting; a transition into adulthood moulded by the generations past and present with whom joy, pain, laughter and, dare I say it, love were shared.

But, this isn’t about me; it’s about bricks, concrete, grass and steel. It’s about men, boys, women and girls who crafted a history that still makes my heart ache a little when I recall it.

Shot taken during Roker’s final game

Roker Park was ours; the cool air from the sea, the concrete terraces, the metal barriers, the floodlights, the tobacco fug and the people who escaped their hard lives for a couple of hours to share a mutual moment amongst friends and strangers.

Roker Park was as hard and unforgiving as the men and women who built it and the industries in which they worked and the streets from which they sprung; but it also had an incredible warmth and humour that you will only find here in our far corner of the world.

Towards the end it was a bit of a tip, but it was always an elegant tip; and it had the greenest grass I’ve ever seen.

Roker Park

A perplexing rage engulfed many of us when excerpts from Lawrie McMenemy’s autobiography recently emerged. His description of the “antiquated” old girl and how she was “unhygienic” and “inadequate” irked.

Of course it was unhygienic, in a bygone age men pissed in the open air for god's sake and they considered it an extension of their home; beery belching, expletives and tribalism. That was the point; McMenemy didn’t get it then, and now in his dotage the old blowhard still doesn’t.

McMenemy & Cowie; nothing good came of either

It’s gone, but I still feel wrong turning left out of the Cambridge instead of right. I still feel a pang along by the Harbour View where the old bus dropped us Durham mackems off and we'd trudge up the alleys lured by the sight of those floodlights.

Roker Baths Road looks sombre without the old lady of Sunderland looming above the terraces and I still feel cheated that they built boxy looking new-builds with cringe-worthy names on top of it. Promotion Close, Midfield Drive and Turnstile Mews? Dear me.

For me, Roker Park is my lost youth. As a 16-year-old I worked all summer long to buy the very first season ticket of my own which would lead me from the Main Stand Paddocks where I had grown up with my dad, into the Fulwell with my mates.

In the days before a minimum wage, a quid an hour took some slog to raise the moderate amount required. But the feeling of pride which that young lad felt - who was once me - as he took the hike from across town to Roker to buy that first book of tickets blew away that grey Sunderland drizzle lashing his face.

Middle age is a harsh reality, and this twenty years since I came of age is a bit of a kick. Two decades? How did that happen I ask again.

Our new stadium has reached its twentieth year and we’ll look to the future. But, lest the current guardians forget – being custodian of this great football club is an honour. It is a responsibility, to me and to you; but moreover to our forebears who built it. Its heritage is our heritage and it ought not be given over for a few pennies of providence.

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