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SOL REVAMP: Changing seats should be just the start for Sunderland’s run-down Stadium of Light

With the final phase of seat changing almost upon us, we analyse the renovations and face lift the SoL is undergoing - which is a physical and metaphorical symbol of the club’s rejuvenation.

The Raich Carter Mural on the Blue House Pub in Hendon, painted in 2015.
Blue House, Hendon

The regeneration work which has taken place at the Stadium of Light since this summer is not just significant because of the fact we’ve swapped out the drab pink seats, but because it acts as both a physical and metaphorical symbol of a new era for Sunderland AFC.

We’re ushering in an new era with new ownership, new hopes, new challenges and new seats - yet one thing that has been long lost is not new in any form, and is merely returning to us: the soul of our club.

Dissipated after a decade of disappointment, decadence and despair. We may be in the second-lowest ebb in a long-proud 140-year history, but speak to any Sunderland fan or native and you’ll be met by nothing but optimism and excitement.

The dejected and aged feel around the somewhat youthful stadium was merely a reflection of how the club has been neglected and allowed to spiral two divisions in as many years - with just about as many home wins in between.

Sunderland AFC and Sunderland AFC

I may be whirled up in the excitement myself, eagerly awaiting a long journey to Home Park as I write - more enthralled by the prospect of a nine-hour journey to the Theatre of Greens in League One than a short three-hour stint to Manchester United’s Theatre of Dreams - but it is irrevocable and indisputable that a rejuvenated fan base and stadium now return in tandem thanks to Stewart Donald’s takeover (with some huge doses of non-league charm learned at Eastleigh) feeling like the club has truly been given back to the fans.

Hyperbole? Almost certainly.

Just let me bask in this Indian summer (and autumn and winter) generated off the back of the best World Cup performance in my living memory, a long desired takeover and, finally, results on the pitch garnered by a group of players more united with a fan base than any other in over a decade.

The stadium is still - very much like the club and team - a work in progress, and much needs to be further carried out; the last phase of seat replacement in the West Stand, the famous spotlights need repaired and re-activated, loudspeakers in the South Stand fixed, barriers painted red, stands re-named, certain “grafitti” outside the family end removed and much more that I likely haven’t even considered.

However, one possibly exciting addition was put forward by Stewart Donald himself on a recent Roker Rapport Podcast - in the conversation with our host Connor Bromley, the owner mooted the idea of painting murals within the ground that celebrate Sunderland’s deeply cherished history.

Due to suffering for so long, us Sunderland fans have a somewhat deep connection to our history. There are no followers of Sunderland alive that witnessed any of our league title wins, yet one of the most popular chants sang by fans these days remarks how some teachers had a dream to start a football team without even a kit nor a ball - yet after six league titles here we are, still going strong.

The first image that springs to mind is the fantastic Raich Carter mural on the Blue House Pub in Hendon.

Not many clubs in England have their stadia littered with such imagery - let’s ignore Billericay Town’s gaudy and horrific “changing room murals” installed by owner, manager, kit man and steward Glenn Tamplin - and Carter’s mural is a beautiful ode to former glories.

However, this is a common practice in Europe - and we could look no further for a bit of inspiration. During the recent World Cup, I managed to re-visit my second favourite stadium in world football past and present (after Roker Park), the Eduard Streltsov Stadium in south-eastern Moscow.

The murals below encapsulate perfectly the history of the club, as well as providing a genuine personality and statement to the historic stadium itself.

So far, work for collating information on the possibility of murals and research into what could be painted has been micro-managed to the Red and White Army Supporters Group. They have been speaking to fans and local artists, including Frank Styles who painted the eponymous Carter mural for both market research as well as finding quotes to see how much it would cost.

You can check out the full details in their most recent meeting minutes here.

This is hopefully just the start of the good times returning to Wearside, and the Stadium revamp is so much more than merely a physical transformation, but could possibly one day be looked back on at the physical representation of change arriving on Wearside.

For far too long, we were a hulking carcass of a club, neglected from above and hated by everybody else for constant comical last-minute great escapes and a recurring managerial roundabout.

The biggest metaphor for change? The East Stand.

Ellis Short tried to replace the club’s ageing seats, but abandoned works months later after relegation to the Championship. Now in a league below, they aren’t merely replaced but re-designed as the first step in a whole, long-term process.

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