It is difficult to reflect on my memories of Roker Park without remembering family connections to Sunderland AFC. My grandfather and namesake George E. Ford was a season ticket holder during the 40’s and 50’s - he was also a butcher in Jacky Whites market. Carrier bags bore the slogan ‘Always pleased to meet you, Always meat to please you’.
Stories of how pleased he was with a Sunderland victory and how agitated he was with a defeat are legendary (isn’t that true of all Sunlun fans?!). He moved house to Ripon Street in the early 50’s, about twenty metres from the turnstiles. He was with me at my first match at Roker Park, a one nil win against Luton, Christmas time 1956 with a goal by ‘Canonball’ Charlie Fleming. The goal was scored around half time and we missed it as we were in the tea queue!
I remember Roker Park as very much a wooden structure, refreshments were limited. Peanuts were ‘tanner a bag’ and on sale from guys who walked round the pitch during play and were experts at catching tanners and throwing bags of peanuts!
Anyone remember the peanut sellers at Roker Park? “tanner a bag!” pic.twitter.com/aOUJGmL173— Roker Report (@RokerReport) August 15, 2018
Peanut sellers weren’t the only ones to walk round the pitch during matches - this brings me to my next family connection to Roker Park. Today, in and around the Stadium of Light there are yellow coated security men at every turn. How times have changed. When I became a regular supporter in the early 60’s, my father, Police Constable Bill Ford, was one of the uniform policemen wearing white armlets who directed traffic on match days. Inside Roker Park a small number of P.Cs. took turns to walk slowly round the pitch, having removed the armlets to avoid a clash with players’ strips. Hooliganism was rare. My father had little interest in the football, despite the Ripon Street connection, which is probably why he was chosen to walk round the pitch. He never suffered the ignominy of losing his helmet when the ball was kicked out of play nearby which some policemen did.
Oh and just an added piece of information he shared with me and put to the test at Roker Park – ‘in those days the speed of a walking policeman was 2 miles an hour, this meant we walked around the pitch about sixteen times per match’. Further than the players!
I went to my first game at Roker Park in 1970 against Everton at the age of 7 - my dad who had starting going during the war took me. We were in the Clockstand seats, it was a night match... we drew 0-0 and we were relegated a week later!
Although my dad took me a few times over the years, I didn’t really get addicted until the 73/74 season and it wasn’t to do with winning the cup, by the way. At 10 years old my parents started letting me go with my mates but only on Saturdays, then we played Derby in the league cup on a Tuesday night so my dad took me. We drew 1-1 and the second replay was two nights later, so off we went again.
We were in the Roker End, I was sat on the old concrete crash barriers behind the goal, Vic Halom scored a hat trick and he flattened the goalie as well; Collin Bolton if my memory serves me right. The atmosphere that night was electric there was something about playing at Roker Park on a night match under the floodlights that made it special.
I knew after that night as a ten year old boy that I was totally addicted to Sunderland AFC - and I have been ever since.
It was 1947, when I was 10 years old. My older brother took me to Roker Park which was a big event for me just two years after the second world war. Going to a big stadium watching a big match was very exciting.
We went into the Clock Stand and we were playing Brentford; what sticks in my mind is that they had a defender called Gorman who was completely bald and stood out like a beacon from those around him. I’ve never seen anyone like that before and can still see him now making tackles and heading the ball.
I can’t remember the score, but I have been a Sunderland supporter ever since and still try and get to games whenever I can.
I have a Roker memory which may well be the earliest you are going to get.
The date being February 9th 1946 - a cup match against Birmingham. At the time due to war damage the Roker end was closed to supporters as it was deemed to be unsafe.
However, the usual large crowd turned up which meant overcrowding in the Fulwell end.
Before kick off some fans looking at the empty Roker end couldn’t resist it and started walking alongside the pitch to the opposite end. This started a rush and soon hundreds were there! In those days only a couple of police were in the ground, and they were unable to halt the fans.
We won thanks to a Len Duns goal, afterwards the club though that as there had been no problem using the Roker end they may as well open it for future games - people power.