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Tales From The Stands: Remembering Sunderland’s first ever game at the Stadium of Light in 1997!

The first ever game at the Stadium of Light back in 1997 opened a new chapter in the book of Sunderland’s history and hinted at a potential which is, as yet, still unrealised.

Sunderland Vs Ajax 30 July 1997

I was 14 years old with a passion for all things Sunderland, and still remember vividly the enthusiasm and excitement of the very first game at our new home - the Stadium of Light - a name that would take some getting used to. The first game was a friendly against the Dutch giants of Ajax on Wednesday 30 July 1997, and the start of a new era.

Walking towards the stadium with my mates we made the now familiar route over Monkwearmouth bridge, and excitement was building with every step.

To my 14 year old eyes the stadium, when it came into view, appeared as a colossal feat of engineering, a monument to football and a stadium that could rival any in the country. At 42,000 the capacity seemed incredibly vast compared to Roker Park - just imagine the noise we can make!?

My excitement for the future far outweighed any sentimental notions of Roker Park at the time - for me, the club simply had to move forwards.

Outside the stadium the atmosphere was one of excitement as I saw crowds gather to find their names on the ‘wall of fame’, and talk of the bands who would be playing inside. Everyone chatted about how impressive our new home was - “a premier league stadium” was a point echoed around more than once.

Status Quo performing at the opening of the Stadium of Light

Ajax were a hefty club to play against, a worthy team for the first game at the SOL - could we beat them and hit the ground running?

Finding our tickets, we made our way through the gate and into the thrill of walking into the Stadium for the first time. It was a sight I found beyond impressive, and maybe a little emotional.

After taking in the sights we found our spots in the East Stand amongst a sea of red seats, and the noise of the loudspeaker mixed with the excited chatting of fans only added to the anticipation for the occasion.

I wasn’t much of a fan of Status Quo, but I couldn’t help but feel impressed as an actual helicopter descended loudly into the stadium and the band came out running like an SAS unit ready to perform.

Through all the excitement I almost forgot that there was a game on, and my initially worry that Ajax would turn Sunderland over and spoil the party didn’t materialise. As the game got going we seemed to more than hold our own.

Ryehill Football

Kevin Ball scored a goal too - as Darren Williams crossed into the box, a fumble by Van Der Sar lifted the ball across to Kevin Ball, who headed it into the net.

The noise was incredible as we all jumped around, only the find that the goal had been disallowed. Nobody seemed too upset though, it was a friendly after all.

For me, the strongest memories of that game is just being happy to sit back and see my idols play in this new arena - players like Kevin Ball, Mickey Gray and Niall Quinn, who was quickly becoming my favourite player in a Sunderland shirt.

In the end the game ended 0-0 and I left the stadium still feeling full of excitement for the future of Sunderland - how could we fail with a stadium like this?

Walking away from the stadium and turning back to see it once more, it dawned on me that this new home and the huge crowd that attended seemed to hint at something bigger, a potential which is, as yet, still unrealised.

Despite the recent years of failure, we now find ourselves with an owner in Stewart Donald who I believe has an idea of what that potential might be and as fans, together and united, we may yet still find it.

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