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On This Day (10 Dec 1991): Bob Murray leaves Sunderland’s new stadium choice up to fans!

How would our course of history have been altered by this coming off?

30 years ago today, all of the talk around SAFC was about the prospect of a new ground... with chairman Bob Murray putting a proposed move away from Roker Park to a supporters’ vote.

Roker Park’s capacity had been continually slashed during the ‘80s – including after the Taylor Report post-Hillsborough – and a new ground had been earmarked by the Sunderland chairman.

Plans had yet to be made public for the proposed 40,000 all-seater stadium on ‘a greenfield site on the outskirts of Sunderland’ – a.k.a Nissan – and the development was set to include a multiplex cinema, hotel, and conference and exhibition centre.

Plans were drawn up to redevelop Roker Park, too, by a group determined to ‘Keep The Roar In Roker’

Murray told The Journal’s Brian McNally:

If we make Roker Park an all-seated stadium the capacity would be 17,000. We would be patching and mending all the time. It would present an on-going maintenance problem.

I am 50-50 over moving away from Roker Park at the moment. But the more I see of the plans the more excited I get about it.

There was talk of a ground share with another north east club...

We would be prepared to share with another club, but we haven’t specified who. It could be Middlesbrough or Hartlepool. If Newcastle want to play in Sunderland that would be up to them, but I’m convinced Newcastle wouldn’t want to come to Sunderland. It would destroy their attendances.

Interestingly, Newcastle chairman George Forbes said the odds on them moving to Sunderland were 99.9% against... leaving the door slightly ajar for a move over the river – and former Sunderland season ticket holder Sir John Hall, who was now a new addition to the St James Park board, had previously proposed exactly the same thing in Washington, too.

Murray was preparing to present the plans to the FA in order to secure financial backing.

We are meeting the Football Association to discuss what help is available. If the FA aren’t financially supportive then our plans can’t happen. Our proposals hinge on their support.

After pitching the idea to the FA, it would be time to put the idea to the vote.

Our feasibility study is now well developed. There will be a referendum at the appropriate moment. O think the way things are going it will probably be March. If the referendum says ‘no’ then we will stay at Roker Park.

We will give the fans the true facts before asking them to vote. We have steered clear of giving them plans or models.

The vote to move to the ‘Wembley of the North’ did, of course, happen – although closer to March 1994 than 1992, as the issue rumbled on for more than two years – famously only requiring Gold Card holders to return the voting form if they disagreed with the proposed move.

The motion to move was supported by an overwhelming majority, but was eventually scuppered by Nissan, which objected to the 287 acre, £76m development – hinting they may be forced to up sticks if it went ahead.

In 1994, The Independent reported:

In spite of its close and fairly public links with the local community, Nissan has decided to object strongly to the development which, tonight, will almost certainly be given outline planning approval. Nissan says the development should not be sited alongside its production plant and will strenuously argue that if it goes ahead, its business operations in the North-east will face something of a uncertain future and any company expansion plans the company may have will be at risk.

Nissan says the development would cause ‘long-term irretrievable’ damage to its competitive edge and that the car plant and the new complex are ‘fundamentally incompatible’.

Of course, Bob Murray’s desire for a new ground wasn’t tempered – and the rest, as they say, is history...

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