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On This Day (21 June 1991): Sunderland face stand closure ahead of season opener

On this day 30 years ago, Sunderland were facing the prospect of having to start the new season with the Main Stand at Roker Park being closed for the opening games.

Photo by Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images

On this day 30 years ago, only around five weeks after Sunderland’s relegation from Division One, attention was turning to the following season and it was looking increasingly likely that our Main Stand at Roker Park would be closed for the clubs opening games in the Second Division.

Chairman Bob Murray revealed that essential safety work was yet to get underway and was unlikely to be completed before the start of the new season as Denis Smith planned Sunderland’s return to the top flight.

It was likely to result in thousands of Main Stand season ticket holders to be found temporary accommodation in other areas of the ground. The delay in the implementation of the safety work, which was costing over £1 million and also involved the Clock Stand and Fulwell End, had been caused by an issue with obtaining funding from the bank and the Football Trust.

The funding issues were also impacted by the clubs recent High Court case involving Barry Batey and a group of rebel shareholders, which the club had recently won.

ENGLISH Soccer - ENDSLEIGH LEAGUE - SUNDERLAND v DERBY COUNTY Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images

Murray described the consequences of the delay as “horrendus”, and vowed to get the work up and running as soon as possible.

We are in a situation where we don’t know whether the Main Stand will be open for the start of the season. I’m very concerned about it. The work hasn’t started yet so we are obviously on a very tight timescale. We now have a preferred contractor, but we have eight weeks to carry out all the work on the Main Stand, the Clock Stand and the Fulwell End.

The club has done all it can do and I don’t blame the Football Trust. Thye have been overwhelmed with grant aid applications because of the Taylor Report. As a club we have no alternative but to carry out this work. If we don’t, we won’t get a safety certificate and the entire ground will be closed.

The implications of the Main Stand not being open for the start of the season are horrendus. It is causing everyone at the club a lot of distress.

The work was to include enlargening gangways, shortening rows and improving exits and would reduce the seating capacity in the Main Stand by 1,000 seats.

general view

There was also the option of asking the Football League to modify the fixture list so Sunderland’s early fixtures would be away from Roker Park, but it seemed that this was an avenue that the Roker Chairman didn’t want to explore.

We don’t want to disadvantage the manager or the team. Having to play the first four games or so away from Roker could cost us the chance of a good start. If the worst comes to the worst, we hope supporters will accept that the temporary inconvenience is preferable to putting the team at a disadvantage.

The historic Main Stand was famously designed by Archibald Leitch and originally built in 1929 at a cost of £25,000, with the offices and main entrance being added ahead of the 1966 World Cup Cup. The original stand 60 years prior had held 5,875 seats but the work during the summer of 1991 would reduce that number to around 4,000.

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