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Happy 24th birthday, Stadium of Light! Our favourite memories of Sunderland’s home

Today marks 24 years since the first-ever game at the Stadium of Light. What are your favourite memories of the place, and does it feel like home to you?

Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Phil West says...

It’s safe to say that in the almost quarter-century we’ve spent at the SOL, there have been plenty of memorable highs, not to mention a catalogue of crushing lows.

Okay, the stadium might lack the ‘soul’ and the legendary crowd noise that Roker Park was famous for, but as a place to watch a game of football it’s always been a hell of a place to spend time. Certainly, it is not a stadium that should be hosting League One football, without a doubt. Does it feel like home to me? Absolutely.

I have countless brilliant memories of our time at the stadium: the curtain-raising friendly against a star-studded Ajax team, the 1998/1999 promotion campaign, flirtations with the upper reaches of the Premier League under Peter Reid, THAT 3-2 victory against Burnley in 2007, and Fabio Borini’s goal versus Newcastle to name but a few.

On the other hand, moments such as Darren Bent relegating us when he returned to Wearside in the colours of Burton Albion, and soul-destroying defeats in recent years to the likes of Wigan, Coventry and Lincoln are certainly memories that I won’t cherish in years to come, but I suppose the story of any stadium, just like the story of following a football club, is one filled with both good and bad moments.

Let’s hope that, in years to come, the stadium can welcome Championship, and then Premier League football once again, and that younger generations of fans can experience the same kind of exciting times as we once did.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Sunderland v Newcastle United - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

Martin Wanless says...

My favourite memory of the Stadium of Light is the famous Chelsea 4-1 game.

For a start, we were class. We played them off the park - they couldn’t touch us. Quinn and Phillips were on fire, a central midfield of Thirlwell and Roy dominated the game. That goal from Phillips was phenomenal, the atmosphere electric.

The other reason I remember it very fondly was it was the first game my Dad had been to that season. We’d gone to pretty much every home game and many away games together in the 12 or so years preceding this game, but that season he was working away from home. The Chelsea game was brilliant because me and my Dad were back together at the match again. The result just made it all the more special.

Does it feel like home? I guess it does now.

Kevin Phillips

Chris Wynn says...

I know a lot of people had gone on pilgrimage to the as yet unnamed new stadium as it was being built to check on its progress and how it was shaping up, but I’d avoided it for some reason.

I don’t know whether it was because I wanted to squeeze as much out of Roker Park first or I wanted to save seeing it for the first time for when it was complete, but I didn’t have that pull.

For this reason, I can remember walking through the turnstile to enter for the opening game against Ajax, and seeing the pitch and hearing the anticipation, above Status Quo, through the access and simply wanting to walk straight towards it.

The people who I was with stopped for a beer and were shouting to ask where I was going, but I just marched out to look.

I remember looking around and having a feeling like it was a one-off game - surely I wouldn’t be sitting in this to watch the Lads play at least 24 times over the next 10 months?

I was speechless. I just kept asking the question if this was actually ours.

After a shaky start we got into a rhythm in that first season, but it had a weird, novelty feeling to it all season, until we hit the business end.

We’d gone down 2-1 at Bramall Lane on the Sunday in the first leg of the play-off semi-final, and the visit of Sheffield United for that second leg on the Wednesday was when, for me, the Stadium of Light truly became our new home.

For a May evening, it felt colder than usual, the Stadium was shrouded in a thick fog, and the floodlights lit up the fog that just hung over the pitch which together with the scenario of having to win by two clear goals, created this perfect amphitheatre for the evening's events.

The atmosphere was incredible. You could just feel that this was going to be our night. It was the best atmosphere I’ve experienced at any sporting event in my life.

We were two up around five minutes before half-time and in typical fashion we made it difficult for ourselves. This resulted in Lionel Perez making a double save late on which was celebrated like a goal in itself.

It finished 2-0, like we knew it would for some bizarre reason. The game, the feeling that our stadium was our fortress, the electric atmosphere, the fog under the lights - for me a night that hasn’t been bettered at the Stadium of Light.

Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Play-Off First Leg - Sheffield United v Sunderland Photo by Matthew Ashton/EMPICS via Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie says...

As a Roker Park regular since 65/66 season, I struggled with the move to the SoL.

I recognised the need for change, regretted what appeared to be little thought given to upgrading Roker Park, and approached my first season at the SoL with a healthy degree of trepidation.

The SoL at the start of season 97/98 seemed like a soulless concrete shopping centre building upon approach. Once inside there was noise, and crowds were coming as the team really did start to not only win, but entertain as they did so.

However, it still did not feel like home to me. Thankfully I was more distracted with our performances and results than the stadium and my struggles to settle.

The 13th of May arrived with Sheffield Utd in the 2nd leg of a tight play-off. I had witnessed the first leg and thought United deserved their victory. Kevin Ball’s goal though had tipped the balance of the tie, but the tension around and in the stadium prior to kick off was palpable. Fog and a cloudy moonless night added to the tension.

41,000 crowded in and nervous expectation was coursing around the concourse. Dance of the Knights cranked up, just as another bank of fog descended upon the SoL. The crowd started to bay its anticipation which then erupted in the closest thing I had heard to the Roker Roar since my arrival at the SoL, as Kevin Ball stepped through the fog arm raised in salute to the crowd.

Midst the crescendo of noise, two thoughts struck me. 1, Ball looked like Spartacus... and the team that followed him out like gladiators, no way were we losing this. 2, I will always love Roker Park, but this is now my new football home.

Since that night I have found my berth in the South West Corner, and look forward to better times in a bright new dawn.

Soccer - Nationwide League Division One - Sunderland v Birmingham City Photo by Adam Davy/EMPICS via Getty Images

Michael Dunne says...

The SOL can hardly be called a fortress in its time thus far, but it has given Sunderland fans many moments of unbelievable joy and heartbreak. The atmosphere of a rocking SOL is arguably unrivaled, and it goes to show what can be achieved with a little bit of success and momentum for a starved fan base.

Of all the games I have attended at the stadium, none stand out more to me than the 2-1 victory over Newcastle United in October 2008.

This was our first win against our arch rivals since we returned to the top flight under Roy Keane and there was an incredible sense of occasion that day. The swirling wind, Joey Barton, injuries to key players and of course that free kick from Kieran Richardson. A week previous, Richardson had hit the crossbar from free kicks on more than one occasion at Craven Cottage against Fulham.

On this occasion, after a long wait that seemed to last an eternity, Richardson bullet went faster than the speed of time, leaving a bamboozled Shay Given firmly sat on his backside.

The fans sang in unison from that moment until the very end in a common feeling of joy and also relief. “We beat the Scum 2-1”.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Matty Foster says...

I was unfortunate to only ever experience Roker Park once in my life, so the Stadium of Light has been all I’ve ever known. But I have some amazing memories, particularly in the era of Reidy.

My most treasured memories were in our first season back in the Premiership in 1999/00. Who could ever forget our 4-1 demolition of Chelsea, and that goal from Super Kev? I don’t think I’ve witnessed a first half as good as that one.

I also remember my first derby. If I could bottle or experience an atmosphere again it would be that one, particularly the roar when Phillips equalised to grab a draw.

To those who have experienced both Roker Park and SoL, there’s no comparison. But to me, it houses some incredible memories of watching Sunderland at their best - and their worst - with the old man.

Sunder v Chelsea Getty Images

Ant Waterson says...

I can just remember the awe of it all. The size of the stadium, actual seats instead of standing for 90 minutes often freezing cold, a tannoy system that worked. It was just an amazing feeling to step into a lovely new stadium.

Yes, it doesn’t have the Roker Roar or the stand with your mates feel of Roker Park but the Stadium of Light is still our home and I love it.

My favourite memory often varies, but I’m going to have to say my favourite was our first win over them up the road.

The nerves I felt beforehand probably have not been matched and the goal to win it, a quite extraordinary free kick from Kieron Richardson was superb. The stadium was rocking and I had witnessed us beating Newcastle at home for the first time.

There have been so many great moments, the Chelsea 4-1 where we looked like Barcelona, Carlos Edwards scoring to take us back to the Premier that caused noise you could hear for miles and of course, Jermaine Defoe’s volley. Mix that in with consecutive relegations and those defeats to Villa, Portsmouth and Palace where you genuinely felt the place was going to riot then you get a pretty fair reflection of the passion the fans have.

At the end of the day, just like any home, we have laughed, we have cried, we have grown up there, we have suffered losses to the family and gained generations more. We are a family and home is certainly where the heart is.

Soccer - Coca-Cola Football League Championship - Sunderland v Burnley - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images
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