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On This Day (21 August 1988): New-look Sunderland open the doors to Roker Park

There was already a feel-good factor following Sunderland’s promotion as champions, and the club looked to capitalise on this with a bumper day of events before the start of the new campaign.

Charles Briggs & Alice King

There was plenty to see at Roker Park thirty-three years ago today.

The turnaround following some grim days earlier in the decade was already in full swing, and fans got a close-up view of the progress during a highly popular Supporters Open Day.

Manager Denis Smith and his assistant Viv Busby were both large parts of the change in fortunes. The pair were assembling a squad of players that was popular with the crowd and capable of playing some very attractive football, as witnessed by the thousands of fans that came along keen to meet the players and watch a training session that was put on during the day.

The team were preparing for their Division Two return, and despite the club struggling when last at that level, confidence was high following an impressive promotion from the third tier that lead to Smith being awarded with a silver salver in another of the day’s events.

Smith accepted his prize whilst on the pitch in full yellow and blue change kit, with Sunderland having just launched a brand new set of strips following the start of a deal with manufacturer Hummel.

These proved to be some of the most popular Sunderland designs ever, and it was not uncommon for Smith and his coaching staff to be seen in them at subsequent photo shoots.

Images from the day (taken from Roker Review)

Another iconic feature of the time was the Roker End’s electronic scoreboard, which was also unveiled to supporters during the open day.

Introduced in association with long-term supporters of the club Vaux Breweries, and future Sunderland AFC vice-chairman Graham Wood’s gas heating firm Trianco, the graphics it used to urge the team on are still fondly recalled by many fans despite what was a relatively short period of usage.

By the time Roker Park was pulled down in 1997, the scoreboard had long since stopped working, with the suggestion being that the ground's proximity to the North Sea had resulted in salt damage to its mechanisms.

The popular home kit, as featured in one of Trianco’s ads (taken from Roker Review)

During some pre-season games in 1988 the team had worn a mixture of gear that been provided by previous supplier Patrick, and the brand that replaced them.

The full kit, and of course scoreboard, both got their competitive debuts the Saturday after the open day when Bournemouth came to Roker.

The game finished 1-1 and it was not until October that the Lads registered a first league win of the campaign but there were signs of continued progress however and come the end of 1988-89 Sunderland had consolidated their position with a mid-table finish.

Such second-tier finishes have been a rarity, but the last time the club were at that level in 2017-18, supporters would have snapped your hands off for one instead of the listless relegation that did take place.

One of the few positives during the season was a ‘FanFest’ held at the Stadium of Light during the October school holidays; including a training session and offering youngsters a chance to meet their heroes, just like the 1988 Supporters Open Day had done three decades earlier.

Patrick and Hummel mix and match (taken from Roker Review)

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