The original Roker Park, with its wooden structure, only took three months to build back in 1898, before it was opened in September of the same year by Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart, the 6th Marquess of Londonderry.
Originally built on farmland, the initial ground consisted of two stands – the main Grandstand (that would become the Main Stand), which held 3,000, and opposite that was the original Clock Stand with the two ends behind either goal beginning as open ends.
As the popularity grew with the success of the club, winning the title in 1902 and coming close on multiple occasions over the next decade, work began on improving the new ground.
The Roker End was the first to get a face-lift when the wooden structure that had been put in place since opening was concreted in 1911, under the guidance of famous Scottish engineer Archibald Leitch, making the capacity of Roker Park at that time around the 50,000 mark. This was increased further by 10,000 in 1925 when the Fulwell End was expanded on a plain earth bank.
Four years later in 1929, the main wooden grandstand was already requiring a rebuild and was completely demolished to be replaced by a new Main Stand. Once again it was designed by Archibald Leitch, whose trademark criss-cross steelwork balcony was on display, and was still visible until it finally came down in 1997.
This work almost bankrupted the club but increased the capacity to an official 60,000 as work continued moving into the 1930s. In 1936 it was the turn of the Clock Stand to be completely rebuilt, which ended up as a brand new 114m (375ft) structure. Sunderland’s first League Championship since 1913, in May 1936, was the trigger for that work.
Leitch’s company was once again employed to carry out the work in what would be one of their last major works before his death in 1939. The new Clock Stand was originally all standing, and would consist of two covered tiers with a crush barrier and in total would hold 15,500, which increased the capacity of the ground by around 6,000.
The work was carried out by J. W. White of Sunderland and was described as “a steel structure with wood treads on the stand and ash in concrete casings on the terracing in front of the stand”. It cost £18,000 to build and perhaps the best feature was that the “bob side” was sheltered for the first time at Roker Park and entrance to the two ends were fixed at that price.
In early August 1936, as the new season was approaching, it still wasn’t decided if the new stand would open for the first reserve team game with Blyth Spartans or the opening League game against Derby County. Bookings of season tickets for the coming season were the highest on record and it was a similar picture across the country as reported in the Evening Chronicle.
One encouraging feature of the present season, in my opinion, is that the majority of clubs will have better attendances at their matches on those dull and often dismal afternoons in November and December.
The early hour of the kick-off in those months must naturally bring a falling off in “gates” but now that so many clubs have increased their covered accommodation and made the lot of the shilling spectator much better, they will reap their reward.
And this movement in the way of improving our grounds, will continue. Twice as many stands have been erected upon grounds during the past four months as in the average summer, and there will be more still another year.
A big electric clock was also to be erected in the new stand. The Chief Constable, Mr John Ruddick, who was Chairman of the Unemployment Recreation Committee, was asked to accept the clock, which had been on the front of the old stand, so it could be placed in the front of the old Monkwearmouth and Southwick Hospital to replace the one which was taken to the new hospital - and the job of moving the clock was not a simple one.
The size and weight of the clock from the old stand at Roker Park surprised many who saw it yesterday, and not the least the six men who had the task of carrying it into its new home - the Roker Avenue Unemployment Social Centre - after its conveyance there on a cart.
I learn that Mr Duncan White, a director of the Sunderland Football Club, has promised to provide the men and material to erect the clock outside the the Unemployed Centre, where it will serve a useful purpose to the community. Furthermore, Mr Crawford, watchmaker, who has kept the clock in working order at the football ground is to continue the task voluntarily at its new abode.
Also ahead of the first home game of the season against Derby County, which was eventually decided would see the unveiling of the new stand, Sunderland were taking collections outside of Roker Park to help the dependents of those who lost their lives in the Barnsley Colliery disaster as reported in the Sunderland Echo.
This is an entirely spontaneous effort and, as in the case of the Gresford collection, the members of the Roker and Fulwell branch of the British Legion have come to Mr Cochrane’s aid and there will almost 60 collectors on duty at the gates.
Something like £130 was collected for Gresford. Can that be beaten tomorrow? It can if you all help by responding to the appeal.
Ahead of the scheduled kick-off at 6pm, the Clock Stand was officially opened by Lady Raine, the wife of club chairman Sir Walter Raine, at a ceremony where Mr Archibald Leitch, on behalf of the contractors, presented her with a diamond bracelet, and was further described in the Sunderland Echo.
Lady Raine opened it by giving the word for the flag to be raised. Of course nothing else could have been done, but it does seem rather amusing to open a stand which already had about 12,000 people in it. One man was there very early to open it. He was the first man in, as he had intended it to be.
Lady Raine also remarked during the ceremony that it was a great honour and she added her hopes for the season ahead.
This year we hope that Sunderland will not only win the English Cup, but also keep the League Championship.
In the game itself, it was last season champions up against Derby County who had finished runners-up, eight points adrift of the last Sunderland side to lift the title of the top tier in English football. By half-time we were three goals up and cruising, which was a relief as Sunderland had lost the opening game of the season away to last season’s strugglers Sheffield Wednesday four days prior to the visit of Derby County.
Patsy Gallagher had opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark and Raich Carter picked up where he left off the previous year having finished joint top league scorer with Bobby Gurney on 31 goals, netting twice for Sunderland before half-time.
Only seven minutes into the second half, Derby were back in the game and had pulled it back to 3-2 with plenty of time on the clock, but despite the pressure, the Lads held on to claim the win in front of the new Clock Stand.
The points were in the bag, the punters appeared pleased with the newly opened stand, and in terms of Lady Raine’s hopes for the season, she got half of what was hoped that season, but as Sunderland fans, we’re not greedy.