Bob Murray (he was made CBE and awarded a kinghood later) had spent years trying to realise his dream of giving Sunderland AFC a state-of-the-art home, and after years of proposals and knock backs, he finally saw light at the end of the tunnel on this day in 1995.
Pressing forward with plans to build a new stadium at the former Wearmouth Colliery site, a huge hurdle had been cleared in August when the Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer MP, had ruled that there would be no need for a public enquiry into the proposals. That cleared the way for local approval, and so on the 13th of November the Tyne & Wear Development Corporation gave planning permission for the scheme.
This was the moment Murray had been waiting for, and with the funding already in place and the snags now dealt with he soon pushed ahead. Within 48 hours six companies were invited to tender for the construction contract and the ‘Wearmouth Stadium’ as it was being referred too suddenly started to feel like a very real prospect. A quarter of a century later the ground is a world-renowned venue and a source of pride for many fans, but had the decision gone the other way who knows where the club would be right now?
Aside from that monumental news, the club also confirmed another bit of progress on the same day. Locally based kit suppliers Avec had first announced they were working with Sunderland in April 1994, and after weeks of negotiations an extension to that arrangement was now being made public. Their first designs, plus a subsequent yellow ‘third’ option, had already proven popular, and the agreement meant that SAFC’s strips and training gear would continue to be produced in County Durham for at least another season.
There had admittedly been some concerns when the partnership was first struck; whilst Avec was a sportwear division of the hugely successful parent company Claremont Garments, they were a new player in the market with no track record of success. Claremont had admittedly been a long-term supplier to Marks & Spencer, but Sunderland were the first football team to sign up and so were taking a step into the unknown.
A key figure in the deal had been Avec’s founder Peter Crawford, and it was his reputation perhaps that made the difference. A former managing director at football boots and accessories firm Quaser, he had plenty of experience to fall back on. Not only did he know the business side of things though, but he also knew the game and the club - he had been on the books at Roker as a schoolboy prior to an ankle injury that forced him to quit playing and though he never got to pull one on for real, he would now be overseeing the manufacture of what were to be the final strips of the Roker Park era.
One of the players that was set to continue gracing the shirt was fan favourite Martin Smith. On the day the club was celebrating its double boost he was turning 21, and the following evening was part of a Football League representative side alongside Michael Gray that took on their Italian counterparts in Huddersfield. He was then back on Wearside in time for the weekend, coming off the bench against Sheffield United as the Lads made it 11 games unbeaten in the league.
To mark their recent news Avec were match sponsors for the game, the Blades having also been another early adopter. Wearing kits from the same source and bearing the logo of Vaux subsidiary Ward’s, the visitors made a half decent impression of Sunderland but were beaten comfortably enough. With the team taking shape under Peter Reid then, a new kit deal that was later reported as setting a record figure secured and now a brand new ground on the horizon, Sunderland were about to start going places…