Having arrived in 1886 and spent more time there than they had done at all their previous grounds put together, Sunderland AFC were ready to leave their impressive Newcastle Road ground.
The stadium was highly regarded as one of the best in the region, but whilst the team had enjoyed several high points during the period, their status as tenants was proving to be an issue.
The club wanted to have their own ground and had therefore developed a new home at Roker, but before they moved out the Lads were about to give their old lodgings a fitting farewell.
Sunderland had been due to finish the 1897-98 league campaign a week earlier, but Newcastle Road had been given a stay of execution by virtue of their scheduled opponents Nottingham Forest reaching the FA Cup final.
So, with Forest busy beating local rivals Derby County at Crystal Palace to win the cup the club invited Preston North End up for a friendly match instead and rearranged the original fixture for seven days later.
Either way, Sunderland’s hopes of winning the league title were already over with Sheffield United having been crowned champions earlier in the month. There was nothing riding on the game against Forest, therefore, and after beating Preston 4-2 the club took to the road for three further exhibition matches before returning to play the newly crowned FA Cup holders.
Despite this gruelling schedule Robert Campbell still named a strong side though, with Thomas Lee, making his second and in fact final appearance for the club, and debutant Tom Prince the only inexperienced faces on show.
The visitors were given a warm reception from the Wearside crowd as they took to the pitch, whereas Sunderland came out in white shirts and dark shorts; whilst their red and white stripes had first been introduced during the Newcastle Road years and had since become the norm, the visitors were wearing predominantly red kit and it was still the case at this point that the home side would change in the instance of a colour clash.
Sunderland came racing out of the blocks and were ahead within seconds when Jimmy Chalmers chested the ball in. A John Brown shot half an hour later made it 2-0, and moments after Jim Leslie extended the lead further. The goal nudged Leslie back ahead of Brown to make him top scorer for the season, but the honour of scoring the final goal of the Newcastle Road era fell to Chalmers, who went on a solo run before finishing.
Both sides took the foot off the peddle after half time as the leaving party wound down and people began reflecting on what had undoubtedly been a successful relationship for all concerned.
Sunderland had moved to Newcastle Road whilst still little more than a fledgling outfit and were now heading to pastures new as a powerhouse of the game, developing over the 12 years into not only a Football League club but as three times champions too.
The ground itself had become world renowned too, staging an England international in 1891 and providing the backdrop to Thomas Hemy’s famous 1895 oil painting of a match between Sunderland and Aston Villa.
Sunderland’s first game there had actually come in 1884, when the Durham FA had let the ground for the Durham Challenge Cup final against Darlington.
During their time as full time residents however the club had seen rent double under the ownership of the local landowners the Thompsons (nearby Thompson Park is named after one of the sisters, Margaret), and with debts mounting chairman John Potts Henderson knew the future lay elsewhere. Roker Park would give the club the chance to develop further, but Newcastle Road will forever have a place in its history.
Saturday 23 April 1898
Football League Division One
Sunderland 4 (Chalmers 1, 40, Brown 31, Leslie 32)
Nottingham Forest 0
Sunderland: Doig: Ferguson, Wilson; Dunlop, McAllister, Lee; Morgan, Leslie, Brown, Prince, Chalmers.
Roker Park, attendance c. 12,000