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Roker Roundtable: What are your favourite opening-day Championship memories?

We asked our panel to take a trip down memory lane and highlight their personal favourite memories from Championship or Division One opening days…

A general view of the Stadium of Light

Derek Carter says…

I’d like to take you back to August 25th 1984, and contrary to what some of you may believe, dinosaurs weren’t actually roaming the Earth at that point……or were they?

Our manager back then was Len Ashurst, and as we kicked off the season at home to Southampton, none of us could have predicted what a rollercoaster ride that year was going to be.

We’d made one or two signings, and the first one to make his mark was a young fellow by the name of Gary Bennett, who did what Maradona couldn’t do by scoring a legal goal past Peter Shilton.

That was after two minutes, and just four minutes later, Barry Venison put us two nil up. Mark Proctor scored a third before local lad David Armstrong grabbed a consolation for the Saints.

Southampton had a strong squad, and their team that day included established internationals Peter Shilton, Mick Mills, Mark Wright and Joe Jordan, as well as highly-rated youngsters Steve Williams, Steve Moran and Danny Wallace. A young gent by the name of Reuben Agboola also featured. It was a great start to our season and we reached the final of the League Cup- or Milk Cup as it was known then.

We lost and ended up being relegated along with our opponents- Norwich City, but where did the dinosaur come in?

The Southampton manager that day was none other than Lawrie McMenemy, who took over at Roker Park the following season. I’ll leave it there.

Sunderland Photo by Staff/NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Kelvin Beattie says…

Following on from Derek’s 3-1 victory over the Saints (which I witnessed and enjoyed), I’d like to take you back to the 1974/1975 season, when I witnessed a cracking 4-1 win at Millwall on the opening day, and was full of hope and expectation as Southampton headed to Roker Park for our opening home fixture of the season.

Over 34,000 noisy fans were in attendance, but Southampton were in no mood to let us take the points easily, and with Mick Channon in perky form- ably assisted by Peter Osgood and a resolute Saints defence, we trailed 1-0 to a Channon penalty following a foul by Bobby Kerr on Peter Osgood (a physical mismatch if ever there was one).

I genuinely thought Lawrie McMenemy’s team would claim the points in the second half, but not for the first time, I was wrong. Whatever Bob Stokoe said to the Lads at half time, it worked perfectly.

We came out and completely bossed the second half, with the midfield of Longhorn, Towers and Kerr really getting a grip of the game. Dave Watson scored a peach of a goal, nonchalantly flicking the ball high into the roof of the net with the outside of his right foot, as the Southampton defence was distracted by Sunderland forwards moving left, right and centre.

Pop Robson then ghosted into the box and scored a second, to open his account for the season. We were rampant now and with the crowd baying for more, Billy Hughes scored an absolute belter to make up for his tame penalty miss in the first half.

Kerr angled a long clearance into the Southampton half, and before their defence could react, Hughes was on it, powering his way up the wing, shrugging aside the full back, before rounding Turner in the Saints goal and sliding the ball into the back of the net.

For me, this was trademark Hughesie: speed, power, control and with the flowing dark locks, the crowd roared their approval. I saw many of Hughes’ goals for us, and this was as good as any of them.

Dave Watson was my pick as man of the match, with an all-action performance that saw his less-heralded skills of passing and bringing the ball out of defence come to the fore. Hughes, Kerr and Moncur- along with Robson and Longhorn- also had very good games on a day when the whole team served notice that promotion could be on the cards!

After two games, I had witnessed seven goals for my team, with only two against, in the best opening to any season I could remember. Promotion was not to be, however, with Man Utd and Aston Villa eventually going up.

It was a season of great games and performances punctuated by dips in form. The makings of a good team was there and 1975/1976 saw us return to Division One with the nucleus of the team that had started the previous season.

Soccer - Football League Division Two - Fulham v Sunderland Photo by S&G/PA Images via Getty Images

Andrew Smithson says…

I think I’ll go for Derby County at home in 1991/1992. The game itself wasn't anything special, but I have a lot of memories about the things surrounding it.

We’d been unfortunate to go down the season before, and a lot of supporters fancied us to challenge for promotion, so the crowd seemed well up for it. It had also been a summer without a major international tournament, people were itching to get back to games, and because there was the classic ‘opening day sunshine’, the place was buzzing.

I was still young at the time, but this was exactly the type of atmosphere that got me hooked, and afternoons like that are what I remember most whenever I look back on Roker Park.

Kickoff was greeted with a huge roar and there were several rounds of ‘Here We Go’ - the type of generic chant you only really hear nowadays on cheesy commercials featuring ‘footy fans’.

Because Derby had been relegated along with us, I think people expected a tight game, but all I really recall about the match is Gordon Armstrong’s close range finish to earn us a 1-1 draw, and that the visitors were wearing bright yellow.

It was also the first time I’d seen us in the classic Hummel strip with large chevrons down the side - these were the days before large squad overhauls in the close season, but the new strip meant it still felt like a fresh start.

Although I think we won our next match, our promotion hopes soon faded after that. The season still ended with Sunderland chasing glory, just not in the way we envisioned - the cup run brought further excitement but there were plenty of ups and downs in between.


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