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Thirty years on, the link between Sunderland’s mining roots and football remains strong

“Our stadium sits proudly on the site of a colliery which helped to shape the city that we’ve become, and that history should always be protected,” writes Paddy Hollis.

Photo credit should read GRAHAM STUART/AFP via Getty Images


When Sunderland AFC relocated to the Stadium of Light in 1997, we moved onto a site that had looked very different just a few years earlier.

The landscape is now dominated by our home stadium but it was once home to a deep coal mine, one of hundreds in the North East.

Sunderland has a proud history of being home to hardworking people with tough jobs. Shipyards once lined the River Wear and along much of the coastline was evidence of collieries.

Monkwearmouth Colliery opened in 1835 and for over a century, it was the workplace for generations of men and boys from the surrounding area.

However, the colliery was closed in 1993, much of the traces of coal mining ever having taken place were removed and in July 1997, the Stadium of Light opened on what has become historically significant land for the city.

Sunderland v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

The colliery was the last in the Durham coalfield to close and was also the largest in Sunderland.

Throughout its years of operation, thousands of miners descended into the bowels of the earth to take on what was a brutal and often dangerous job. Dozens of miners lost their lives at Monkwearmouth Colliery, with two being killed as late as 1992.

Fortunately, Sunderland AFC has made an effort to keep the memory of the colliery alive.

The miner's lamp on the roundabout close to the ticket office and the pulley wheel memorial in front of the West Stand both serve as timely reminders of the history that lies under your feet when you stand next to them.

My generation and those younger will never have a true understanding of what it was like to work down a coal mine, but the pride that I feel when finding out as much as I can about it goes some way towards getting a grasp of just what it was like.

The collieries and shipyards of Sunderland and the wider County Durham area were the lifeblood of the region, and Sunderland fans old and young would’ve spent their working week doing hard graft with one eye on the weekend and watching the Lads take to the pitch at Roker Park.

The National Miners Strike 1984 Miners out in force at Sunderlans’s Wearmouth Colliery demonstrating their solidarity as an NCB deadline to abandon the pit approached 11 October 1984 Photo by NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Since the move to the Stadium of Light, the nature of the work may have changed but the concept is still the same - a fanbase that works hard and looks forward to match day.

In 2023, the closest anyone will get to the historic Monkwearmouth Colliery is by being at the Stadium of Light, which is fitting in more ways than one, because the North East in general has a proud history and a lot of this is centred around its coal mining heritage.

My grandad was a miner in County Durham for decades, and understanding the hard work he had to put in and the comradeship that thrived at the coal face fills me with a great sense of pride in knowing where our region’s history comes from.

Keeping the mining heritage of the area - and particularly Sunderland AFC’s connection alive - is vital in not forgetting what the industry went through.

Ensuring that the memorials and the historical documents, including photos, remain accessible is the best way of protecting a part of history that’s ingrained into the North East and our football club.

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