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Roker Roundtable: Choosing our greatest memories of Roker Park!

As we mark 125 years since the first game at our former home, we asked our writers to pick their favourite games and moments against the backdrop of the ‘Roker Roar’

Photo by NCJ Archive/Mirrorpix/Getty Images

Anthony Gair says…

That’s an easy one for me.

Picture the scene: It’s 1997, with lots of curtain hairstyles and baggy jeans.

In the midst of Manchester United being the best team in the world, a lowly Sunderland side hosted them in a match that could surely only end in defeat for the Black Cats.

We’d recently been hammered 4-0 by Tottenham and we were looking more and more like the side more likely to get relegated until Beckham, Cantona and company turned up at Roker Park.

Against all the odds, we beat them 2-1 in an atmosphere that forced me to get my first ever season ticket for 1997/1998.

Michael Gray and John Mullin were the scorers that day when the lads on Wearside shocked the footballing world.

I know we still got relegated, but this result gave the lads belief and it made me fall in love with football as a twelve-year-old.

John Mullin

Kelvin Beattie says…

I’m struggling to pick my absolute favourite so I’m going back to the 1960s!

My first full season watching the Lads was 1966/1967. Colin Todd made his debut this season along with Bobby Kerr, Billy Hughes and Colin Suggett - homegrown youngsters who were class.

Throw in Jimmy Montgomery, Charlie Hurley, Martin Harvey, the phenomenal Neil Martin and the ‘flowerpot men’ (Len Ashurst & Cec Irwin) and spice them all up with my idol ‘Slim’ Jim Baxter, and I wonder how we didn’t win the league!

The game that I remember was my first ‘50,000’ derby at Roker Park.

We’d hammered Newcastle 3-0 at Sid James’ Park earlier in the season and I watched that game from the Leazes fence with my scarf around my neck. Could we do the double? Yes, we could!

It was 0-0 at half time in a roughhouse of a derby, and our artisans had threatened without producing a goal, but the second half was memorable as our classy performers got to strut their stuff, and Baxter was the catalyst.

His switch had been flicked and he strutted his way through the second half, with nutmegs and a slide-rule long and short ball game. He was brilliant.

Kerr scored twice, one of which was a header, and George Mulhall got the other. Toddo was class throughout this game and he looked just as comfortable as Baxter on the big stage.

Neil Martin ran Moncur and McGrath ragged and what can you say about Kerr? The ‘Little General’ was merely a private at this point in his Sunderland career, but his football brain as well as his skill was there for all to see.

It was my first Roker derby and it ended in a 3-0 victory in front of a raucous 50,000+ crowd. I was a very happy nine year old as I headed back to Morpeth after this one!

Soccer - Football League Division One - Chelsea v Sunderland Photo by Barratts/PA Images via Getty Images

Phil West says…

I honestly don’t think you can look beyond the 6-0 demolition of Millwall during the 1995/1996 season, which was not only an emphatic statement of intent as we began to show our promotion credentials, it was also a game dominated by my first Sunderland hero, Craig Russell.

When I saw the ‘Jarrow Arrow’ play for the first time, I knew this was a player that I could throw my weight behind and by way of a modern comparison, imagine how young Sunderland fans of today might feel when watching Dan Neil, because that’s how I felt whenever Russell took to the field.

As a centre forward, he was pure class: pacy, elusive, and prolific in front of goal. Moreover, he was also a homegrown hero and every goal he scored was a moment of mutual joy.

His eventual departure from Sunderland in 1997 was a real sore point, but that was still to come and as we cranked up the pressure in the race for promotion from Endsleigh Division One (glory days), the local hero grabbed the game and set about dismantling Mick McCarthy’s side with an epic performance.

Russell played through the middle and he simply destroyed the visitors with a four-goal display that left us dazzled and Peter Reid doubtless elated at what he’d seen. That season, finding a settled attack was quite difficult, with Phil Gray in and out of the team and David Kelly often injured, but the local lad stepped up when it mattered.

Everything Russell touched that day came off- so much so that he didn’t really know how to celebrate his fourth goal - and as Roger Tames noted in his commentary, we were ‘walking on water’ by the end of the game.

You could argue that there were more important and more prestigious games played at Roker during the 1990s, but this one really stands out for me, and it always will, as one man stood tall and showed us exactly what he was capable of.

Soccer - First Division - Sunderland - Craig Russell Photo by Barrington Coombs/EMPICS via Getty Images


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