Result: Sunderland 3-0 Southend United (EFL League One)
Venue: Stadium of Light (Saturday 27th October 2018, 3pm)
Finally getting back on the ’92’ trail, I decided to ‘tick off’ one of the longer-term trips I have left on the cards, though also one that was on the easier side, compared to some others. The Stadium of Light has been a ground I’ve long had as a target to visit and so I reckoned that there was no time like the present, especially having not been to a league game for almost two months, since being hamstrung by my aging past the limits of the 16-25 railcard. Of course, with the news of the new one being rolled out nationwide, my quest becomes all the easier on the pocket and so, having booked tickets a couple of weeks before, this would end up being something of a needlessly dear do. Ah well, to Sunderland it was!
Being dropped off in Manchester, I caught the service from Victoria at just after 8.30 and via a swift changeover at Northallerton onto a rubbish bag filled Grand Central service which was also full of both home and away fans en route to the game, I arrived into Wearside at just after 11.50am. After a short time getting my bearings outside the station, a cut through the nearby shopping centre had me heading towards what was my first planned stop of the day, the quite unfortunately named Ship Isis, or as the guy there conceded, he’d take it, quite understandably, as simply “The Ship”. In here, I opted to start off on something refreshing and opted for a pint of the Grapefruit ale they had on. It was bloody lovely stuff too, though at only 2.5%, it was somewhat premium at £4. Moving on, the nearby Museum Vaults was sadly shut it seemed and so I returned towards the Sunderland Minster and to the Dun Cow, where a pint of Moretti set me back an unexpectedly eye-watering £4.90. OUCH!! Entertainment here was supplied by a pint being knocked over the table and the resultant furniture re-organisation taking a fair bit of time. A guy did remind me to take my bag with me though, which helped relieve my shock which I was obviously still suffering from!
Sunderland is a city in the Tyne and Wear area at the mouth of the River Wear. The earliest inhabitants of the area were from the Stone Age and nearby Hastings Hill was of particular significance to the early dwellers. It is also thought the Brigante people occupied the area spanning both sides of the Roman-era in Britain, while legend has it the Romans had constructed a fort where the former Vaux Brewery stands, though there’s no evidence of this to date. Historically located in County Durham, there was originally three settlements in the area that Sunderland now occupies, while Monkwearmouth to the north of the river was settled in 674 AD when King Ecgrifth of Northumbria gave land to the North of the Wear to Bishop (St.) Benedict Biscop (now the city’s patron saint) to found the monastery there.
The Bishop was later granted further land to the south of the river and this village became known as “soender-land” as it was separated from the monastic community and this would grow into a fishing community prior to being granted a charter in 1179. Meanwhile, Bishopwearmouth made up the trio in 930. On a side note, the “finest book in the world” – the Codex Aminatus and the ‘…History of the English People’ was created by the “father of English History, Bede, at the monastery. The Vikings raided the area in the 8th century and the monastery was abandoned soon after. After the Civil War had seen skirmishes in the local area, Sunderland would continue to grow as a port throughout the years, largely trading in coal and salt before ships began to be built on the river during the 14th century and the world’s second iron bridge was built there in 1796 which was, at the time, the largest single-spam bridge built.
By the 19th century, the port of Sunderland had absorbed the nearby areas of Monk and Bishop-wearmouth due to the ever-growing importance of the shipbuilding industry there, though it was also the first place to be affected by the era’s cholera outbreak that later spread across the country, taking the lives of 32,000 people, including Sunderland Naval hero Jack Crawford. The Borough of Sunderland was later created in 1835 due to demands. However, the 20th century saw the decline of Sunderland’s traditional industries begin to decline after the wars (during which Sunderland experienced regular raids on its ports and factories) and this continued throughout the century, these being replaced by the expanding automotive industry, whilst also taking on science and technology companies too. It received city status in 1992.
Having seen a large group of people heading into the unspectacular looking The Rabbit a few doors back down (they seem to like animal-named pubs around here, by the way), I decided to go and have a look in case I was missing anything. To be honest, I wasn’t really although it did allow me to watch some of the game on TV with a Hop House (£4.60) before I crossed over the road to pay a visit to the interestingly named Vesta Tilley’s, whose cheap beer sign outside had peaked my interest on my earlier passing. It was duly packed inside and didn’t let me down either, a pint of Woodpecker coming in at just the £2.45, somewhat allaying my earlier shockers! The place was decked out in numerous Hallowe’en decorations too which gave it a different feel too, though I did want to give myself some time to head over the road to the old Fire Station bistro/bar place which looked quite cool. I didn’t expect too much in the way of cheapness in there, but that consideration went out the window almost as soon as I went in as I saw Blue Moon on draught and I didn’t care about prices any longer. £4.75 it ended up being, which wasn’t too bad overall, and I headed over to the rear of the building, it being standing room only once more. However, this did end up allowing me to meet with Dad and Son duo David and Joe, two St. Mirren fans who also follow the Black Cats. Joe has had a good start to his live footballing life, his previous St. Mirren game being the Championship presentation and this, his first Sunderland game, had all the hallmarks of a good clash too. David was even kind enough to offer a few Love Lane-themed extras if I ever visit St. Mirren’s ground, so thanks again for that!
It was soon time to move out and having managed to get Joe do partake in a real handshake via the medium of his Dad’s persuasion, I headed onwards directly towards the Stadium of Light, which is easily visible from a fair way out. Crossing over the dual foot/road bridge, I was soon coming up towards the Wheatsheaf, a pub just across the way from the ground which I’d been recommended by “Jimmy Sirrel’s Lovechild” on Twitter. I never thought I’d type that….Anyway, the Wheatsheaf proved a fine tip and also offered a former taste of home up in the North East in the form of Boddington’s. Of course, I would have to accept the fact this would be in plastic, though this didn’t affect things too much. In a bit of a rush by that point, I forgot to take a both a photo of the pub or a note of how much the Boddies cost (sorry, Kenny, please let me off on this one!).
With the time heading towards half-two, I reckoned I’d make my way round to the nearby cash turnstiles, as I wanted to be in the ground for the wreath laying and minute’s silence with regard to Remembrance Day, this fixture being Sunderland’s last home game before the 11th. Sorting out a programme en route (£3), I headed to the turnstiles for the usual bag check prior to handing over my £20 entry fee and heading up into one of the corners of the ground, taking what looked like the final Chicken Balti (£3) pie with me as I went. Nice too. Finishing up just in time for the aforementioned acts of remembrance, the minute’s silence was observed impeccably after the initial roar from some forgetful/unaware fans in the away end prior to the game being all set to go.
The Stadium of Light is quite an impressive ground in my opinion and offered fine views from my vantage point in between the North and East stands. The ground is obviously an all-seater stadium, being built in 1997 to replace the now departed Roker Park. Being named during construction as “Wearside Stadium” and “New Roker Park”, its “Stadium of Light” name was eventually revealed just before the ground-opening game against Ajax, its name deriving from the area’s coal mining heritage and Monkwearmouth Colliery site – more specifically the Davy Lamps the miners used, the name “…allows the image of this light to shine forever”. A lamp is duly located outside the ticket office. The name was initially taken with mixed reactions, with some fans unhappy with the name already being associated with the ground of S.L. Benfica, the Estadio da Luz. The ground itself sees its West Stand hosting a higher upper tier (known as the Premier Concourse) than the remainder of the ground, and also is home to executive boxes and the dressing rooms/tunnel. The North Stand also has an upper tier and hosts an executive bar area, whilst the East and South Stands are of similar size. On a side note, the pink seats around the ground are in the process of being replaced and this seems to be a very important and joyful happening! That’s the Stadium of Light in a nutshell and this is the story of the Black Cats of Sunderland….
Sunderland Association Football Club was founded in 1879 as Sunderland and District Teachers AFC and would later join the Football League in 1890, replacing Stoke who’d failed to be re-elected. In doing so, they also became the first “new” club to join the league since its formation. They won the title in 1892, just the club’s second season in the League and successfully defended their title the next season, scoring 100 goals in the process, a feat which wasn’t matched until 1920. They continued to be successful in the lead up to the turn of the century, finishing runners-up in 1894, but did win back the championship in 1895. They would then go on to play Scottish champs Hearts in the “Championship of the World” match, with Sunderland winning 5-3 and being declared as the World Champions. They would again finish as league runners-up in 1898, which was their last season at their Newcastle Road ground, the club moving into their new home, Roker Park.
After finishing runners-up for a third time in 1901, their fourth title win came the next year and achieved their record win, 9-1, in the league in 1908, this coming over arch rivals Newcastle United. A fifth title arrived in 1913, though the club would miss out on FA Cup success in their first final, losing out to Aston Villa by 1-0. Post-war, things would become slowly more difficult after an initial strong start in finishing runners-up once again in 1923, Sunderland narrowly avoiding relegation just five years later. However, the 1930’s would see an upturn in form return and a fifth league title was won in 1936, with a first FA Cup success following the next campaign, after a 3-1 triumph over Preston North End. The remainder of the decade saw the club drift into mid-table, priory to the outbreak of WWII. Wartime football was maintained in the form of the Football League War Cup, with Sunderland having a best of beaten finalists in 1942. Post-war, the 1949-’50 season saw the club record their best finish since their last title win with a 3rd place, though 1958 would see financial troubles affect the club and eventually result on their first relegation in their 68-year league history, as Sunderland dropped to Division 2.
Their absence from the to flight would last six seasons, Sunderland returning to the First Division as runners-up, though would be relegated once more back to Division 2 come the end of the decade. However, 1973 would see the club lift their second FA Cup title as they bested Leeds United, though this would end up being their last major trophy to date. In winning the Cup, Sunderland qualified for the Cup Winners’ Cup- their only European competition appearance to date, where they beat Vesta Budapest before bowing out to Sporting Lisbon over two legs, despite winning the first game at Roker Park.
After again spending six seasons in Division 2, Sunderland returned to the top flight as champions, but were immediately relegated back after one season. 1985 saw the Black Cats record their first League Cup final appearance, though this would end in disappointment, as they lost out to Norwich City and things got even worse three years later as Sunderland were relegated to Division 3. However, this drop would only be a brief blip, Sunderland returning back to Division 2 at the end of the season. The next season saw them achieve a second straight promotion in strange circumstances, as the club was promoted instead of Swindon, who’d defeated them in the play-offs, after the Robins had been penalised for financial irregularities. Their return to the top division would only be a short one, though, as they were relegated again two seasons later, just prior to the formation of the Premier League which ended up meaning Sunderland stayed in Division One, just at a lower level.
Sunderland would reach the FA Cup Final in 1992, losing 2-0 to Liverpool and after a flirtation with relegation during the earlier part of the decade, Peter Reid was brought in as manager and he achieved promotion from Division One to the Premiership in 1996. The club’s first Premiership foray would be brief, though, as they were relegated after a single season, though would return in 1999 as champions, their second season playing at the Stadium of Light, having left Roker Park in 1997 after an OCD wrecking 99 years. At the time, the new ground was the largest post-war ground built. The end of the seasons saw a highly credible 7th place achieved, with Kevin Phillips securing the European Golden Shoe in the process.
After again being relegated in 2003 with a then record low 19 points, Mick Mccarthy was brought in and he guided the club to the Division One title in 2005 and they duly returned to the top-flight. However they went one better the next season, but not positively, as the Black Cats went down with just 15 points to their name and McCarthy duly left soon after. Under Roy Keane, the club went 17 games unbeaten to secure a return to the Premier League as champions. Keane would be out after an up and down start to the 2008-’09 campaign, and a change of ownership saw Steve Bruce installed as boss. Further managerial changes followed, with the likes of Martin O’Neill, Paulo Di Canio and Gus Poyet taking the reigns. Poyet did lead the club to the 2014 League Cup final, in which they lost out to Manchester City at Wembley, though he would also be out by early 2015 and replaced by veteran Dutch manager Dick Advocaat, who kept the club in the Premier League.
Unfortunately, his early success didn’t translate into the new season and he resigned just eight games in, with Sam Allardyce taking over. He also saved Sunderland from the drop, though after he left for his ill-fated one-game spell as England boss, David Moyes took the job and oversaw Sunderland’s worst start to a Premier season. They were duly relegated come the end of the 2016-’17 season and things only got worse last season as both Simon Grays on and Chris Coleman came a went prior to Sunderland’s relegation to League One for this campaign, which had started in promising fashion, under new ownership.
The game got underway with the hosts taking the initiative early on, Jerome Sinclair seeing an early header fairly comfortably saved by Southend stopper Mark Oxley. Lee Cattermole saw an effort on goal fly wide of the mark for Sunderland, whilst the visiting Shrimpers’ early efforts came through Dru Yearwood and Taylor Moore, though neither hit the target. Southend were forced into an early change after 20 minutes when Ben Coker seemed to land awkwardly and was resultantly stretchered off and ten minutes later they suffered a further setback when the Black Cats took the lead, George Honeyman guiding a header into the corner from a Lynden Gooch delivery.
Southend came on strong after going behind and Simon Cox went close to levelling the scores soon afterwards, but saw his shot go narrowly wide before Harry Bunn saw his effort kept out by home ‘keeper Jon McLaughlin, but the game slowly turned into one of quite a number of fouls as the half wore on and after Cox had also forced McLaughlin into action, the sides headed in at the break with just the one goal still separating them. The half-time period came and went with little to speak of happening so let’s get on with the game, shall we?
The second half began with little of note occurring until the 53rd minute, when Yearwood saw an effort kept out before Sunderland duly countered and the ball ended up at the feet of Chris Maguire who unleashed a rocket of an effort that flew into the top corner, leaving Oxley with next to no chance of keeping it out. Aiden McGeady was introduced in the aftermath of the second goal and despite Southend continuing to create chances for Cox and Shawn McCoulsky seeing his goal-bound effort well kept out by McLaughlin, the points were made safe by McGeady himself when he latched onto Josh Maja’s pull back to slot home. 3-0 and the game was up.
Both sides would fashion one final chance each to add to the scoreline, Maguire seeing his shot blocked and Sam Mantom responding with an effort flying just over, the result would remain as it stood and Sunderland would secure their clean sheet and record a comfortable win over a strong-looking Southend side. As for me, a quick exit had me heading back through the gates and back over the bridge to the Peacock, where I was asked by a group of women what was housed in the tents in the square across the way. I said I thought there was a bar or something, but did stress I didn’t really know, though I was told not being local wasn’t an excuse and I was up for blame if I was wrong. I sincerely apologise if I was!! Anyway, after opting for a pint of Rekorderlig Passion Fruit in here (£4.95, God, what is happening?!), I headed back out to try and find an apparent “speakeasy” bar nearby.
This trek didn’t go well and I soon decided to give up on this fruitless task and instead pop into one of the Wetherspoon’s, the William Jameson, just along the road from the station. Finishing up my Sunderland visit on a cool day with a fitting bottle of the Russian beer Baltika, I headed back off to the station and its strange shadow display opposite the platform. It’s quite eerie in a strange way, especially if its quiet I’d presume. A small delay meant I would have a little extra time upon my arrival into York and so I took a visit to the York Tap on the station where a half-drunk guy made an effort to get me served as I’d spoke to him, despite there being no-one else waiting at that point. I appreciated the effort though! After a pint of Aspall’s in here to refresh, I grabbed the train back and pecked a lad by the name of Christian’s head until his eventual detraining at Huddersfield. I bet he was relieved!! I arrived back in Manchester to meet my parents, who’d been at a Rick Astley concert, in the Irish Bar near Victoria, where I would take advantage of their taxi back and I could definitely say I’d had the more enjoyable Saturday and concert the previous night, courtesy of Enrique. Sorry, Rick.
So ends my trip to the Stadium of Light and Sunderland itself. It had been a good, if pretty costly one, though was worth a visit. Despite the dear drinks around town, the £20 ticket was well worth the money, the game was decent and the pie was good. The programme was a fine read and transport went largely untroubled too, so not too perturbed. That’s that then and its a return for a proper “tick” next week as I head over to somewhere famously linked by ferry….