Let There Be Light
During the holiday season, travel can be difficult on public transport, or even non-existent. If you combine this negative thinking with the ongoing strikes and chaos surrounding transport, it seems obvious to stay local and that’s what we did.
Just nine miles away from our town lies one of the northeast’s biggest clubs, Sunderland. It seemed fitting after last week’s visit to Newcastle United, that we revisit the Stadium of Light. We went to the ground last season but it was among those that never got blogged and now was a good time to put that right.
Sunderland – Journey and Pre-Game
As last week, this was a 12:30 kick-off and there would be no visit to a pub for lunch before the game.
We caught the direct bus to Sunderland from our local bus station at 10:07 am and were deposited at Sunderland Interchange just after 11:00. From the bus station, it is a further 1.2-mile walk to the Stadium of Light.
This included crossing the River Wear via the Wearmouth Bridge.
Originally opened in 1796, it was reconstructed between 1857 and 1859 by the famous civil engineer Robert Stephenson, son of rail pioneer, George. The current ironwork bridge that is there today, was built around the original bridge in 1927 to accommodate an increased volume of traffic. It was officially opened by the (then) Duke of York who would go on to become King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II.
The adjoining railway bridge was built in 1879.
After turning left at St. Peter’s Metro station and walking along Hay Street, the stadium started looming ahead of us.
Before that though, there were a couple of growling stomachs to take care of.
At the end of Hay Street is Sizzlers Cafe, which is basically a chip shop and it was doing a roaring trade. We popped in and got a portion of chips each for a total of £6.00.
I’m sure there are better places available for food but if you are just looking to assuage a hunger pang before the game, this place is ideal for that. There are also plenty of food trucks on the approach to the stadium.
Sunderland – The Stadium
Bob Stokoe Statue
Once the chips were eaten, we made our way across the car park to the southeast corner of the stadium. This is the area where you will find a statue that commemorates one of Sunderland’s finest moments.
The Bob Stokoe statue is a tribute not only to the man but also to the moment.
The club reached the 1973 FA Cup Final, where they were heavy underdogs against the excellent Leeds United team of the seventies. They overcame their illustrious opponents on the day and manager Bob Stokoe couldn’t contain his excitement, rushing onto the hallowed Wembley turf to celebrate with his team.
That moment in the club’s history is perfectly captured in the statue. Sculpted by Sean Hedges-Quinn, it was unveiled in 2006. Inscribed on the plinth are the words of Bob himself: “I didn’t bring the magic. It’s always been here… I just came back to find it.”
Bob Murray Gates
We walked past the Roker Stand to the left of the statue and around the corner of the West Stand. Here there are some gates dedicated to Sunderland fans of the past, present and future.
Former chairman, Bob Murray was the man in charge when the club made the move from Roker Park to the Stadium of Light and these gates are a permanent dedication to the fans, from Murray.
Past these gates, we came to the club shop. We bought a programme for £3.00 and incredibly, Mrs Hopper bought a chunky wool Sunderland hat. That in itself isn’t incredible unless you remember that last weekend, she bought a Newcastle scarf on our visit to St. James’ Park.
Is there anyone else in the country that owns a Newcastle United scarf and a Sunderland hat? 👀
Well, at least nobody can accuse us of bias!
After leaving the club store, we made our way inside the stadium.
Our tickets were bought online via the Sunderland ticket system. These were print-at-home tickets that are read by automatic scanners at the turnstile.
One thing to point out is that these turnstiles are the full revolving gate type and there isn’t a lot of room to get through if you are big of stature or maybe a woman carrying a large handbag, for example.
Once inside, the concourse is very much in keeping with every other modern-day stadium. Breeze blocks, toilets, snack bars and lots of people.
Inside, the stadium itself is a superb one.
The Stadium of Light is located two miles away from their old ground Roker Park, on the former site of the Monkwearmouth Colliery. The stadium was opened in 1997 with a prestige friendly game against Ajax of Amsterdam.
It has since been used to host England internationals and large-scale music concerts.
With an original capacity of 42,000, another tier was added to the north end of the ground, which was opened in 2000.
With a new capacity of 48,707, the Stadium of Light is now the ninth-biggest football ground in England. Although, I’m sure Sunderland fans won’t thank me for pointing out that St. James’ Park is one of the stadiums in the list above them…
Sunderland – Stadium Gallery
Local indie singer Tom A. Smith, at just eighteen years old, took to the centre circle to perform one of his tracks before leading the fans in singing ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. The Elvis Presley track which has become a club anthem at Sunderland.
The sound system didn’t do Tom any favours, but having subsequently checked him out on YouTube, I found his stuff pretty good and to a certain extent, it reminded me of some old Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds stuff.
I hope Tom approves of the comparison!
As Tom departed the field to applause, we went from indie to classical.
Sergei Prokoviev and Sunderland… it might not sound like they have much in common but it is the Russian composer’s ‘Romeo and Juliet Suite’ that was chosen as the entrance music for all Sunderland home games. You may also recognise it as the theme music for the TV programme, ‘The Apprentice’.
As a regular visitor to the U21 teams’ games, I can also confirm it is used for their matches too.
Flag-waving kids provided a guard of honour for the players to walk out to, as flags were also held up in other parts of the ground.
Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers – The Game
Coming into this game, Blackburn Rovers were sitting in third position in the Championship, behind clear leaders Burnley and Sheffield United. After twenty-three games played, amazingly, Blackburn hadn’t drawn a single game all season. They had two wins and two defeats in the last four games leading into this fixture.
In retrospect, that made my pre-match prediction of 1-1 look a little silly…
Sunderland, meanwhile, sat in thirteenth position, with two wins, a draw and a defeat in their last four games.
With the players on the pitch and the ground filling nicely, it was time to get to the main action of the day.
Sunderland’s on-loan star, Amad Diallo got the game underway and he would go on to give a man-of-the-match performance in the home side’s victory.
Blackburn had the first chance of the half but Bradley Dack sent his shot from the edge of the box over the bar.
The first half was largely dominated by the Black Cats against a somewhat lacklustre Rovers side that I would have expected more from. Patrick Roberts put in a cross that was narrowly short of Jack Clarke’s head in the 15th minute.
Despite the visitors struggling, it was they who took the lead in the 18th minute against the run of play.
A free-kick from the left was swung over into the box by Tyler Morton. A tangled combination of a flying Ross Stewart and the oncoming Daniel Ayala saw the ball fly into the Sunderland net, though the goal was officially chalked down as an own goal by Ross Stewart.
0-1 Blackburn Rovers!
The lead didn’t last long though and Sunderland drew level from the penalty spot just four minutes after going behind.
Some neat passing around the edge of the area saw the ball land at the feet of Stewart. He was brought down by John Buckley in the centre of the area before getting up to take the spot-kick himself.
The penalty kick was cooly dispatched into the bottom left corner of the net, sending Rovers’ keeper Thomas Kaminski, in the opposite direction.
1-1 Sunderland Equaliser!
Despite Sunderland being the better team, the rest of the half was pretty devoid of clear-cut chances for either side.
Tricky winger, Amad Diallo was bright throughout the game and it’s easy to see why Manchester United thought highly enough of him to pay Atalanta the best part of £37m in January of 2021.
This is his second loan spell away from the Red Devils, following a stint at Glasgow Rangers for the second half of last season. If today’s performance is anything to go by, he is going to be an exciting prospect to watch over the coming years. Always willing to run at defenders and has some excellent passing, too.
Near the end of the first forty-five, Jack Clarke skipped past a couple of Rovers defenders before being seemingly brought down. The ball landed in front of Patrick Roberts and the winger cut inside before putting his shot just wide of Kaminski’s near post.
Half-time – Sunderland 1 Blackburn Rovers 1
The Second Half
The second forty-five was more of the same, with Sunderland having the better of it and Blackburn defending doggedly.
Five minutes into the half, Trai Hume replaced an injured Dennis Cirkin at left-back and with his first touch had a shot that was saved by Kaminski. He then became one of eight players to be booked five minutes later. Three Sunderland and five Rovers players were shown the yellow card in a game that never felt like it deserved that many cards.
Twenty minutes from time, Clarke burst through the centre of the pitch and found himself unchallenged right to the edge of the area. I felt he should have taken a shot there but he unselfishly passed the ball to his right for Stewart. Stewart’s shot was tame though and landed straight in the arms of a grateful Kaminski.
Blackburn had their first shot at goal in the 72nd minute, with Tyler Morton forcing a good save out of Anthony Patterson. His shot from the edge of the area had Patterson at full-stretch to make a good one-handed save to turn the ball wide for a corner.
A minute later and Amad forced Kaminski into another save as the game became a bit more stretched. Ben Brereton Diaz did likewise at the other end, with Patterson being equal to his efforts.
However, there was no doubt by this stage that Sunderland deserved to win, but with time running out, my pre-match prediction of 1-1 was looking good.
With ten minutes left on the clock, former Blackburn manager, Tony Mowbray, made an inspired double substitution. He brought on another on-loan star, Everton’s Ellis Simms and it was he who broke the deadlock.
With ninety minutes up on the clock at the Roker end of the ground, Sunderland made another desperate attempt to snatch the three points and this time, they succeeded.
A free-kick just inside Rovers’ half was aimed to the left angle of the penalty box by Luke O’Nien. Daniel Ballard rose highest and knocked the ball down into the middle of the box where the Rovers’ defence had a chance to clear the ball. Lewis Travis took too long though and had the ball snatched off his toe and poked towards Ballard, who again managed to turn the ball inwards.
This time it landed at the feet of Simms, who moved the ball to the side of his marker before stabbing it goalwards with his right foot. The ball went into the bottom left-hand corner of the net and the stadium erupted in a wall of noise.
Simms and the whole Sunderland team, wheeled away to celebrate in front of the fans as they secured another three valuable points in their quest for a playoff place.
Everyone loves a dramatic last-minute winner unless you are on the receiving end, of course, and it was a happy fanbase that greeted the final whistle a couple of minutes later
You can read a Match Report here from the Chronicle website.
Full-time – Sunderland 2 Blackburn Rovers 1
Attendance – 43,940
Entrance Fee – £29.00
Programme – £3.00
Next up for Sunderland are two away games, starting with Wigan Athletic on the 29th and then New Year’s Day action at Blackpool.
Meanwhile, Blackburn Rovers will face Middlesbrough and Cardiff City at Ewood Park on the 29th of December and 1st of January respectively.
Sunderland v Blackburn Rovers – Match Highlights
Sunderland – After the Game
Following the final whistle, we made our way out of the stadium and retraced our steps back to Sunderland bus station.
The herd didn’t thin out until we got back into the city centre and as we crossed the bridge back over the River Wear, we were still in the thick of a good-sized crowd.
Because of our slow progress back to the city centre, we got back to the station too late to catch our bus, meaning we had to wait another hour for the next bus home.
Standing in any bus station for the best part of an hour is not much fun and Sunderland is no exception. Still, it eventually showed up and we climbed aboard our chariot.
We were back home by approximately 17:00 pm.
This now leaves me pondering our next journey. I have tickets for the Hartlepool United v Stoke City FA Cup game on January 8th but I’m not sure if we will get to see any further action before then.