Moving stadiums is of course a rare occasion with the vast majority of football clubs and the last game is often a treasured affair, that is prominent in the fan’s memories for some time to come. Sunderland’s permanent exodus from Roker Park beckoning in the summer of 1997, of course meant a final match, which as it happens occurred fifteen years this week, on 3 May 1997.
Although the game to Everton held massive sentimental importance, arguably even more was riding on the game in terms of the clubs future, with points vital in the penultimate game of the season needed to give Sunderland the advantage in the relegation battle going into the final day away at Wimbledon. With Fans surely mourning the loss of Roker Park for at least a moment or two, the last thing they wanted was the addition of mourning their Premier League status.
With Division 1 football a possibility with the up and coming 42,000 seater stadium, staying in the top tier had never been more important. The future Stadium of Light being dubbed as a potential ‘white Elephant’, if Sunderland were to be playing in the Nationwide leagues in the third biggest club stadium in England.
The final opponents of the ninety nine year stay at Roker Park would not be rollovers, as Everton still were in a precarious situation at the bottom end of the table themselves. A bouncing atmosphere seemed to have rattled the Evertonians after a cagey first half on an occasion that they would have seldom experienced before. Duncan Ferguson bizzarely punched the ball out of his own box, and Paul Stewart converted the subsequent spot kick, to ease Sunderland’s worries going into the break 1-0 up.
The nerves were still lingering around the expiring Roker Park, but just before the hour mark they, the tension decreased as Waddle converted his free kick for his first goal in Sunderland colours. He was again involved in Sunderland’s final goal crossing for Allan Johnston to rustle the Roker Park net for the final time in a competitive game. The points were all but assured, and the fan’s attention could now turn to pondering on the recollections of the soon to be demolished stadium and soak in what they could before their final farewells.
The old depleted ground had held some of the club’s fondest memories including; many league championship’s won, witnessing talents like Len Shackleton and Brian Clough, FA Cup quarter final 1973 among many more. However, the painful memories were probably more memorable to modern fans of the time, as they had experienced little else.
Similar to the mix of emotions felt by Sunderland fans watching their beloved team, was the feeling towards the departure from Roker. Despite being the abode of many supporter’s hearts and hub of their treasured memories, the stadium was becoming more and more run down, and something was needed to boost the club to the next level in terms of stature, even if the team would be playing in the familiar surroundings of the second tier after defeat at Selhurst Park condemned Sunderland to (yet another) relegation.
The move was a success, and even in Division One, the attendances were very respectful.