Roker Park remembered: Sir Bob Murray speaks on 20th anniversary of last game at Sunderland AFC’s famous old home

Sir Bob Murray.
Sir Bob Murray.

Twenty years to the day that Roker Park shut its gates to the public for the very last time, the man who knocked it down - Sir Bob Murray - says he has no regrets.

Sunderland hosted Liverpool in the last ever match at the famous old ground on May 13, 1997 when a packed crowd watched a 1-0 win in a friendly fixture to mark the end of 99 years at the stadium.

Sunderland take on Everton in the last game at Roker Park.

Sunderland take on Everton in the last game at Roker Park.

A new home was being built on the banks of Monkwearmouth Colliery, one that former club chairman Murray had insisted was necessary to safeguard the long-term future and prosperity of Sunderland AFC.

“We’ve all got great memories of Roker Park, but we needed to move, we needed to make that big step,” he said.

“It was a fantastic old ground. The first 60 years playing there were very successful but the last 30 or 40 years weren’t so clever.”

Sunderland had been promoted to the Premier League in 1996 under Peter Reid, but struggled in the top flight - amid a fly-on-the-wall BBC documentary Premier Passions - and were relegated on a dramatic final day.

One fan sits on the old Roker End.

One fan sits on the old Roker End.

By then, however, Murray had long made the decision to demolish Roker Park and move to the Stadium of Light.

Roker’s capacity had slipped from a heyday high of 75,000 to 22,500, and yet the club still struggled for attendances. In the wake of the Taylor Report after the Hillsborough disaster, which required top-flight stadia to be all-seaters, there wasn’t the capability to do so at Roker Park without drastically reducing the amount of fans it could hold even further.

That, along with the club’s poor training facilities, persuaded Murray - who took over as chairman in 1986 - to act, creating both the Stadium of Light and the Academy of Light with the funds he generated.

He added: “It became apparent that year we went up with the Premier Passions, and then when we just couldn’t stay up on the last day at Wimbledon, that we needed action.

Sunderland  fans on the Fulwell End for the last game at Roker Park.

Sunderland fans on the Fulwell End for the last game at Roker Park.

“To play at home, we had a 22,000 capacity and there were only two games we sold out that year, against Manchester United and Newcastle.

“The infastructure of the club when I got there, we just had a field (for training) at Cleadon with no irrigation, protection from the elements or anything.

“The lads used to come to Roker Park, get changed, then drive to training, then back and sit in the bath at Roker Park, just like it was a matchday .

“There was absolutely no infastructure so I could understand why the club had struggled.”

The last Roker Park game mirrored the very first one at the ground back in 1898, when Sunderland also beat Liverpool 1-0 in a friendly. After the game, legend Charlie Hurley dug up the centre spot to plant at the new stadium.

Murray himself got some of the turf when the club auctioned off Roker Park some time later.

“I took a third of the pitch, which is now at my house in North Yorkshire,” he said. “It was at the Fulwell End but it is now on my lawn and it looks beautiful.

“My dad took me to my first game at Roker Park when I was nine years old in 1955 against Wolves.

“Nobody would have thought that that little nine-year-old would end up knocking that stadium down!

“I would do it all again. I’ve not got one regret.”

Twenty years on, Sunderland play their last home game of the season today against Swansea City, on the back of relegation again.

Now based in Jersey, 70-year-old Murray will be back at the Stadium of Light to offer his support to the current regime.

He added: “I’m a Sunderland supporter and I just feel that I have to be there. It’s important that you show your colours in a time of need.”