History: The Roker Roar

Legend has it that the morning after Sunderland's 1973 FA Cup triumph over Manchester City, a member of the Roker Park ground staff was setting about his daily routine when he spotted a lone figure standing in the Fulwell End, gazing up at the roof.

When approached, the stranger introduced himself as a London-based journalist who had attended the night before, and when quizzed as to what he was doing, he innocently asked, “I've been reporting on top-class football all my life, but I've never heard noise like that. It's a marvellous gimmick - where are the hidden amplifiers?"

"Amplifiers," replied the groundsman. "There's no bloody amplifiers here mate. What you heard last night was the Roker Roar!"

On 10 September 1898, the Marquis of Londonderry declared Roker Park open, and Sunderland got off to a winning start, with Jim Leslie scoring the game’s only goal against Liverpool.

It was the start a 99-year journey that saw many highs and lows, with the ground playing host to a World Cup quarter-final, three England internationals, an FA Cup semi-final replay and two FA Amateur Cup Finals.

The ground also held the biggest attendance in north-east footballing history, with a mammoth 75,118 turning up for an FA Cup quarter-final replay with Derby County in 1933.

Homegrown talents such as Charlie Buchan, Raich Carter, Charlie Hurley and Bobby Gurney were but a few of the club legends to grace the hallowed turf, as memories were forged and history was written.

But more than anything, Roker Park was known for its roar.

“Living in Ryhope, in the days before radio commentaries or that thing called the internet, my mam would know how many goals Sunderland had scored before I got home from the match,” recalls club historian, Rob Mason.

“She would count the massive roars that signalled goals. That was the Roker Roar. Never mind hearing it at the ground – she would listen for it five miles away!

“Always trust your mam’s advice. She’d been a Roker regular in the fifties and gave me two pieces I’ve never forgotten.

“When I started going in the late sixties, she told me never to lean on a crush barrier because when the crowd surged, I’d get squashed.

“And she also told me how to estimate the crowd, saying, ‘If you can see people from the waist up there’s 25,000, and ‘If you can only see their heads, there’s 50,000.’ She wasn’t wrong.”

It was a roar that raised the hairs on the back of your neck, struck fear into the opposition and ignited a togetherness within all who crammed into the stadium.

It was an audible representation of the passion in the area – a working-class region that lived and breathed Sunderland Association Football Club.

The roar was so powerful and intense that the club were unbeaten in 1,445 of the 1,800 or so league games they played at Roker Park.

A Championship-winning season came along in 1930 before the Lads lifted their first FA Cup seven years later, as Gurney, Carter and Eddie Burbanks struck in a 3-1 win over Preston North End.

Starting in the late fifties, a series of relegations came around, but as always, the region stuck together, and the club continued to grow its fan base before Roker Park’s final chapter was written in 1997, as the stadium closed its doors after 99 years.

Ironically, Roker Park ended as it began, as the Lads bowed out with a 1-0 win over Liverpool, with John Mullin scoring the final goal in one of English football’s most iconic stadiums.

The Roker Roar captured the heart and soul of the football club. Honest, hard-working and proud.

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