Ahead of the home clash with Luton Town, I was fortunate enough to be present at the official unveiling of the Roker End and the ‘captain’s mural.’
The artwork illustrates a number of captains dating back to Raich Carter, who captained the legendry Sunderland side of the 1930s, and works its way through to ‘Mr Sunderland AFC’ himself, Kevin Ball.
As I stood admiring the fine work of Illumination Wall Art, it suddenly occurred to me that despite immediately recognising all the featured players as club legends, I have never seen any of them play, with the exception of highlights on YouTube or grainy pathe’ newsreel-style videos from the era.
However, this does not stop me idolising Raich Carter and the beacon of hope that his Sunderland side provided against the backdrop of extreme economic and social despair throughout Wearside.
Through my Granddad, I feel as though I personally witnessed ‘King’ Charlie Hurley powering in headers from set-pieces. When I watch Bobby Kerr lift the FA cup, looking almost dead on his feet, it’s hard not to feel an overwhelming feeling of pride.
Although I primarily know Gary Bennett as a radio broadcaster, I know all about his no-nonsense style of defending and flamboyant surges into the oppositions half, and Kevin Ball’s crunching tackling and dragging Sunderland through numerous games requires no further elaboration.
This is part of what makes football such a beautifully irrational sport. Sunderland AFC existed for over a hundred years before my birth, but as a consequence of stories passed down from family members, DVDs watched and books scrutinised, I feel as though I’ve been to every game in the club’s history.
From hearing the stories of the galvanising effect the 1973 FA cup win had on the region as a whole, to watching videos of the famous Roker Roar; the history of the club is deep rooted in my DNA to the extent that events years before my birth irritate me.
I still curse the fact that we never appointed Brian Clough as manager and still convince myself that we could have been the Derby County or Nottingham Forest of that era. If it hadn’t been for the outbreak of war when we were one of the finest sides in England, could we have won even more League titles? Of course, this would have had no direct impact on my life, but it still irritates me. Only football, eh?
Therefore, I am delighted that the mural was made possible by the generous donations of a number of supporters, as well as the renaming of the south stand. To an outsider you could be forgiven for thinking that the club enjoyed one good cup run in 1973 and have won nothing else in our long, proud history.
Whilst, I accept this is our greatest achievement in the post-war era, the celebration of this success can be detrimental to the appreciation of our six league title wins and other FA cup triumph in 1937.
Of course, the football club is still very much woven into the fabric of everyday life in Sunderland and the surrounding areas, but in the pre-war era it was almost all the people of Wearside had to keep their morale up.
In 1933, we recorded our highest ever attendance of 75,118 versus Derby County for an FA Cup tie played on a spring afternoon, due to an absence of floodlights. Such was the importance of this match, that the shipyard and owners of heavy industry within the town gave all of their workers half a day off to attend the match during a time of extreme economic depression throughout the northeast.
Typically, we lost the game by a goal to nil, but stories such as this goes beyond football and is rightly a source of extreme pride for fans of all ages.
Long term, the Red And White Army supporters group would like to extend the artwork throughout the ground celebrating not only our success on the field but the proud foundations that the football club has been built on.
After a productive yet frustrating first year for the organisation, it is fantastic for us all to be able to focus on the positive aspect on the football club and celebrate everything that has made us the club we are today, as well as improving matchday experience.
In the future it would be fantastic to have all the concourses throughout the stadium proudly displaying artwork and a nod to our history. Ideally, this will lead to kids asking their parents about featured players and about the significance of our cultural identity, which is essential inspiring the next generation of supporters and makes them feel connected to the club that will play a huge part of their lives in the coming years.