IT was 1998. They had torn down the century-old Roker Park and built a shiny new arena for the townsfolk of Sunderland. The desecration and rebuild was one of the first of a wave that became a tsunami as Victorian stadium after Edwardian football ground was razed to make way for sterile new bowls. Always the same. Always set in car parks and within sight of a Frankie and Benny’s.
It troubled the good people of Wearside that the Roker roar would be no more. They worried that the maintenance of their heritage would not be a priority for Sunderland AFC custodian and president and local businessman Bob Murray.
In retrospect, these people were pioneer worriers. Today, the villagers just shrug and let the men get on with it. White Hart Lane. Stamford Bridge — don’t be looking for those grounds as you know them come 2020. Perhaps noble and historic Goodison Park will be gone, too. Gone without bangs.
Back in the late 90s, the disregard for legacy, the disrespect for the essence of a football club, were things that kept communities up at night. Back around 1997, the ride wasn’t as smooth as it is now for the Bob Murrays and their ilk.
I remember Bob on the TV in 1997. For some reason, the naming of the ‘new Roker Park’ had attracted national interest.
Bob’s time had come. He was on the nation’s stage. The story broke that, after months of deliberation, Bob and his war cabinet finally had an answer to the question the townsfolk of Sunderland had posed: what element of the legendary Roker Park would remain at the new shiny all-seater arena? The naming of the new ground troubled them disproportionately, but understandably.
The nightly news captured Bob on the steps of some office building. It might have even been a modern appendage to the old Roker Park.
I vividly remember him having assured himself an elevated position from which to address the media and a throng of moody supporters. Not exactly a mob of angry villagers with torches, but in the blackness of a Sunderland night, and amid flashing camera light, with breath visible in chilled air, it did resemble something of a familiar fabled scene.
“We’re here tonight to finally announce the name of the new stadium,” beamed Bob, pausing then for the anticipated ripple of applause from his appreciative people.
“What are ya callin’ it for fook’s sake, Bob?” A voice from the middle or the back of the assembled. “Get on with it, Bob, man,” heckled another.
‘The name,” Bob paused again. Savouring every moment. Walking with history. In his head. ‘The name,’ Bob went again, “…of our new stadium will be…” He badly wanted a drum roll. You just knew he expected one to manifest itself from somewhere. From the soundtrack to destiny.
“The name of the new stadium will be…THE SUNDERLAND STADIUM OF LIGHT!”
And I swear down that he made a motion with his arm and his hand as if he were lighting up letters in the air.
“That’s fookin’ shite, Bob, man,” came a voice from the middle or the back of the assembled. A camera bulb flashed, Bob covered his eyes, turned, waved, and legged it back into the office-type structure. His work done.
“Fookin’ shite,” the murmur echoed. With such economy, months of Bob Murray’s labours were consigned to the dustbin of half-arsed ideas.
Someone will have a video of it somewhere to render my memoir a romanticised one. I’m sure it happened this way though. I’m sure because I laughed long and hard. One of those moments when you’re just sure you’ve borne witness to something truly and perfectly ridiculous. The Sunderland Stadium of Light. Yer stupid sod, Bob, man.
And it’s a big, miserable, boring old gaff is the Sunderland Stadium of Light. It’s not in Lisbon like its namesake for a start, but that’s not Bob’s fault.
His stupid pomposity was his fault though. He pretended the name was something to do with the city’s mining tradition and Davy lamps. No-one got to find that out that night because they were too busy either head shaking or laughing.
Has this got anything to do with Liverpool Football Club playing AFC Sunderland on a black Wednesday night in December 2015? No it hasn’t, really. It’s simply one of my acest memories of the brief moments I’ve shared with AFC Sunderland and their good people.
I’ll be there, thinking about Bob. I’ll raise a glass of Aussie White to him in the Frankie and Benny’s that sits in the shadow of the Sunderland Stadium of Light. I’ll muse about exactly what purpose it served to the community that Roker was taken from them just so they could endure endless relegation battles, and endless parades of Sam Allardyces. Years of nothing more than making do.
We should do Sunderland. You don’t need a tactical lesson in how we should go about dismantling a squad that would pick the likes of Wes Brown and John O’Shea (if they were fit).
They’re crap. Sam’s crap, and that ground is crap.
We just need to be the Liverpool we can be. Jürgen Klopp has hinted that we need to be constantly winning battles before we can thinking about getting stylishly medieval on any side’s ass.
Watford was the cliched wake-up call. You’d hope it was anyway. You bite and snarl first, and fanny and flick later. Klopp’s Liverpool cannot save turbo-charged aggression for Chelsea and Manchester City. It needs to honour the Sunderland Stadium of Light with a masterclass in toe-to-toeness. Pressing, gegenpressing, three-quarter pressing, may be a la mode these days, but being a yard quicker to the ball than your opponent is all in the mind and is a timeless quality that nearly always wins football matches.
Klopp’s good with hearts and minds.
Klopp will therefore look again to warriors Jordan Henderson and Emre Can to set Liverpool’s stall. My hunch is that he will again see this twosome as sufficient enough a midfield to control Sunderland, Lee Cattermole, Yann M’Vila and all.
He should again select Philippe Coutinho ahead of them and a subsequent front three that will feature Christian Benteke and Adam Lallana for sure and one from Roberto Firmino or Jordon Ibe.
The manager has shown no penchant for forumlaic rotation and he will again surely pursue a policy of getting points on the board short term first and foremost because in the long run we’re all dead.
The one step forward, one step backward two step that has hallmarked Klopp’s reign thus far is a habit that gets broken here. The win is there to be had and the opportunity must be taken.
Sir Bob. Life president, Sir Bob Murray — 69 years young — should be there to see Liverpool take this opportunity.
Hopefully defeat will consign another Sunderland side to a season of relegation warring. It’s a shame because it’s a big club, a historic club, supported by a proud community. It really deserves something a bit less joyless. Fucking shite, Bob, man.
Predicted team: Mignolet; Clyne, Lovren, Sakho, Moreno; Can, Henderson; Coutinho; Lallana, Firmino, Benteke.
Pics: Propaganda-Photo–David Rawcliffe