Sunderland v Swansea City
Stadium of Light / Premier League / 21st January 2012
If I was to play a game of word association and someone was to say the word “Sunderland”, my automatic response would be “Newcastle”; given a little more thinking time I may say “Kevin Phillips” but this pretty much summed up my general knowledge of Sunderland before the game. This thought only occurred to me in the week leading up to my visit to the North-East town to watch my beloved Swansea take on the Black Cats. This is no disrespect to the town of Sunderland, but I just genuinely have heard very little of the place bar its football team. In this spirit, we opted to spend the night after the game in Newcastle to sample its much lauded nightlife.
After an early morning train up from Manchester to the North-East, we disembarked at Newcastle to drop our luggage off at the hotel and then headed for the Metro to Sunderland via Centurions, Newcastle’s railway bar that was recommended by a friend.
My lack of Sunderland knowledge peaked once again as I was stunned by the fact that it was a full half hour away on the Metro from Newcastle! I always thought it was a brief stride over the Tyne. Anyway, as we stood on the platform and began chatting to a fan going to the game, it became clear how friendly these Sunderland fans actually were. As we chatted away to the Scottish Sunderland fan about the great form of both Swansea and Sunderland, the jolly, friendly, Scottish Sunderland fan turned out to be a Newcastle fan, who had just acquired free tickets to the game and was going undercover to the boo the “bloody Mackems!”. On boarding the Metro it was finally confirmed though that Sunderland fans are a great bunch of fans with friendly banter and helpful advice on where to go for pre-match drinks (we did not reveal the secret identity of our Scottish friend to them, who they seemed to believe was one of them.) We decided to take up a couple of Sunderland fans on their invite for a few drinks at the ‘Deaf Club’; assuming this to just be a title, I was surprised to enter a pub run solely by people who were deaf or had hearing difficulties – a type of establishment I’ve never experienced before. There was a good atmosphere in the Deaf Club and the service was great, but it was a little surreal and too Mackem-orientated for our liking and we headed down the road to seek another drinking hole and one where the Jack Army might be presiding.
Having bumped into one of my pals who I had met at the Blackburn game before Christmas, we ventured towards the very red and white coloured Colliery Tavern. The colours had made us a bit sceptical of the place and we approached the bar tentatively, but after 1 minute we were made very welcome by the home fans and we spent a brilliant time at the Colliery, amongst fellow Jacks and the Sunderland faithful, before heading to the game. The pub also had a quick bar outside complete with gazebo and hot dog stand to make a perfect pre-match environment. It was also a convenient 5 minute walk across the road to the impressive Stadium of Light. Anyone who visits Sunderland for a game, I cannot recommend the Colliery Tavern highly enough.
After the pre-match discussions between the Jacks and Mackems (topics included: Martin O’ Neill=Good; Swansea’s domination of Arsenal; Nicklas Bendtner and driving him back to Arsenal; David Vaughan and what a good game it should be today) we headed over the road to the Stadium of Light.
The Stadium of Light was opened in 1997 following the closure of Sunderland’s old home, Roker Park. Like many grounds before it and after it, Roker Park became a casualty of the Taylor Report of the early 90s; the change to an all-seater format at Roker Park would have severely hampered the capacity at Roker Park due to it being a ground that had mainly standing terraces. After years of planning and negotiating for a place to build the stadium (Nissan refused to let the club build a stadium so close to their HQ) the Stadium of Light was given the go ahead to be built near the North Bank of the River Wear by the same contracting company that built the magnificent Amsterdam ArenA. The name of the stadium is a tribute to the large mining industry that existed and prospered in the local area; the ‘Light’ refers to the Davy Lamp used by the miners – there is also a large Davy Lamp monument at the Stadium’s entrance.
It has to be said that it is a brilliant stadium that stands impressively alongside the River Wear. Although it is a new stadium, it does not pertain to the generic grey bowl shape of most new stadiums and it certainly exudes its own unique character. Inside the ground, I found the concourse a little on the small side for such a large stadium, but the prices were generally good and the stewards were friendly and helpful. Sunderland FC is also one of those great clubs that sell Chicken Balti pies – always a sign of a fine football club/ground!
The game itself was a strange one; after a scrappy first ten minutes from both teams and Sunderland hitting the post, Swansea created an excellent chance for Scott Sinclair at the back post, only for him to blaze over the bar, left footed from 6 yards. Almost immediately after this incident, Sunderland scored with some brilliant quick passing around the box and an exceptional, first time curler from an acute angle by Stephane Sessegnon, which left “SuperVorm” with no chance.
The goal prompted Swansea into life as they began to exert their excellent possession game in the blustery conditions, although their passing game created few chances.
I have always been a big fan of Gylfi Sigurdsson and I was delighted when he opted to join the Swans; he was a shining light on his first start for the club and he probably had the best attempt for the Swans in the 2nd half from a well struck free kick that had to be parried away by Mignolet in goals. Swansea were beginning to look the more likely to score, until they were sucker punched by an extraordinary long distance volley from the homesick Craig Gardner, that once again left Michel Vorm with no chance. 2-0 final score, but Swansea once again delivered an excellent display and departed from the game with their heads held high having suffered defeat to two excellent finishes.
After the customary clapping off of the Swansea players and giving the thumbs up to Brendan Rodgers, we headed for the Metro ALL THE WAY back to Newcastle. On our part, there was a lot of confusion as we could not find a Metro station that was open that would take us back to Newcastle; after several crossings back and forth over the Wearbridge, we eventually got on a Metro that took us back to the Toon and a night out to get over the disappointment of losing all 3 points.
I would recommend to anyone pondering a trip to the Stadium of Light to go. The fans are brilliant and will always chat to you whether you want them to or not (although they were a little quiet during the game, surprisingly) and they absolutely love thier football. There are good pubs around the ground, cheap food and drink in the stadium (for football match standards) plus Chicken Balti pies, but the best thing about Sunderland….Newcastle is a great night out!
Highlights: Seeing two brilliant goals; the Colliery Tavern; the new Sinclair/McEachran/Webster song to the theme of the Addams Family.
Low points: Seeing those two brilliant goals; expected the Sunderland fans to be much louder in the stadium during the game