Where were YOU at Roker Park?

Written by Simon Wade

Even after a 40,000 gate on Boxing Day (vs. Leeds), argument still continues that "new" fans should stay at home and watch from their armchairs 'where they belong', merely because they were not in attendance at Roker Park.

I'd like to question how this minority proclaim that fellow fans are not so welcome in the new Stadium? This debate still carries on amongst the seats of the SoL, and in the pubs and clubs across this city. The argument that so many of the new fans shouldn't be there and they are not "true" fans. How do these people define just what makes a "true" fan? Moreover, do they have the right?

It reminds me of the mentality you hear in pubs when they get busy (because of a televised game?) and the 'regulars' lose there place at the bar. Don't these people realise it is the extra income that keeps pubs (and clubs) with their heads above water? This added revenue prevents prices from shooting up for their own drinks (seats). If the terrible inconvenience of being in a busy pub or club is too much, then one has the choice of patronising another. Some other clubs are crying out for some decent support!

Would the objectors prefer that 20,000 "true" fans turn up and sit in a half-empty stadium? If they remember back to 'the good ol' days' of Roker Park, sell-outs were few and far between. This was for a great variety of reasons.

Think about it, the conditions were never great, the facilities were awful and the game itself was never a spectacle throughout the 80's or 90's. This is exactly why we have so many new fans at the Stadium.

It is these new fans who are the very future of this club, and should NOT be chastised just because they weren't in attendance at Roker Park. Parents are encouraging their kids to support the red and white cause. The same cause that runs through all our veins. Whether parents utilise the clubs school-ticket policy or invest in season-tickets, they are still safeguarding the future support of our beloved club. Wasn't there a 'first game' for you, also?

The club have vindicated the decision to build a big stadium as a replacement to Roker Park over and over again. Knockers suggested that the only way to fill the stadium was by giving seats away to schoolkids. This argument may have had some truth, especially when we were settling into a relatively mundane life in the second tier of English football. Some games since, however, have been sell-outs.

So where did unwillingness to accept the "youth policy" come from? My only suggestion is that objectors are keen to somehow rekindle the feeling of old Roker Park. Perhaps, they appreciated standing in the rain, queuing up for disgusting Bovril and an empty pie at half-time? Perhaps, they appreciated getting the smaller share of tickets for big cup games because of our poorer average attendance? Or perhaps they liked the fact that SAFC could never keep our better players or attract the class that we have done since 1997?

I'm sure that the fan-base was always there, just not in attendance.

Let's face it, Roker Park had some great memories and is still sorely missed. But, there is a new love in our lives, now, The Sunderland Stadium of Light. The unique atmosphere and Roker Roar will never be emulated, but we've had our moments. We already have memories of classic encounters like The Lads vs. Sheffield United in the play-offs, hammering Chelsea and that comeback against Newcastle. Would the objectors to new fans really prefer 20,000 empty seats at these games? I doubt it.

The whole of Sunderland, including the traditionalists, should welcome new supporters with open arms and praise the fact that we have such a huge following. Compare the sport with only 20 years ago. Attendance's are up, the profile is up, football is news, and football is safe. Should we really be supporting our team in the 21st Century in a ground that was built in the 19th?

Whether fans went to Roker Park or not, we are ALL fans of the same club. We ALL make a valuable contribution. If someone turns up for one game or 20, they are still supporters, supporting the same team, cheerful when we win, sorrowful when we lose.

Even if a kid just buys a sticker from the club shop, they are making an effort. An investment of time and money that grows as we grow older and learn to love SAFC. Some families just don't have the resources to go - but still want to be fans.

However the club welcomes newcomers, it sustains the future of SAFC. Not all kids have a dad, an uncle or a big brother to take them to their first game. Their only sign of support may be a scarf that they save up for with their pocket money. All they settle for is to happily stand in the rain and listen to the cheers and singing from outside the ground with a dog-eared autograph book in their mittened hands waiting for his idols to emerge. It might be years before they see a match.

Are you trying to tell me that they don't deserve to see a game? Are these not fans?

Yes they are and I should know. It was me in the rain with the autograph book.