“The stadium stands on the banks of the River Wear, a vision of the future and a landmark for Wearside. Sunderland has always been a city without a cathedral, but the stadium has created a spiritual home for local people. On a matchday thousands of supporters flock to games to experience the passion and enjoy the action.”
I was really looking forward to my trip to the sunny seaside resort of Sunderland.
For those of you who don’t know, Sunderland is a small city found on the outskirts of its bigger, and nicer neighbour Newcastle. For those of you who don’t know, Sunderland is NOT Newcastle. It is completely different from Newcastle. In Sunderland, the word Newcastle is banned. Anybody heard using the term Newcastle is liable to a £62 fine, before being chucked into the River Wear.
During my trip to Sunderland, I learnt some phrases which will stay with me for the rest of my life… like. They all seemed like a relatively friendly bunch, no more so than my Twitter friend Jamie Lauder. I had been tweeting Jamie for a while and he seemed like a decent lad, so when he informed me that he could get an adult ticket for £5 I jumped at the chance. I prefer being in the home end when I visit places. It means the stewards won’t kick off with you… However, this was Sunderland, and the rule didn’t seem to apply here. What I witnessed at the Stadium of Light was the biggest mass protest against stewards ever. It was brilliant. More on that later.
Callum and I caught the coach from The Reebok Stadium at 11:00. Joining us on the coach were Dan Murphy and Ben Moore, both big Bolton fans. Luckily we weren’t on Coach 1 for this trip, which meant we didn’t have to put up with SAGA subscriber and all round idiot Derek. You can read about Derek in other Bolton away day blogs.
The journey was comfortable enough, and we arrived in Sunderland just before 14:00. Bearing in mind that Callum still owed me a pint from a Bolton home match, we were looking for a pub to go to. However, Fat Frank decided he’d rather get a drink inside as it was “too far to walk to get a bloody drink”, with this decision made, the rest of the Bolton fans joined him. Despite being told to “Go inside. You can get everything you need in there” by a policeman, Callum and I went for our usual walk around the ground.
We had our usual photos outside the ground, before going into the club shop to see if we could find any Sunderland related bargains. It was awful. They didn’t even have the seasons shirts on sale. How disappointing.
With Jamie en route from Newcastle Airport (I never did ask him why), we set off for a walk up the road. We had quite a few comments off the home fans, and my favourite one was “Had enough already lads? Going home?” – Jamie was right. The Sunderland fans are some of the friendliest around.
It was only when Callum and I had walked a bit further we realised the Stadium of Light was built on the banks of the River Wear. As a result, it was very, very cold and windy… and my hair was now a mess. Not happy. I had also noticed that since my last visit a state of the art aquatics centre had been built right next to the stadium.
On our way back to the stadium I purchased a programme off a very cold looking programme seller. I suggested he moved away from the river as he looked like he was going to turn into a fluorescent icicle, but being Nothern, he laughed and told us he was fine. The programme was a very well presented item, with plenty to read. Well worth the money.
Jamie soon turned up, and I couldn’t understand a word that came out of his mouth… like. He told me he was going to take me to see the statue of Bob Stokoe, but first of all I had to put my jacket on. Afterall, I was wearing my Bolton shirt – that wouldn’t go down too well in the home end!
We made sure baby Callum entered the away end safely, before going to see the statue. Now you may be thinking I’m a horrible friend. Leaving Callum to fend for himself in the away end, and paying more money for the privilege. Never fear! This is a Bolton away trip you’re talking about! Lets give it up for the beauty of unreserved seating! This meant Callum could tag along with somebody for the afternoon.
Where as most stadiums have a very bleak, cramped and dark concourse; Sunderland bucks the trend. A large entrance into the seated area meant plenty of natural sunlight greeted you as you walked through the turnstyle. It really was the Stadium of Light. The atmosphere amongst fans on the concourse was very laid back, I loved it.
I was already impressed with the concourse; some may call me sad, but I don’t care. I couldn’t wait to go into the stadium itself. Words can’t even describe how I felt when I walked into what I can only describe as an arena. Everything about it was just perfect. Honestly.
Jamie and I found our seats, and I really must congratulate him on getting such a brilliant view. In the West Stand we were on the second row right next to the tunnel. It also appeared that I had the only red seat in the stadium, which was a bonus… I think.
To our right was the South Stand, which housed the travelling Bolton fans.
Directly in front was the East Stand which looked very impressive.
To our left was the North Stand which comprises of three tiers after being extended just after construction in 1997.
It was soon time for the teams to come out, and we were right next to the tunnels. This meant that whenever David N’Gog touched the ball I could easily shout abuse at him. Brilliant I thought! Anybody who sits near me at The Reebok will know of my love for the fantastic Frenchman.
Bolton started the match the better of the two teams, and Chris Eagles nearly opened the scoring on 3 minutes. His free kick however went just wide of the post as Craig Gordon looked to be struggling. It was Craig Gordons first appearance in what seemed like an eternity, so he was desperate to get a clean sheet under his belt.
It was the away side who continued to pressure, and just moments later they had two decent shots within minutes of each other. The first of which came from resident money grabber Nigel Reo-Coker. Shooting from 25 yards it went just wide of the post again. A minute later and Mark Davies tried his luck from the same distance; this time firing straight at Craig Gordon.
Unbelievably for the away supporters Bolton were having the better of the chances, and they were unlucky not to see their side go ahead through Martin Petrov. The former Manchester City winger saw his volley blocked inside the area, and that seemed to wake up the Sunderland team. Nicklas Bendtner went straight up the other end of the pitch and fired wide just wide of Adam Bogdans net after cutting inside on his right foot.
Another opportunity arose for the home side when Phil Bardsley linked well with James McClean down the left hand side. Bardsley found an opening but David Wheater chucked his body in front of the shot to keep the score level.
After much publcised interest from Sunderland during the January transfer window for Bolton captain Kevin Davies, it was rather fitting that the club stalwart opened the scoring. Martin Petrov made a great run down the left before sending a high cross into the area. Matt Kilgallon and Michael Turner were unable to deal with the deep cross and Kevin Davies was on hand to head the ball past Gordon in the net.
Again, the Bolton attack seemed to wake Sunderland up. The home side responded well and it was James McClean who sent in a dangerous cross just seconds after the restart. John O’Shea rose above the Bolton defence and nodded just wide of the post.
36 minutes and Sunderland were back on level terms. A powerful run from midfield wasn’t dealt with by the useless Bolton defence, and Colback was left with far too much space. He threaded the ball through the centre backs and Nicklas Bendtner duly slotted the ball past the helpless Adam Bogdan. Poor defending, and no more than Sunderland deserved.
After a few rash challenges and a couple of dodgy offside decisions it was time for me to hear what has got to be the best shout I have ever heard at a football match:
“Oi! That’s rubbish that linesman man!”
The last action of a brilliant first half fell to my favourite*; David N’Gog. Kevin Davies played in his strike partner, and N’Gog fired powerfully into the ground. The ball bounced up and Craig Gordon pulled off a fantastic save to tip the ball on to the crossbar.
Half time gave us the opportunity to get some food, and a drink to warm me up. Jamie was used to the cold weather so he didn’t need a drink. I do, however think he was just putting on a brave act so I couldn’t call him a girl on my blog. After hearing that Newcastle were losing 4-0 at Wigan we hiked up the stand in a jovial manner in search of pies.
Choosing to queue where a rather attractive young girl was serving the pies, we didn’t have to wait long to get to the front. Jamie went for a Pea Supper pie… which I was tempted by, just purely out of curiosity. I went for the Chicken Balti which was on offer, and also went for a Bovril to please fellow groundhoppers Tony and Johnny. The pies were on me as a Jamie had sorted out my ticket.
We perched our pies on the ledge overlooking the pitch whilst the youth players had a little match. I had my first taste of the pie, and it was beautiful. Definitely the best pie I’ve had at a football league ground so far. I can’t comment on whether it is the best one in the leagues as I didn’t buy a pie at Morecambe, but I will come up with a league table of pies eventually. All I know is that if I was a Sunderland fan I’d buy at least two pies a match.
The second half started off rather slowly, with both teams still recovering from a frantic first half. It took until the 54th minute for the first shot when James McClean rifled a free kick towards goal. Just before the free kick was taken I looked at Jamie and said “I have a bad feeling about this. I can’t watch.”
Needless to say, the free kick went straight into the top right hand corner. The Stadium of Light erupted. What a noise. In stark contrast, the Bolton fans were now thinking about the dreaded drop into The Championship.
It was here that we saw the Sunderland fans for what they are: A united group of humorous, loveable idiots.
It all kicked off after around 50 stewards marched to the top of the singing section. Bearing in mind there were around 2,000-3,000 home fans stood up, with the travelling Bolton fans stood up next to them. The stewards then proceeded to make each fan sit down; individually. Inevitably they failed, so they singled out one standing, and took their frustrations out on him. They grabbed him and wrestled him out of the stadium.
The detained fan was cheered and clapped like a hero as he was marched down the steps. He had taken one for the team. Queue one of the best shows of unity amongst football fans that I have ever seen. The vast majority of fans in the stadium began to sing – ♫ We’ll stand if we want! We’ll stand if we want! F### all you stewards! We’ll stand if we want! ♫ – What made this song even more impressive was that the Bolton fans even joined in.
After all that commotion, it was time to concentrate on the match. Fraizer Campbell should have made it 3-1 after 65 minutes. A terrific run by James McClean set up Campbell who curled the ball inches over the bar from the edge of the penalty area. Bolton were now hanging on.
However, as is so often the case in football… the rubbish side scored. Bolton equalised with Super Kevin Davies grabbing his second goal of the game. Sam Rickets sent in a high cross, which was a carbon copy of the cross which set Davies up for his goal in the first half. Again, Matt Kilgallon failed to deal with the danger and Kevin Davies volleyed back across the face of goal into the bottom left hand corner. 2-2. Game on.
After that, Stephane Sessegnon provided plenty of energy for the home side as they pressed for the winner. However, with Sunderlands midfield constantly pushing forward, it allowed Bolton to catch them on the break. This was helped with the introduction of youth product Josh Vela, who was keen to impress.
The other substitute Ivan Klasnic flashed the ball just wide after a great run by Kevin Davies. A minute later the Croatian striker had another shot, this time saved by Craig Gordons feet. Bolton could have snatched all three points in the final minute of stoppage time when Wayne Bridge surrendered possession just outside the penalty area. Unbelievably Gordon saved yet another shot from Klasnic, and that was the final opportuntiy of the match.
The Bolton players walked off looking resigned to relegation. They had put in their all, and we couldn’t have asked for any more off them. It’s not often we can come away from a match saying we gave 100% so it was pleasing from that aspect.
We exited the ground, and I said goodbye to Jamie. My final words to him were “I’ll get the blog up in the next couple of days!” – Okay, so it didn’t go quite according to plan, but I am a busy groundhopper!
I walked back to our coach, and Callum was stood outside eating chips. He wasn’t allowed on the coach until he finished them, as a result he held the whole coach up, and he was hated by all the other passengers.
The journey home took us the scenic way which was very nice. We arrived back at The Reebok a couple of hours later, and we looked back on what had been a very good day out. It was a far cry from our usual depressing trips back home from an away game. The day was topped off when I was watching Match of The Day later on that evening. As the match was finishing, I saw Jamie and myself. Fantastic!
I will certainly be back at The Stadium of Light in the future. It is a brilliant state of the art stadium, with brilliant views of the pitch, very clean, lots of natural lighting and more importantly, beautiful pies. I would like to thank Jamie for being so hospitable and helpful, and for making my trip to Sunderland an enjoyable one. I look forward to welcoming you back to The Reebok when we play you again sometime…
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND – 147 miles
- ADMISSION – £5 as adult, on a ticket offer
- PROGRAMME PRICE – £3
- PIE – £3