Thursday brought the news that the Roker End had won the online poll to decide the new name of the South Stand (it's also the new name of the ALS Cafe), with 70% of the vote, beating the Colliery End, the Wearmouth End and the Raich Carter End.In all honesty, it is surprising it has taken 22 years to get around to renaming the stands at the Stadium of Light, given how little effort is required and the effect it can have. Naming the four stands at Roker Park cannot have taken longer than a minute, and most of that was probably spent looking for a pen and paper to note down what they had decided on. They were unimaginative but grew to mean something to supporters. The naming of stands at a ground can go a long way to placing a stadium within the history of the club and local area it represents. Though the various statues around the stadium forge links to the past, someone sitting in any one of the North, South, East and West stands could be at a ground anywhere in the country.The process of restoring pride in the stadium and the club itself is a long one, but initiatives like this go some way to getting there.The only issue, for me, is the choice of name.
Part of me feels like a fraud for writing this, because when I cast my vote I impulsively voted for the Roker End, without considering the connotations of the name. After rethinking the options, one of the original names would have been a better option.
Nostalgia, especially in football is a powerful thing. Given the excesses of the modern game, it is understandable for fans to pine for the days where the gap between the players on the pitch and fans in the stand wasn’t quite so big, and a referee would merely wave ‘play on’ to acts of borderline GBH.The modern boom in retro football shirts and other products inspired by themshows how popular this sentiment is.These products represent a first season, an era-defining game or a childhood hero.This affinity runs even deeper with stands. Kits and players change every few seasons, but the terraces of Roker Park stood for 99 years.Each of them represents a key part of the lives of the fans who watched their team through thick and thin from the same position throughout their lives, spanning generations of supporters.
In this context, it is plain to see why the Roker End won a landslide victory. Fans old enough to have watched games from the original voted to do so once again;those too young to rememberthe original Roker End voted to experience it as closely as they could, and spiritually follow in their fore-father’s footsteps. I voted as the latter group, though after further thought I now realise that experience cannot be recreated properly.
Whilst the geographical issues are a technicality, it is the significance of the name which is the cause for concern. The Roker End is, of course, synonymous with the Roker Roar. By taking on the name, comparisons with the original are inevitable. Being born in 1996, I wasn’t even one when the last ball was kicked at Roker Park. Though I was never able to see a match there, I am aware of the significance and reputation that the Roker Roar holds. I’ve heard stories from people about the crowd being able to suck the ball into the opposition net, and visiting teams being beaten by the atmosphere before the referee blew his whistle. When I was researching this piece, I was amazed by the descriptions of the 1964 FA Cup Sixth Round replay against Manchester United. I couldn’t comprehend Sunderland’s Nick Sharkey speaking about Nobby Stiles telling him that George Best sat with a towel on his head in the corner of the away dressing room for an hour leading up to the game, terrified of the atmosphere.In the post-Taylor Report, Premier League era I have grown up watching football in in, this just doesn’t happen.
Ultimately, even in a hypothetical scenario where the atmosphere of the new Roker Endrivalled that of old, nostalgia’s rose tinted glasses would not allow a proper comparison. In the minds of those who can remember, there will only be one Roker End. Though our past is something to be proud of, at the beginning of this new era, we should be looking to make our own history.