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Stadium Of Light
Sunderland v
Brighton & Hove Albion
Championship League

Saturday, October 30th 2004, 3pm
Martin Hart
(Neutral fan)

The big day had at last arrived.  I had always dreamed of going to an English league game, and today my dream was realised - in the best place possible - Sunderland's fantastic Stadium of Light.

I set off at 6am so that I had plenty time to go for a drink when I arrived in the city, but with a 5 hour journey ahead of me, it was best that I leave as early as I could. The journey from Dundee to Sunderland was fine, long but tiring, with the
only real delays being as a result of engineering works around the Carstairs  area, but still nothing too serious.  Coming back was virtually the same, and I arrived home a tired wreck at 11:30pm.

Finding the ground was easy as it is very close to the Wearside Bridge, (you can see the ground from the Sunderland side of the bridge) so I decided to find a quiet pub close to the ground, and ended up in a lovely little bar called the Terminus, from which I bought a pint for 1.30 !!  And then I headed up to the ground about 1:15pm to have a walk around the stadium before going "Into The Light".

I arrived at the ground early enough as to see the teams coming off the coaches, which was something I had never done before, but having walked around the stadium beforehand, I was completely amazed at just the sheer size of the stadium from the outside, it makes no difference if you're standing 100 yards or 1 mile from the ground, it doesn't look any smaller.  The Murray Gates and the rear of the West Stand (the one with the large club badge) were a magnificent sight as well, I could hardly believe where I was, looking in awe at what is surely the best stadium in Britain.

I went inside the ground about 1:45pm and was again amazed at just how massive the concourse is, with the exception of the away end, you are literally able to walk around three quarters of the stadium just from inside  the ground.  The facilities on offer too were absolutely first class, there was a magnificent selection of food on sale at very reasonable prices, and a HUGE pint of lager for 2.40 (served in a plastic cup with the Sunderland badge on it as well.) My first look at the seated area of the stadium made me realise just how massive the place actually is - it's big !!  I was also lucky enough to meet up with two brilliant diehard Sunderland fans, Wayne and Kevin, and having told them of my journey from up north, and that it was my first ever English league match, they bought me a beer and let me sit with them at the game. I had heard that Sunderland's supporters were extremely welcoming, and I had just experienced it first hand.

The highlight of the day for me was undoubtedly just before the game, the excellent PA system blasted out Dance of The Knights by Prokofiev, followed by Ready To Go by Republica, to which the entire 30,000 odd crowd rose to their feet to welcome the teams onto the field.  They also did the same at the start of the second half, it was only then that I was able to fully appreciate how different the football is in England compared to Scotland.

The game itself was not what you would describe as a "classic", Brighton had a large travelling support of around 1500, and in fairness to them, had the better of the first half without ever really creating a serious effort on goal, Sunderland never really got started in the opening half.  However, a determined Sunderland emerged for the second half, whatever Mick McCarthy said at half time most certainly worked.  A goal from fans' favourite Julio  Arca about 10 minutes into the second 45 really brought the stadium to life, and closely followed by a Liam Lawrence penalty with about 20 minutes left, Sunderland had completely turned around in the second half, dominating their struggling opponents to win 2-0.

The atmosphere right throughout the game was terrific, although Wayne and Kevin were telling me about Sunderland's days in the Premiership - there was not a seat to be had in the house and the place was bouncing.  Granted, 75%  capacity may not have been quite as full, but it was still noisy, with the passionate Sunderland fans getting right behind their side. The policing at the game, as I was aware beforehand, was extremely strict,  with the banter between fans in the South Stand (where we were sitting), although friendly, did at times get out of hand, and the police would step  in.  Although, as strict as it was, I have seen worse in Scotland.  However, fans should be advised that Sunderland no longer simply eject people from the ground for bad behaviour, they now arrest offenders.  The club say it is  to do with "keeping anti-social behaviour off the streets of the city", so it is advisable to be on your best behaviour when visiting the Stadium of Light. Smoking and alcohol are also NOT permitted at the seated areas, so only do either inside the concourse if needs must. The food, as already mentioned, was terrific.  I had an excellent Chicken Balti Pie for 2, and the toilets too were impressive, very modern and clean.  Absolutely everything about the Stadium of Light cries out "class" - which is exactly what it is.

Getting away from the ground can be extremely difficult, with long queues of traffic heading back towards the city centre, and the two Metro Stations (St. Peter's and Stadium of Light) close to the ground becoming VERY busy after a game (fans should again take note of this.) Luckily, Wayne and Kevin took me to the St. Peter's Metro Station, before heading off for a drink themselves.  I thanked them for being such great guys, and told them how I  would definitely be returning to the stadium.  The trains themselves are also often crowded after a game at the stadium, so unless you are extremely  lucky, you may well find yourself standing whilst on board (as I did).

Overall, I had an excellent day for my first ever English league match, I could hardly have chosen a better place than Sunderland for it, and there was the bonus of a Black Cats victory, which made it all the better for me.  I really enjoyed my day at the Stadium of Light, the fans are brilliant, the football is entertaining, the stadium is an experience in itself, perhaps the only let down about the stadium is seeing so many empty seats dotted  around, because there is no doubt that Sunderland are a club who belong in the Premiership, and it would be great, both for the city and the club, to see the stadium playing host to a full house again.  But if you ever get the chance to go to one English ground in your life, make it the Stadium of Light - you will love it, just love it.  I enjoyed it so much that I am already planning my next trip to the north east.  It is a truly unforgettable experience.

Martin
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