Army of volunteers helped Sunderland matches beat the snow

Volunteers hard at work on clearing the snow at Roker Park.
Volunteers hard at work on clearing the snow at Roker Park.
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MATCH POSTPONED – FROZEN PITCH. It’s a statement which will probably never again be issued by Sunderland Football Club.

That’s all thanks to the state of the art underground heating system installed at the Stadium of Light.

The 1963 League Cup tie at Roker Park between Sunderland and Aston Villa.

The 1963 League Cup tie at Roker Park between Sunderland and Aston Villa.

It means that fans can rest assured that there should be no postponements caused by the weather.

But in decades gone by, match days happened thanks to an excellent effort by everyone involved.

Philip Curtis, from the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, explains more.

Generations of Wearside fans who flocked to Roker Park owed the entertainment served up in front of them to a veritable army of people.

A frozen pitch then could not be cured by simply pressing a switch. Hard graft was required to ensure a match went ahead and this was usually carried out by an army of volunteers

Philip Curtis

These days, the underground heating system means there should be no postponements caused by the weather.

Fans in decades gone by were not quite as lucky, especially in the final decades of the 20th century.

A frozen pitch back in those days could not be cured by simply pressing a switch.

Hard graft was required to ensure a football match went ahead, and this was usually carried out by an army of volunteers.

The system Sunderland relied upon required tons of straw, as well as pneumatic drills, heated braziers and hundreds of shovels.

In an effort to stop the soil from freezing, huge amounts of straw were spread across the pitch during the week.

As well as that, heated braziers were strategically position to help the process.

And the system of ensuring that matchday happened was stepped up a gear as the big day drew closer.

Volunteers would arrive on the morning of the game to shovel away the straw and snow.

But they did get the satisfaction of being rewarded with a match ticket for all their hard work.

It was a tried and tested system of getting a football match on, and one that worked so well that a Sunderland home game was rarely postponed.

It ensured that memorable ties, such as the 1963 League Cup Semi Final v Aston Villa, went ahead and it was played on a frozen Roker Park.

In fact from 1925 to 1961, Sunderland could boast the proud record of not one single game at Roker Park being prevented from taking place because of bad weather.

This record ended on December 30, 1961, when the match against Charlton Athletic was called off.

Even then, the straw put on the previous day for the overnight frost might have saved the match if it had not been for the floodwater on the top of the frozen ground which eventually ruled the game off.

The previous postponement had been 36 years earlier, on Christmas Day in 1925.

The conditions on that day were so bad that the Football Echo reported: “Those who did not see the Roker Park ground yesterday will hardly be able to imagine what it was like.

“It looked more like a ground upon which cattle had tramped and then it had frozen, or one on which a cart and horse had been at work and left ruts.

“Someone suggested a hundred or two of the unemployed should have been given the job of levelling the surface with hammers.”

Fire regulations brought an end to the straw being used at grounds and the stored bales were removed from underneath the Roker End stand, resulting in an increase in postponements.

Braziers and drills will surely never be seen at The Stadium of Light and, as a result, the pitch should be kept in immaculate condition.

Are you one of the army of volunteers who helped to ensure matches went ahead at Roker Park. Tell us more about it.

And what are your memories of the great games played in those wintertime Arctic conditions.

We would love to know more about the role Echo readers played in ensuring games went ahead despite the atrocious weather conditions.

Get in touch and tell us more.

Relive those memories by emailing chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk