Twenty years on from the closure of Sunderland’s historic Roker Park a former NHS worker has recalled how he and workers took to the hallowed turf for the final time.
Black Cats supporter Alan Bell. of Seaham, was among those to play in the Health Cup in which North East health departments would face off in a football tournament.
The tournament ran from 1994 to 2000.
Speaking to the Echo Alan, a lifelong Sunderland supporter, said: “The competition was run just for NHS employees and we all looked forward to it every year.
“Especially for me as a Sunderland fan, you always wanted to take the chance to play at Roker Park.
“Sadly because of the shrinkage and mergers within the NHS there were fewer teams as the years went on.” Alan was delighted when his team, Priority Healthcare Wearside, made it to the final of the 1997 tournament, knowing it would the final team they would have the chance to grace the Roker turf.
The tournament even got a mention in the programme for Sunderland’s final league game against Everton, which the Black Cats won 3-0.
Sadly for Alan and his friends, the Wearside team lost 2-0 to Hartlepool Hospitals with the game played on May 16, just three days after SAFC’s Farewell to Roker Park friendly match against Liverpool which Peter Reid’s side won 1-0 thanks to a John Mullin goal.
“It’s sad to think that Sunderland were relegated that season and they’ve been relegated again 20 years later,” said Alan.
“But for us to play at Roker Park in those days was a fantastic time.
“Even though we lost that game we’d hit the bar at 0-0. It just wasn’t to be.”
The tournament’s was never played at the Stadium of Light, with Sunderland’s training ground the Charlie Hurley Centre in Whitburn used.
“It didn’t feel the same when Sunderland moved to the Stadium of Light,” said Alan.
“It was still a good experience but not as good.
“Over the years we’d play against teams as far away as Middlesbrough and Carlisle but at the end we could only get a few teams to enter and that’s when it folded.
“We’ve all still got great memories though, which we will never forget.”