The Stadium of Light opened to wide-acclaim on 31st July with a sell-out friendly match against Ajax of Amsterdam and a show-stopping party. Hundreds of local school children and budding pop stars took part in the celebrations as well as legendary rockers Status Quo who landed on the pitch by helicopter to kick off the party
The match was a typical pre-season friendly affair and finished Sunderland 0-0 Ajax.
The stadium initially opened with a capacity of 42,000 (the North Stand was later extended to increase the capacity to 49,000 in 2000) although as Bob ruefully remembers due to a re-numbering blunder by a contractor 24 hours before the stadium opened there were unexpected ticket issues on the night, “It was a big day at the end of a journey that had started in 1990 and there was always going to be lots to do at the last minute and teething problems to deal with. It was a frantic day and we were rushing around until we finally got the safety certificate with just hours to go and when I finally went to take my seat there was already someone in it! He was very good humoured though and we both had a laugh about it!”
The first league match at the stadium was against Manchester City in The Championship. “That fact always makes me smile too. We spoke to a well-respected sports psychologist during the design and build of the stadium and she strongly advised us against using the colour red in any of the dressing rooms. Unsurprisingly, we ignored her advice for the home dressing room. Her recommendation for the away dressing room was to use blue and yellow as they are more subdued colours. I think Manchester City felt quite at home although they didn’t get a win that day!”
The first season at the Stadium of Light was a roller coaster one that ended with Kevin Philips winning the European Golden Boot after scoring 33 goals and Sunderland finishing in 3rd place, just being pipped to automatic promotion by Middlesbrough. Sunderland beat Sheffield United over two legs to proceed to the 1998 Play Off final against Charlton at Wembley which they ultimately lost on penalties after a thrilling 4-4 draw after extra time.
Extended Stadium of Light
“The Sheffield United play off tie at the Stadium of Light is still one of my top memories at the Stadium of Light. It sticks in my mind because the noise and the atmosphere generated that night was absolutely electric.”