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Official Review by Matt Rees, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Stadium of Light, one of England's biggest stadiums, was built in 1997, providing a home for Sunderland A.F.C. The Black Cats moved here from their previous home, Rocker Park, Sunderland's home for 99 years. The name "Stadium of Light" is a tribute to the former mining industry, which was a huge part in Sunderland's history.
Originally, the Stadium of Light was built as a 42,000 all-seater stadium, but in 2002, it was expanded to 49,000. This resulted in the North Stand being extended and now has a reputation for being a huge stand, much like Tyne–Wear Derby rival Newcastle United's St James' Park. As it is a simple design, the stadium can be further developed to a 63,000 all-seater ground, which would make it the third-largest soccer stadium in England. Not only are soccer matches played here, it has played host to many concerts and has also been put forward as a venue for the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
English soccer stadiums aren't renowned for the greatest of grub, and this falls in this category. Various pies price at £2.50, which is fairly reasonable, and sausage rolls and pasties will set you back £2. Beverage wise, a pint is £3.60, which is very good for a soccer stadium, while a soft drink costs £2.00. Unlike many other stadiums, the Stadium of Light offers a variety of meal deals. For a child, the £5.00 meals deal includes: a small chocolate bar, packet of crisps (or chips if you're American), soft drink, and a sausage roll. Now, that is by far the best children's meal deal I've seen at any other soccer stadium! The other meal deals include a pint, packet of chips, and a sausage roll for £5.50, or you can change the sausage roll for a pie, which would be an additional 50p.
If I was basing this review of when Sunderland play Newcastle, I would possibly give it 6 stars, but I'm not. When Sunderland battle against Newcastle in the "Tyne-Wear Derby", a fierce and crazy loud atmosphere is created. But as you may know, this only happens once a year at the Stadium of Light.
As the team slowly declines, the negativity in the stadium rises. During the 2012-13 season, the Black Cats have been probably the most depressing and lifeless teams in the Premier League, and the fans just can't get behind a team who have won only four times at home this season. A couple of years ago, because the Stadium of Light was a fortress and for an away team visiting, a draw would be a good result. Now, the hostile environment that the away players were used to just isn't there, and anything less than a win is disappointing. No songs are sung by the home supporters anymore, and it seems like they just can't be bothered, and I can't really blame them. It's sad to see such a great stadium have so little noise.
The surroundings of the stadium are pleasant, and there is nothing that can be faulted. On offer for the away fans is a pub and barbecue tent area, which proves extremely popular! The locals are very helpful if you are lost. Also located right outside the stadium is a fantastic aquatic complex. From an overnight point of view, just 0.2 miles away is a highly rated hotel called "The Chase Guest House". This is not from past experience, but from looking at reviews, it has a 9 out of 10 score and is also not too expensive. If you're wanting to make a weekend out of a trip to Sunderland, Europe's largest shopping mall, The Metro Centre, is easily reached from the stadium.
As I have mentioned earlier, the team has been very poor over the last couple of years. This has resulted in a dip in crowd attendances. However, that said, 40,000 people still turn up week in and week out, which is very creditable. The noise made by the fans can be deafening when they are on the counterattack, though understandably, boo their team more often than not. When Sunderland beat a major team (Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Manchester United), I have to admit that it's something that you have to witness. The passion showed by these supporters is unbelievable. Last year when Man City came to town, that exactly happened. Just watch this video and be amazed. Wow!
Overall, the Black Cats fans are a friendly, loyal bunch who will stick with their team through thick and very thin!
Getting to the stadium is very easy. In and around the stadium is a lot of traffic, but is dealt with quick and isn't a problem at all. If travelling by train, you're in luck. The train station is a stone's throw away from the stadium, and that seemed to be a popular choice of transport. Additionally, I recommend getting to the ground early and parking in the train station car park. I can't remember exactly how much it was, but it was only a few pounds. From the station to the stadium, it's about a five minute walk. Otherwise, you can get a spot in the other car parks around the stadium or on the streets by the housing estate.
Although the team is pretty dismal, the ticket prices are very good. It seems like The Black Cats' target audience is children, because for an Under 16, it's only £12.00, which must be one of the cheapest tickets in the Premier League. For an adult, it starts at £27.00, which is fairly expensive for the quality of football you're watching. The team has a lot of young, budding players, but at the moment, the excitement level is quite bad from the team. Personally, I would definitely pay to watch Sunderland pay, just to get the experience of being at a Premier League game!
Around the stadium are a few statues. The first one is of 1973 FA Cup winning manager Bob Stokoe, which was unveiled in 2006. Located at the entrance, the other statue is of a Davy Lamp, a tribute to the mining industry (as said earlier). Also, a large "Red Wheel" is just outside the West Stand - something the miners used to use.
On a game day, a couple of activity destinations are dotted around the stadium for the kids. One of them is a penalty shoot-out stall, and the other is a target shooting stall. I found this quite fun and the first I had seen at a Premier League ground.
Also, a club shop is just outside the ground, and a programme is on sale for £3.00. The programme is a great read and was voted as best programme in the Premier League last year.
Visiting the Stadium of Light is something you should do. It's a well designed ground, which at times can be very full of atmosphere. My only problem is that when you get there, you will be disappointed with the contest. However, overall I would recommend visiting this stadium, as it is reasonably priced to get in and has many an all-round features that not many other stadiums have.
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