Football Commentator & Columnist
Sunderland: Martin Tyler shares his memories of commentating at the Stadium of Light
The story of hiding under a table to spy on a Turkey training session
Last Updated: 26/05/20 7:49am
At a time when football grounds have closed their doors, we've asked Martin Tyler to share some of his favourite facts and memories of the homes of clubs around the world.
This week, Sky Sports' Voice of Football is looking at some grounds at clubs that used to be in the Premier League. Today, he takes us on a trip to Sunderland's Stadium of Light.
Keep an eye on The Football Show on Sky Sports News and @SkySportsPL for some special Tyler's Teasers from Martin.
How I get there
By plane to Newcastle Airport, or by train on the mainline from Kings Cross, which has a good service to Darlington which is 30 miles away. Either way, it involves a taxi to and from a ground where the road configuration does bring about congestion.
What it's like to commentate there
There are two positions. The main one is quite low but definitely preferable. The other is at the back of the main stand. It is very high, but from it I had a great view of Marcus Rashford scoring his first England goal, against Australia in 2016.
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Did you know?
Sunderland played at Roker Park for almost 100 years, but the old ground was not suitable for the enforcement of all-seater regulations. The Stadium of Light was opened in 1997 and now has a seating capacity of almost 50,000.
My memories of the ground
I did cover a number of games at Roker Park and you had to wrap up warm. The North Sea was just behind the old gantry and the wind off it could be unforgiving. From the very outset, the Stadium of Light had a much more luxurious feel to it.
I was able to take advantage of a well-furbished executive box in April 2003 when it was chosen by the FA as the venue for a Euro qualifier against Turkey. I needed to be sure of recognising England's opponents but their training session in the stadium the night before the game was declared out of bounds to the media. Turkey had even brought their own security guards to ensure privacy.
Identification of players is the most important task for any football commentator, and I did not want to busk it in the actual broadcast. Desperate times needed a desperate measure. I lay on the floor under a table in this box which Sky Sports were using the next day for the studio, holding my breath.
Footsteps outside came and went. Eventually, I was able to peer through the blind on the window and see the "secret" training session without being seen.
As for the most memorable Sunderland game at the Stadium of Light, it has to be New Year's Day 2012. Martin O'Neill had galvanised his team into a superb defensive performance to keep out the side which ended the season as champions, Manchester City. There were 20 seconds left on the clock when the manager recognised that there was time for one more counter-attack and his team had the ball. O'Neill frantically waved his players forward.
Looking back, the calmest man in the ground seemed to be the man who had the ball, Ji Dong-Won on as a substitute striker. As City defenders backed off, the South Korean exchanged passes with Stephane Sessegnon. When confronted by Joe Hart, he strolled past the City and England keeper and won the game for Sunderland. It really was Ji-whiz!
Right from the early years, I have often referred to the Premier League as the league of late goals. We have all seen so many games where a decisive moment has been in a dying moment. This was right up there in that category. "It ain't over till it's over," I think I yelled.
That day, Ji Dong-Won had his moment in the sun for Sunderland but he never scored again for his English club. More than eight years after that famous finish to the Manchester City fixture, he was one of the first players I spotted when the Bundesliga returned after the lockdown, now playing for Mainz.
What I like about this ground
Sunderland have had tougher times in the Stadium of Light recently, but the now not-so-new stadium has kept its sparkle. Whether it's upbeat or downbeat, it now has its own history.