From coals to goals: The story behind the SoL

Monkwearmouth Colliery. Once the largest mine in Sunderland and the last bastion of coal mining in County Durham.

Now, the bedrock of Sunderland AFC's internationally-known home.

Perched atop the banks of the River Wear, the colliery opened in 1835 and operated for more than 150 years.

The Durham Mining Museum's records contain an entry from the early to mid-1800s which give a hint as the influential producer Monkwearmouth would become.

“Great rejoicings took place at Monkwearmouth, in consequence of a seam of coal, 2 feet 10 inches thick, and of excellent quality, having been won at the new colliery at that place.

“The shaft of the pit was 180 fathoms deep, and had been seven years in sinking, at an immense cost to the proprietors, Messrs. Pemberton and Thompson.

“The Bensham seam, 5 feet 8 inches thick, was come to, Feb 15th, 1834, at a depth of 267 fathoms ; and on April 4th, 1846, the Hutton seam, 4 feet 8 inches thick was won, at a total depth from the surface of 287 fathoms, or 1,720 feet!

“This is the deepest mine in the world.”

Four pits – A, B, C and D – were opened, with the last going into operation in 1959.

Monkwearmouth was a steady employer, with more than 2,000 people working on the site in 1991, down from 2,400 at the start of the 1980s.

However, its days were numbered.

The last miners left the pit on December 10th, 1993, and the mine was closed. The winding towers were demolished the following October.

Although the entrances are sealed and the foundations filled, the mines themselves still run miles out to sea, now hidden forever.

The mine's closure ended more than 800 years of commercial coal mining in the region, but the site itself was to be reborn in a new guise.

Sunderland AFC's search for a successor to their beloved – but badly aging – Roker Park home had seen eyes cast over a number of potential sites without a breakthrough.

But, in 1995, then-chairman Bob (later Sir Bob) Murray announced plans for a stadium on the former colliery site. Constructors Ballast Wiltshire were appointed.

During construction – which began in 1996 – the capacity was revised on several occasions, and the finished stadium eventually boasted 42,000 seats.

As the cranes went up and the former colliery was transformed into a modern cathedral of football, fans were busy preparing to say their goodbyes to Roker Park.

The stadium had proudly hosted the club for 99 years until its closure in 1997, but renewal was needed in order to meet both the growing needs of SAFC and the all-seater stipulations of the Taylor Report.

As John Mullin was scoring the last-ever goal at Roker, the final touches were being applied to the new home – Sunderland's eighth in their illustrious history.

Small nods to Roker Park remain around the ground to this day, such as the Archibald Leitch latticework in the car parks behind the West Stand, or letters from the famous 'WELCOME TO SUNDERLAND' sign which now adorn Quinn's Bar.

Following an outlay of a reported £15m – plus £7m for the North Stand extension completed a few years later – the stadium was ready to go.

There was the small matter of a name, and the 'Stadium of Light' moniker was duly unveiled, in reference to the miners' lamps and paying tribute to the mining heritage of both the site and the wider region.

A 0-0 draw with Ajax in a pre-season friendly kicked things off, and it was ironic that the first Stadium of Light goal was scored by a man who would go on to have a massive impact on the club.

As Niall Quinn was firing home in a season-opening 3-1 win over Manchester City, surely even the master of the Irish craic wouldn't have dreamed of the figure he was to become.

The striker formed one half of the Quinn and Phillips partnership before excelling himself by returning as chairman – from occupying the dressing room, in less than 10 years Quinn had traded that for the directors' box and arguably the hottest seat of them all.

Roles as manager and director, of course, were also to follow.

Fast forward, and the Stadium of Light remains at the forefront of modern venues, having hosted England internationals and concerts as well as being confirmed as a host city for the country's ultimately unsuccessful bid to host the 2018 World Cup.

It's a far cry from a colliery left desolate in 1993, when the remaining miners lost their jobs – at least one of whom still works on the staff at the club today.

The miner's lamp on the Davy Lamp roundabout and the colliery wheel, as well as the name itself, remind us of all those who worked in and supported the mining industry – including those who ultimately sacrificed their lives.

A true landmark in a city without a cathedral, the Stadium of Light links the region's proud industrial past to the present day and the football team it calls its own.

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