The talk in the lead-up to the weekend’s English Premier League fixtures surrounded two very different topics.  One was the price of football (a huge protest had taken place amongst Liverpool fans due to £77 ticket prices at Anfield culminating in a walkout of 10,000 fans) and the other was the ongoing question marks about the future of Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal.

Much of the complaints about the former (ticket prices) surrounded the fact that English football is awash with money. Both teams are part of a league, the Premier League, which during 2015 sold the television rights to its games for a record £5.14bn.

BT Sport, who screened this Saturday lunchtime game between Sunderland and Manchester United, paid £960m for its TV rights in a new deal that will run for three years from 2016.  The channel has managed to increase the number of live matches it will show from 38 to 42 a year but for that pleasure, it pays £320m per season equating to about £7.6m per game.

The complaints about Van Gaal surround results rather than his salary with the Dutchman now making the track record of the previous manager David Moyes look good.   Just some of the statistics are eye opening:

  • Win Percentage: Van Gaal (50%) v Moyes (52%)
  • Goal per Game: Val Gaal (1.53) v Moyes (1.69)
  • Longest winless run: Van Gaal (7 games) v Moyes (3 games)

While the much criticised Moyes managed to negotiate the UEFA Champions League group stages and went on to reach the quarter-finals of Europe’s top competition, Van Gaal’s team were knocked out of the Champions League early on with now only the consolation of a Europa League campaign.


Roker Park, the former home of Sunderland, had opened in 1898 and even back then the local derby matches against Newcastle United were known for huge attendances and episodes of fan trouble.  By 1929 the ground held 60,000 fans and overcrowding was a huge issue with pitch invasions regularly occurring.  The grandstand was erected and designed by the well-known designer Archibald Leitch and at Roker Park, his trademark criss-cross steelwork balcony was painted red making it one of the few with such colours in the UK.

By the 1950’s Roker Park was one of the few grounds to have floodlights making night football possible. In 1966 Sunderland was a host for the World Cup held in England and more specifically a number of Group Four ties. The quarter final match between USSR and Hungary was also played at Roker Park.

Despite sweeping terraces and the tall floodlights by the 1990’s Roker Park was a very outdated place and essentially in need of demolition. The incoming of new legislation meant that ‘time was up’ for an ageing and out of date structure parts of which had been around since the Victorian era.  The remaining characteristics the ground was most noted for included the Roker Roar (the unique shouts of the home fans) and the sea breeze gave the proximity of the ground to the north sea. While it was time up for the stadium it was hoped that these characteristics could be transported to at the new Stadium of Light.

Transforming the site of the former Monkwearmouth Colliery on the banks of the River Wear into a top-class football stadium was a monumental task.  The Stadium’s design drew inspiration from Sunderland’s proud industrial heritage in shipbuilding and especially coal-mining.  With its bowl-shaped seating decks, it now stands in the city of Sunderland’s most famous landmark.  Up to 50,000 tonnes of concrete foundations were removed in the early stages of creation and old mine workings were filled in. Moreover, 350,000 tonnes of soil were cleared in an excavation process that would see a huge seated bowl rise from the ground when it opened in 1997.

Shortly before opening, it was announced that the new home would be called the Stadium of Light in tribute to the miners who worked at the site when it was a colliery.

Since opening further extensions have occurred with the North Stand extended meaning the present-day capacity is a sizeable 49,000.  It has since hosted competitive domestic football as well as matches involving the English national football team.

If the 2015-2016 season has been one of the numerous setbacks then Manchester United suffered another one on Wearside against a battling Sunderland side.   The game was eventually settled by a David De Gea’s own goal in the last ten minutes, rather ironic given it was the saves of the Spaniard that had stopped Sunderland taking the lead up to that point.

Live television saw the action

Sunderland had never previously beaten Manchester United at the Stadium of Light in a top flight meeting but the Black Cats gave themselves the platform to end that run when Tunisian Wahbi Khazri’s free-kick bounced through a crowded area and an unorganised defence to find the net after less than five minutes.

United looked uncomfortable against a battling side and when Darmian went off with a shoulder injury it looked bleak given his rampaging forays down the right.  Defoe nearly gave Sunderland a two-goal lead but eventually Frenchman Anthony Martial snatched an equaliser just before half-time hitting home after Vito Mannone has stopped a Juan Mata strike.

Manchester United showed very little in the second half and the game looked set to end a stalemate until Lamine Kone powered a header goalwards which rebounded in off Martial on the line and the back of keeper De Gea with just seven minutes left to play.

For Sunderland, a number of new players made a huge contribution to this win which could be crucial as the club again seek to avoid the drop to the second tier. Having sacked England international Adam Johnston the day previously and let Steven Fetcher go to Marseille on loan Sunderland needed reinforcements and the home support seems delighted with the spirit shown.

Given the form of Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the top of the table, it’s looking highly likely that the Old Trafford side might once again miss out on a Champions League place an eventuality unthinkable for those running the club.

Sunderland: Mannone, Van Aanholt, Kone, Yedlin, O’Shea, M’Vila, Khazri, Cattermole, N’Doye, Kirchhoff, Defoe.

Manchester United: David de Gea, Borthwick-Jackson, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Mata, Lingard, Martial, Rooney.

FT: 2-1

Referee: Andre Mariner