Football: All is sweetness and Light at Sunderland

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The Independent Online
AFTER another afternoon of busily clicking turnstiles and merrily ringing tills, broad grins abounded at Sunderland's grandly-named Stadium of Light on Saturday regardless of the matter of two potential promotion points dropped.

The reason is that every fanatically supported home fixture for Peter Reid's ambitious team brings fresh vindication for the club's once hugely unpopular decision to build their future around a multi-million pound relocation.

In spite of relegation from the Premiership, Sunderland's move to their impressive new home has seen gate receipts soar by 65 per cent, with average crowds pushing towards 33,000. In fact, by recent standards, the turn- out of 35,114 for the visit of Ipswich on Saturday could be described almost as modest, given that the previous home match - against struggling Reading - attracted 40,579.

It is all wonderful news for the chairman, Bob Murray, who was delighted to reveal some mouth-watering interim accounts. For the six months up to 30 November last year, the club's turnover jumped 55 per cent from pounds 5.18m to pounds 8m, with an operating profit of pounds 1.38m despite a wage bill that jumped from pounds 1.3m to pounds 2.7m.

No wonder promotion rivals Nottingham Forest are envious. The figures announced for the same trading period at the City Ground show an operating loss of pounds 6.4m. Average crowds are down 5,500 compared with last season.

"Our League attendances have increased as the season has progressed," Sunderland's Murray said. "This truly vindicates our decision to build a stadium of the size we have with the capacity to increase."

There could be good news to come, too. Should two northern clubs be paired in the semi-finals of the FA Cup - Newcastle and Leeds, for example - the 42,000-capacity Stadium of Light will rival Hillsborough as a possible venue.