Hi Nick! Most Sunderland fans will be familiar with the various flags and banners we see around the ground on a match day but some might not know how they got there. How did it all start?
Like most things nowadays it began through the power of social media and, more specifically, the ‘Ready To Go’ Sunderland Message Board.
At the time Niall Quinn was in charge, and I think there was a sense in the air his time at the club was drawing to a close. So, with that in mind, the fans collectively got together and came up with the idea of creating a banner for Sir Niall to show our appreciation for all he had done.
It just so happened that one of my ideas submitted to the message board was deemed good enough to be used as a design - that was that, I was involved and determined to make sure it happened. There were various meetings and plans put in place, but it took a lot of arm-twisting for Niall to accept the banner and allow it to go ahead. To be fair, if someone said they were going to parade a banner with my face on in front of 40,000 people I would have my concerns too! So, in the meantime while all that was being sorted out, we decided to create a crowd surfer flag with the money we had already raised, with the aim being to display it at the up and coming derby. Niall eventually came round, and I think it was a proud moment for everyone when he saw it.
How are things going with the project? Are there any plans to introduce more flags and banners?
Yes, really good, things seem to be going from strength to strength.
We have a few ideas bubbling up to the surface - the main one is to introduce semi permanent banners across the Premier Concourse ledge. A couple of lads went to the Manchester grounds prior to the Carling Cup Semi Final and saw how their ground staff were able to get round the health and safety issues. There’s loads of red tape and hoops you have to jump through due to rules and regulations gone mad. I know that the club are as frustrated as us when it comes to restrictions, and are working really hard to make this happen - fortunately it looks like we can now finally get this idea off the ground.
We are also looking at the possibility of introducing flag wavers near the pitch, behind the goals for example. I think its good that this sort of idea has been generated from a fans initiative, as it allows us to have control over designs and makes it a genuine gesture of support. If anyone has any suggestions or designs for projects then feel free to contact us (details are at the bottom).
What is the ultimate goal with the initiative? Liverpool do such a brilliant job with theirs and it would be great to see something similar at Sunderland.
I think the plan is to keep building momentum and eventually have flags, banners and scarves completely embedded into the fabric of match days. Liverpool has got this process sewn up, and it’s a huge part of their culture, which has developed over many years. Liverpool were once at the stage we are at now, which gives us the focus that if we keep going, the next generation will also see it as part of their culture. I do think there is a bit of confusion that needs to be clarified about what type of flags fans can or can’t bring into the ground. For example we are actively encouraged by SAFC to create banners with poles for the stands, however some fans may be reluctant to bring those types of flags in, from fear of repercussions from the stewards. This is something I intend to bring up, as it would be great if fans had the piece of mind to bring in their own flags, knowing what the current defined boundaries are.
How many flags and banners have been created since Haway The Flags took off?
We have created the first crowd surfer, six flags that are (sometimes) used with poles e.g. SUNDERLAND TILL I DIE, KEEP THE FAITH, the ship badge etc, and of course the huge new surfer flag. Over £10k has been generated from fans, ALS, the club and ourselves, which is a class effort.
My favourite is probably the Niall Quinn banner as it is the one that got everything moving, although, I do love the new crowd surfer and looks great when it is held tight. I also love the Sunderland Football Group's efforts, which you probably have seen in the ground and on the railings, and previously on the SWC wall. We literally stand next to them in the match, and often work together on ideas and suggestions that we can all take forward.
How much help have the club given since the initiative took off?
The club has genuinely been fantastic in their support from day one. At the end of the day they are just like anyone of us and want the best match day atmosphere possible. Wherever they can, they go out of their way to help - for example, Margret Byrne agreed to fund half of the new flag we took to Wembley, with ALS and what was left from the Ha'way The Flags funding the rest. Without that support it probably wouldn’t have happened due to the time frame we were up against.
Most recently the club have agreed to give match tickets away to volunteers who will be active in helping us with set up and set off the surfer flags, which takes a huge pressure off us this season, so we are thankful for that level of support once again.
What can people who might want to volunteer their services do to help out and aid improving the already sterling job you guys do?
It’s a relatively simple process, and if anyone would like to volunteer in exchange for a match ticket (or just to help out) then we meet around 30 minutes before kick off, set the flags up in the stands, set them off, collect and back in your seats just after kick off. I would also encourage fans to be proactive and bring in their own flags and banners - there must be loads that were made for the cup final!
Where can the readers get in touch with you?
The best place is probably on Twitter Or 'Ready To Go', where you can direct message me on my user name Nick666. Alternatively, you can email to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try and accommodate as many people as we can, if not all.