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How I Became A Sunderland Supporter - An American’s Story

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When I rocked up on Wearside as a student in 2013, I never could have imagined that I would have returned to America with a rather unhealthy obsession for Sunderland AFC, but I did.

Stadium of Light - Sunderland AFC
My first photo of the Stadium of Light. 29 January, 2013

My first match: SAFC 0-0 Swansea

Date: 29th January, 2013

Weather: Cold, windy, rainy (Dreadful)

Highlights: Danny Graham being booed ferociously, mere days before he ended up signing for us...

You’re probably asking yourself how on earth this match turned me into a Sunderland supporter, and well… I can’t blame you. I should start from the beginning. Let’s regress.

I am one of the many, but mostly unknown, American Sunderland supporters.

I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I still reside. Born to an American mother and an Austrian father, I had the typical upper middle class upbringing. My parents introduced me to many sports, and football (real football) was one of them.

My dad used to wake me up Saturday mornings to watch German Bundesliga games on television. I watched Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern München, and players like Michael Ballack, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Oliver Kahn. They became my idols at a young age. I loved the Bundesliga, and it became my league. I knew everything there was to know, and woke up early on Saturdays to watch games.

In the summer of 2012 I decided I would follow in the footsteps of a good friend and spend my spring semester of 2013 overseas, studying in England. My choices were Birmingham, Kent and Sunderland.

I chose Sunderland.

Why? Well, mainly it was because I wanted to get as far away from London as I could.

I arrived in Sunderland on a cold, windy January night, and three days later was Sunderland’s home game against Swansea City. I had to be there. I had dreamt of seeing a Premier League game for quite some time.

I gathered my new roommates and we bared the English winter weather and pilled into the Stadium of Light. I mistakingly made the decision to sit in the front row. Looking back, that was a terrible decision as I couldn’t see shit. The disappointing scoreline didn’t turn me away from my new interest.

If I can use a faded analogy, the gears were starting to turn in terms of my love for Sunderland AFC.

What I truly love about Sunderland AFC is the affection that the people have for the club. In America many states and cities are saturated with teams of various sports. For Sunderland, it’s Sunderland AFC, and nothing else.

When the team perform well, the city is bouncing, and when they don’t, people sulk.

There was so much to appreciate about a Saturday at the Stadium of Light, regardless of the scoreline. It felt like a proper day out that whole families would look forward to - a bonding experience.

Match days would usually consist of my mates and I walking from our Clanny House apartments in Pallion, through the center of town, and across the Wear Bridge. I always enjoyed the walk - as you got closer and closer to the stadium, you seemed to pick up more and more people, and by the time you have reached the bridge, you’re shoulder to shoulder with many more stadium goers. Burly men with beer bellies bigger than their Sunderland tops can hold, mothers and wives wrapped up to brave the elements, and sons wearing their red and white scarves around their necks, grabbing on to dad’s hand as the crowds swelled.

It’s the little things, the sights, the smells, the noises, that I remember most fondly - the scent of the burger vans that line the streets on the way into the ground; the buzz and the clink that the turnstiles make when you pass through them into the stadium.

I vividly remember the swirling wind that hits you when you walk up the steps from the concourse, an often cool wind that can bite at times. The stands are full of a combination of genders, races, and classes, but you would of never know. Strangers sat together and discussing their hopes for the match, bonding over their common love for the football club.

The first time that I heard Dance of the Knights an overwhelming tingle was sent over me. Goosebumps. Goosebumps I still get to this day when that song plays.

People sometimes ask me,“Why do you support them if they are so bad?” and all I can respond with is, frankly…”I can’t help it.”

For many American fans that choose to support a Premier League team, it’s based on a minor connection they have for the club, rooted around a player, or a match they watched. For me, it was based on the experiences I had at the Stadium of Light - a connection with the fans, the city, and the culture as a whole.