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Red & White Army: How last night’s inaugural meeting of Sunderland’s newest fan group went down

Roker Report writer Michael Oates attended yesterday evening’s inaugural meeting of the Red and White Army fan group. Here’s how it went down, and how he feels having listened to what the group had to say.

The Peacock filling up as people filter in for last night’s meeting

The Red And White Army, a new, independent voice for all Sunderland supporters, held their first meeting in The Peacock pub in the city centre last night. You may, or may not have heard of them. If you haven't, then rest assured, you will be hearing a lot more very soon.

Amassing over 2000 members in only its first twelve days speaks volumes. It is a clear indication that an independent supporter organization has been required to represent us, the club's fans, for far too long now.

I saw bits and pieces from their social media, I read their mission statement and yeah, I admit at first, probably quite naturally, that I was sceptical. There are already some outstanding platforms available for Sunderland fans to keep abreast of what exactly is going on at the club, especially for those seeking passion, realism and honesty in their analysis of all things Sunderland AFC. You might like a fanzine, a particular site like our very own Roker Report, or a podcast, but what has been lacking though is a single, strong and independent voice to represent us all. The Red And White Army may be just what we've been looking for.

They want to engage with the club on behalf of its supporters, it is that simple, and sadly unlike Sunderland AFC, transparency will be its core make up. It will be open and democratic. Everyone can have a say. So I signed up for membership, and registered myself for the organisation's very first meeting. What exactly did I have to lose?

It's all well and good sitting behind a keyboard voicing your discontent and complaining about the situation of your football club, even anything for that matter, but it's an altogether different ball game to engage with people successfully, and get them off their smartphones and laptops, out of their homes and into a room together to passionately share their views and ideas on Sunderland AFC with a panel of strangers. The Red And White Army have successfully managed to do that, even at this embryonic stage of their existence, which is some achievement.

I sat, somewhat open minded as to what the evening had in store, but once the introductions were out of the way, with the mission statement established, the engagement began. Lots of ideas were put forward by those in attendance. Supporters young and old, female fans, people from all walks of life were in attendance, which was great to see. Even the BBC were there to cover the opening exchanges. That is a measure of how seriously we as fans should take the RAWA. Ideas were generated, thoughts shared with each other; the questions open to the floor, nobody really too scared to grab the microphone and put across their views to the panel. On that score, I felt it was a roaring success.

How RAWA communicates to its members was also established. Any minutes will be published to all, everything will be fed back and nothing hidden, particularly with any potential dialogue and meetings it has with the club. They are also currently focusing on drumming up interest to really get this project growing and to make it stronger.

You yourself can help.

If you too feel passionate enough about Sunderland AFC and want to get involved and have your say, then I encourage you to join The Red And White Army. Tell your friends. Buy in to their ideas and what they are trying to achieve. Doing something is better than doing nothing at all. They are supporters of Sunderland just like you and I, and they are trying wholeheartedly to combat the challenges we face as fans and the burning questions that we feel need answering.

From my perspective, this is a chance for clarity. We've had no transparency from Ellis Short, Martin Bain, or anyone for that matter, and that simply has to change. We were promised x, y and z, and we've received nothing all season but a recently heavily vetted and scripted interview with Bain. I’m sick and tired of diluted, synthetic engagement and bad PR. We can't stand for rubbish any longer, both on the pitch and off it. Us fans need the hierarchy at Sunderland AFC to stand up and take notice of the growing discontent among the Wearside faithful. We need to force the hand of the club, and I now believe that The Red And White Army is the very platform to be able to do that.

What I saw yesterday evening was a group of people devoting their own time and effort to get an organization going, and I also saw a room full of fans, most of which were with them every step of the way. They will engage with existing supporter entities to ensure maximum exposure which will hopefully result in those at the club taking notice as membership grows and awareness increases. They will reach out to supporters via social media, and both local and national media outlets in order to reach people all over the country who care about Sunderland and want to get involved.

There is strength in numbers, and we need The Red And White Army to continue to grow. They'll continue to bang on the door of SAFC towers until their voice is heard - and they won't be going away anytime soon.

If you’d like to join the Red and White Army, click here.

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