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Why I love Sunderland AFC: #4 - Graham Macmillan-Mason - "Our fans are amazing!"

In this third edition of our 'Why I love Sunderland AFC' feature, Roker Report writer Graham Macmillan-Mason talks about the one constant throughout his time as a supporter of this club - the fans.

Villa v Sunderland x

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I'm a Roker Park kid. I went to my first game as a 7-year-old - ten days after my birthday, and my present was to be a 0-2 home defeat to Wolves. I still remember the entire line-up. But most importantly, I remember being held up to sit on the bar in amongst the rest of the Sunderland fans in the Fulwell End.

The scent of stale beer and fags mixed with warm, fresh bovril in the air seemed to have its own sort of charm. My first hero, Phil Gray, wore the number ten jersey. The Roker roar seemed to rise every time the Northern Irishman, or indeed Don Goodman, got near the goal. We lost, but I had a smile as wide as the river Wear for the rest of that night. Being part of it all, alongside my fellow Sunderland supporters, is something that I instantly connected with. I often think about that day being what brought me to love Sunderland - the occasion, the sense of belonging. Standing shoulder to shoulder with other like-minded people singing Sunderland songs and enjoying the entire experience. It lives with you forever.

I was brought up in South Shields, where in the school yard there were barely any Sunderland supporters but plenty of Newcastle fans. Perhaps the success of our neighbours meant that being eleven years old and supporting a first division team when you had the opportunity to watch players like Shearer, Ginola and Ferdinand up the road wasn’t too appealing. But when we finally hit form and the likes of Quinn, Phillips and Johnston were delivering the goods, the playground became quieter. Me and the only other lad in my class who was a confessed mackem, Ben, took a whole load of shit from the mags when we were bad, so obviously when things took an upturn we made the most of it.

general view
This view, amongst the scent of bovril, fags and stale beer had a charm I will never forget, for some strange reason.

And as I grew slightly older I still always looked forward to turning up to games at the Stadium of Light. When Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights blasted out of the tannoys my entire body would fill with excitement - I even bought the CD with it on so I could play it in the house, desperate to recreate the feeling of a matchday and being amongst my fellow Sunderland supporters.

That period between 1997 and 2001 was an absolutely superb time to be a fan of this club - we had a manager who the fans could relate to, players that gave their all, and we played a great brand of football that made you jump up off your seat. The stadium was packed out most weeks, we consistently sold out away from home and, generally, there was a feeling amongst the fanbase that the club was going places.

There have been other moments since - beating Newcastle on countless occasions, overcoming Manchester United on penalties with over 9000 of us in attendance, visiting Wembley, winning the Championship twice - all, of course, nestled amongst the copious amounts of bad things we've had to suffer too. The relegations, the constant changes in personnel and management, battling for survival, never improving, never achieving anything - with Sunderland, you most certainly have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And yet through it all we still turn out in our droves, come rain or shine.

The more I think back, and the more I read what I’ve written above it becomes quite apparent why I love Sunderland. I’m not a homebird, I’m not in any sense - I moved as soon as I got the chance. I don’t have pride in being English, but I do have a pride in connection and having a united belief. And it doesn't matter how much soul-searching we do as fans, we have to remember that the only constant in all of this is us, the fans.

We argue, celebrate, cry and despair with one another every single week, but we're the best set of fans around and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It would be almost impossible to follow the buggers if it wasn't for the fact that I am a part of such a loyal and battle-hardened fanbase.

The reason I love Sunderland AFC? The supporters, of course. Our fans are amazing.

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