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Why I love Sunderland AFC #14: Dan Spalding - An American who wanted a club to love & found one

In today's edition of our 'Why I love Sunderland AFC' series, Roker Report reader Dan Spalding tells his fantastic tale of how he came to fall in love with a football club thousands of miles away - based purely on a search through his family tree which linked him back to Houghton Le Spring!

Sunderland v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

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Roker Report are looking for reader submission as part of our ‘Why I love Sunderland AFC’ feature. If you would like to pass on your tale of why you love this club, please email us a piece of no less than 500 words to - we’ll feature the well-written ones here on the site!

I am an American, born and raised in the south-eastern United States where soccer is still considered a communist sport by many people. When I latched on to football in my early teens it was a lonely passion for the first few years. Professional soccer clubs did not exist anywhere close to my hometown so I was a bit of a wandering fan looking for a club I could support.

Around 12 years ago the only connection I had to a team was a friend from London who was a Chelsea supporter. In those days, the only matches shown on television where I’m from were Champions League matches, so I began to follow Chelsea. For a few years, Chelsea were one of the very few teams I was able to watch on television, and I was lucky if just one of the matches was televised per month. I watched Chelsea win the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup, and come with a John Terry penalty of winning the Champions League. I wanted more though.

I began to search again. I knew my great grandparents had emigrated from England around 100 years ago, so I went to my Mother to find out exactly where my family once lived hoping that it was close to a club I could support. She told me her great grandparents came to the United States from Houghton-le-Spring where my great Grandfather was a coal miner. I immediately looked this town up on the internet to discover it’s just down the road from a city named Sunderland. Well, I knew Sunderland had a club in the Premier League so I did my research and read all I could about the club’s history. Then came one of my favorite memories as a football fan, I found a home.

The Stadium of Light, the Davy lamp outside the ground, the colliery wheel on the badge and even the location where the stadium was built are all tributes to people like my great Grandfather. I had found a team that I have a real connection with, and I am lucky enough that this club is one of the greatest clubs in the history of English football. Reading anything I could find about the history of Sunderland, the Roker Roar and the many league and FA Cup winning sides, became a passionate hobby I still indulge today. I learned that Sunderland is a prestigious club with all the potential in the world to climb to the top again with the history to show for it and I fell in love.

My passion for the game of football grew to become a major part of my life. I have played competitively and recreationally for many years. Eventually, football became a career for me when I was able to work alongside a few individuals to build our own small, professional club in my home state of Alabama, the Birmingham Hammers. I was lucky enough to spend two years working for Orlando City SC during its first two seasons in Major League Soccer where I always had my Sunderland scarf displayed on my desk. Though I have developed new connections to professional clubs I have been a part of over the years, Sunderland has always been my home club.

Over the last eight years I have watched Sunderland have the League Cup in their grasp, miraculously escape certain relegation on more than one occasion, and win six consecutive Tyne-Wear Derbies. While Sunderland have overall struggled to maintain consistent good performances, there have been some spectacular matches that are unforgettable. Ji Dong Won’s late winner at home against Manchester City. Fabio Borini’s belter to beat Newcastle at the death. Beating Chelsea at the Stadium of Light in the quarter-final of the Capital One Cup, and then winning on penalties at Manchester United. The away win at Chelsea during the great escape under Gus Poyet. Jermaine Defoe’s pristine volley to be Newcastle, again. Finally, I will be visiting England for the first time this August, and I hope to see a new stunner like these in person on Wearside.

Sunderland is not always the easiest club to love based purely on results, but results are not why I love Sunderland. I love Sunderland because of what the club represents, it’s where my ancestors lived and worked in the mines, the club’s storied history, the passionate support of its fans, the beautiful Stadium of Light and the legend of the Roker Roar. I love Sunderland AFC because if you have to ask, you just wouldn’t understand.

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