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Why I love Sunderland AFC #18: A Newcastle fan who switched allegiances due to racism & misogyny!

In this edition of our 'Why I love Sunderland AFC' feature, Jane Evans recounts her story of growing up as a Newcastle fan, but switching allegiances after vastly different match-day experiences.

Roker Park

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Growing up a mile from St James’ Park, Saturdays were always about the thrill of hearing the crowd, the anticipation, the groans, and of course, the boos. Occasionally there was the ecstasy of the odd goal too.

I stood in the back yard listening, trying to guess the score from the sounds I heard. “Animals”, my dad - who didn’t approve of anything much, especially people enjoying themselves - said. “Sheep, who can’t think for themselves, baying with the mob about a bunch of nobodies chasing a ball. Idiots.” How I wanted to be one of them though - it sounded like the best thing ever to share that collective emotion.

I moved down south at when I was nineteen and co-founded a local Newcastle United supporters club, mostly to help take the edge off the alienation. To have somewhere to belong. Our social life was spectacular - bars competed to host us, such fun we were. And perhaps because we spent a lot. A mighty lot.

Sunderland fans joined us too, for the same reasons, and for the network of lifts and parcel couriering to and from home. We hired buses (in the pre-dry travel days) to NUFC away games within easy reach of us, and had all of those amazing away day experiences. I finally got to participate and love being a part of the baying mob.

There was some football to watch too, but that wasn’t the be all and end all of it. As a tiny woman I couldn’t always see the action, but generally, the away fans did their best to give me space.

And then then the glorious day arrived. I went home, and had the chance to go to St James’ Park for the first time.

St James Park GV
I wasn’t a big fan of St. James’ Park

However, in the paddocks I was jostled, groped, insulted for trying to get a view, shouted at, heard misogyny and racism worse than I ever knew was possible, and the football was absolutely shit. This was not the emotion I wanted to be part of. I tried again a couple of times, but it was always just as miserable. I’m not saying it was like that everywhere in the ground, or that is everyone’s experience, but it was mine. Then they made it season ticket only, and I was relieved that I could never go again.

A couple of years passed and I met a great bloke - a Sunderland fan who suggested a date to Roker Park. I was apprehensive, but all of our previous dates had gone well so why not? The terraces had that away match feel with everyone just out to have a good day. I was given space, and asked if I could see - respected by those around me. And then a racist shout - I knew it was too good to be true.

But the lone voice was shouted down by others and, although the racism didn’t stop, it was countered - as good as it got in the early nineties. The football wasn’t always all that, but the supporters supported. I genuinely felt I belonged.

general view
This place felt like home.

25 years on and I’m still with the same great bloke, and the same great club. Our sons were born in Sunderland, and although we moved away when they were babies, they are massive Lads fans, going to the Stadium of Light whenever possible. One of them co-founded a football supporters’ club when he moved away from home, and has enjoyed its links to our club which has strengthened his bond.

It’s all been a bit shit lately with the football and the management. I could choose a new club, I chose this one, and I’ve flirted with a few others; however, I have too much to lose - how many other clubs can give you the same kind of sense of belonging as Sunderland AFC does? This club was not my first love, but it will be my last.