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Why I love Sunderland AFC #17: Sean Brown - “It’s in the blood”

In this edition of our 'Why I love Sunderland AFC' feature, Roker Rapport Podcast producer Sean Brown recounts his story of how, as a young boy, he became instantly captivated by the sights and smells of Roker Park.

Kevin Ball
Oooh Bally Bally!

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“It builds character.” That's the answer I usually give whenever I'm asked this question, other than the obvious “I don't have a choice” or “It’s in the blood”.

Aye, it’s in the blood.

My parents lived in Roker at the time of my birth and I have family spread throughout the city and surrounding villages.

I spent my summers playing in the streets down Hendon, running across the old tracks into the south dock where they used to carry the black stuff. I’d often put coal in my pockets to chuck on my granda’s fire, or just run, like a daft little beggar, joyfully into the freezing cold sea after blowing a pound (Aye! A whole pound!) in Roker amusements. I’d often find myself sat in the museum, gazing with wonder at the old diving suit, very similar to the one my Granda used in his younger days, that stood eerily in its glass cabinet.

My childhood was thankfully full of these wonderful memories of my city.

Aye, there was a darkness back then, I’ll admit, but there was always a common cause.

My exposure to this holiest of causes came during my first visit to our hallowed old ground.

I was 5 years old and, even at the grand old age of thirtysomething, the memories from that day are still fresh in my mind. My cousin, your typical Mackem lad, was a fanatic. He had the idea of taking “the bairn” to Roker to watch us play Derby.

It became a baptism of sorts, complete with dragging me in the pub beforehand for the traditional pre-match drink. Large, rough looking men surrounded me but I felt no fear, these, as I was told, were the Lads. They made me feel safe despite their outward appearance and their apparent inability to say anything at all without it sounding like a grave threat.

Roker Park

I’d never heard language like it - and I loved it. At some point a feeling rose from deep within me, like some kind of genetic memory. You all know what I mean. That feeling is infectious. The feeling of freedom and safety, invincibility even, when surrounded by your brethren.

“You’re one of us, son”. That statement, delivered in the harshest, east-end accent from a giant of a man that I’d only just met and, to my knowledge, a man I’ve never seen since, has stuck with me throughout my life.

I rode a wave of red and white that day, carried upon my cousin’s broad shoulders all the way to Roker Park. That day started a fire in my belly. I was one with all these glorious lads and lasses, brazen and tremendously loud, full of passion every one, and it felt incredible.

I remember a few years later I’d travel with my Da to see my first away game. It was against Reading at Elm Park. Terrible ground. Kept behind fences with not even a roof on the bog. Literally pissing in the wind (and rain) that day. But on the pitch, stood behind Shaka “Give us a wave” Hislop, I witnessed a thing of beauty. Reading would finish second that year, and they’d already defeated us at home, but Goals from Andy Melville and (my hero at the time) the mighty Phil Gray, drove our soaked, travelling fans into a frenzy. When the second goal came, the crowd opened to let us youngsters down the front. Climbing up the fences and screaming in celebration. Rain pouring down, soaked to the bone, but we didn’t care. Again, I felt that feeling. The high. The jubilation. It really was a fantastic day for me.

Roker Park Getty Images

In all honesty, my love for the club is one with my love for the city and its people, the region is one of dark stormy skies, freezing winters and rough, jagged terrain and coastlines only broken up by the cracked concrete and ghosts of industries long gone. Sounds dramatic but it’s true. We’re a proud, fiery, fiercely loyal tribe. That’s the word. Tribe. Look that word up:

a social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect.

Well. That’s us in a nutshell. We are tied, in every way, through every family, for generations, to our club. Our beloved Sunderland. Our beloved Lads.

I’ve followed us for 3 decades. I’ve roared, I’ve rejoiced, I’ve cried. And by everything that is holy, I’d do it all again.

It’s a passion that brings our tribe together. We are one. We are Sunderland. Til we die and beyond. To hell with all the drama, that is our common culture, our cause, our religion, our community, our blood that runs red... and white.

Have a look at our fans at Hull this past weekend, see them stay and cheer those players, despite the desperate situation in which we currently find ourselves. Tell me that isn’t a beautiful thing.

I’ve no love for Moyes, Short or Bain. At all. No love for a player that comes to us to sit on their arse while he earns in a week what most of us would struggle to earn in a year.

I love Sunderland because I love you all. Whether we’re celebrating a rare mid-table Premier League finish, or laid low in the sodding third tier. We roar. It’s what we do.

It’s all about the love, and no club on this earth can boast fans that love their club as much as we do. Don’t forget that, don’t doubt that. We really are all in this together.

In short... Well It’s obvious isn’t it?

Haway the Lads!