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Molly Burke: Spending Saturdays in the West Stand on my tod; a female Sunderland fan perspective

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It’s been said in the past that football’s a man’s game - what a load of bollocks. It doesn’t matter who you are, Sunderland has the same effect on everyone; football is the world’s great equaliser.

Me at Wembley in 2014.
Molly Burke

There was nothing more relieving than our absolutely horrific 16/17 Premier League campaign coming to an end after suffering week in week out to the hands of David Moyes. But, despite the fact that the sour-faced Scotsman had sucked all the excitement out of my trips to the Stadium of Light, I was still very much for the idea of renewing my season card ahead of a stint in the Championship.

This has become all too familiar for me and indeed other Sunderland fans, with the same issues occurring every year, and it makes me think back to when I actually fell in love with this club - simultaneously allowing it to dominate my every thought and feeling throughout the entirety of my life.

I moved away from the North East when I was young, swapping East Boldon for the countryside, where everyone else was just interested in supporting Manchester United or Liverpool. It was almost like you were ‘uncool’ if you didn’t support either, but whilst others continued their glory supporting ways I would sing the praises of Darren Bent and Steed Malbranque, sticking by my North East roots.

Sunderland v Fulham - Premier League
One of the most gifted players to pull on a Sunderland shirt in recent times.
Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

It didn’t take me long to become very much addicted to Sunderland AFC. The past few years I have refused to miss a match, even if it does mean travelling the length of the country to watch us get inevitably hammered. And although I’m proud to support such a brilliant club, I have often struggled to publicly display my passion for football.

Whilst I grew up scouring social media for the latest transfer rumours and waiting for the week to end so that I could return back to my place of worship, my friends weren’t so interested in the latest scores or signings because it was never a girly thing to do. This often left me spending my Saturdays sat in the West Stand on my tod, because finding a friend who was as crazy about football as me was hard enough – never mind finding one who was actually stupid enough to support Sunderland.

Being one of the few girls to take such an interest in football has unsurprisingly led to the occasional sexist comment. It is sometimes hard to get my view across because "girls don't know anything about football".

The old fashioned view that football is a man's sport has resulted in women being treated differently and we are looked down on because of our gender rather than being judged on our ability to play the game, write about it, or talk about it - hey, I’ve faced that issue myself even just by writing stuff on this website.

Sunderland v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship
A spiritual home.
Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

Sunderland have an issue. Future generations of football supporters are not flocking to watch our games like they once were, and cultivating the youngest amongst our fanbase is just as important as reconnecting with people who are becoming increasingly disconnected from what this club has become - and that includes both boys and girls.

But, for girls, football can be a form of escapism in the same way that it has been for me over the years and I implore anyone to encourage youngsters - both male and female - to really buy into what supporting their local football club is about.

You don't have to be male to know how it feels when you see Lee Cattermole flatten someone with a roar-inducing tackle, or that we would probably be looking forward to another season in the Premier League had England just bloody beaten Iceland. You don't have to be male in order to appreciate Jordan Pickford's sublime distribution - or be absolutely heartbroken that he's gone.

And you don't have to be male to be a die hard Sunderland fan, to be able to go to the match week in week out and no matter what the result was be able to say you would never swap this club for anything in the world.