One of the most popular branches in the North East hail from Chester-Le-Street and with an ever-expanding membership base, Sunderland executive director Charlie Methven will be pleased to know that one of the biggest and most-thriving supporter groups in County Durham are of the red and white persuasion.
I’ve used branches many times myself over the years, and some of the selfless work that goes into running these operations really is nothing short of incredible - people that organise buses, organise tickets, organise fundraising, organise venues for supporters to head to for a drink when travelling away from home or just generally keeping house in order.
One such person is Jan Rowan, and I was delighted to get the chance to talk to her about how the Chester-Le-Street branch operates and has become such a vital group for so many Sunderland supporters over the last two decades.
RR: Hi! How did you come to start the branch, and how long has the branch been going?
JR: The branch was formed in 1996 when a group of supporters in the Chester-le-Street area got together to organise travel to both home and away games. I personally got involved because I wanted to travel to away games and did not want to travel alone.
I have been on the committee virtually since I joined the branch and have been Secretary for several years now. I believe I am the longest serving member of the committee.
RR: How many members do you have?
JR: We currently have approximately 230 members of all ages, and still have supporters renewing or joining. Our members are all ages and come from all the surrounding areas, including Sunderland and Sherburn, because they prefer to travel with our branch for away trips.
RR: It’s never been more exciting to be a Sunderland supporter. With the club becoming far more inclusive, how important is it to you to feel a part of what is going on?
JR: As a supporter I feel that it is vital to understand the way the club is being run and the challenges faced by the owner and manager.
The current owner and manager are more than willing to share their views with supporters. The owner has attended our Branch Liaison Committee (BLC), of which I am a member and was very open about his thoughts on the club and the future.
RR: How did you become a Sunderland supporter?
JR: I attended Fence Houses Secondary Modern School and in my form the majority were Sunderland supporters. I started to go to the home games with the friends that I made at school.
After I got married I travelled with my husband, who was in the army so was only able to follow via radio and news from home. Once we had settled back in the UK I started going to matches again.
Whilst I worked for Royal Ordnance in Birtley, I was the Secretary of the Sports & Social Club and we had two season tickets for the use of our members.
RR: Do you manage to get to many games/run buses to many games?
JR: Being a Season Card holder I get to most home games and as many away games as I can. A few years ago I hardly missed a game, either home or away but following changes in my domestic circumstances, my priorities changed slightly.
I help run the home busses, with our Chairman, Peter Snowdon and Treasurer, Mick Darwin. For the away trips, I personally arrange everything, organising tickets for branch members, the transport and places to stop before games.
If I am attending the away match I run the bus, checking the travellers, taking any outstanding payments and ensuring all travellers are safe and comfortable. I ensure that details are posted on our Facebook group and that fares are received from travellers and payment made to our bus company, Scarlet Band.
If I cannot attend an away game, I prepare bus lists for members of the committee, who take responsibility for running the bus on the day.
RR: What are your hopes for your branch in the future?
JR: The branch is flourishing at present and we would like to see our membership back at the level it was in our heyday, when we had close to 400 members.
It is our intention to have more social events for our members - currently we have a Christmas party, an annual Sporting Dinner and an end of season family outing to Scarborough. Money raised at Christmas will be donated to two local charities.
We also support the BLC charities.
RR: How can fans in your area get involved with your branch?
JR: We meet in the Chester-le-Street Cricket Club on last Wednesday of each month (unless there is a match). We have a Facebook group Sunderland Supporters Chester-le-Street, which we encourage our members to join as this is where we post details of forthcoming matches, departure times, events and any further news about the branch.
The group currently has 516 members.