Cwmbran native Billy Pritchard has been a Sunderland fan for as long as he can remember, but recently decided to form the Wales SAFC Supporters Group in order to share his love of Red & White with like-minded fans in the country.
It’s entirely likely that there are passionate Lads fans spread out right across Wales but haven’t really found a way to connect - until now.
Billy has a dream of creating a very special branch of supporters that can come together, just like they do in all other areas of the UK and in many countries abroad.
If you are up for getting involved in the grassroots creation of the group Billy has started, be sure to get in touch with him and help move things along at pace - if Sunderland can have a thriving, successful Welsh branch it won’t just help fans now, but those in the future.
RR: Hi! How did you come to start the branch, and how long has the branch been going?
BP: The idea of setting up a Wales supporters group came to light at the recent drubbing at the hands of Cardiff away. We were chatting to a few local lads who travel to Sunderland games home and away about how it would be great to get something together.
Between a few of us we know of at least 10-15 Sunderland fans in a 10 mile radius of our location in South East Wales. Over the years we have spoken to many fans from Wales who travel independently to follow the lads so if we could get something together as a group that would benefit us all as well as allowing us to travel to more games for another few hours of pain (we wouldn’t have it any other way though would we).
RR: How many members do you have?
BP: We are still in the very early stages - I’ve received emails from a few interested parties. I can only hope that now we have the feel good factor about the club now a few of the dormant fans from around Wales will get in touch so we can try and get something together.
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?
BP: Being from so far away Sunderland every game we attend is a joy for us, last season was fun to go to grounds like Burton, Brentford etc., but at times it was frustrating to the point of asking myself why I am I still doing this.
This season thus far has been an absolute joy, its never been in doubt for me how amazing our fans are wherever we play but the extra feel good factor is back. My boy and me went to Plymouth Saturday and as bad as we were first half it was still great to be around such a great bunch of lads. Winning games helps but a massive part of following Sunderland everywhere is the lads who surround us for those few hours.
RR: How did you become a Sunderland supporter?
BP: My father was a small boy on that iconic day in 1973 when Bobby Kerr lifted the FA Cup and caused one of the biggest upsets of all-time and instantly had a soft spot for the lads, a couple of days later Sunderland had one more fixture to play which happened to be away to Cardiff which is only 30 minutes away from our home town of Cwmbran. He nagged his sister to take him to the game and that early May night in the capital of Wales cemented 40+ years of following the lads.
I was born in the summer of 89’ and from day one I was destined to be a Sunderland fan, no questions asked and no choice was given. My dad took me to my first game when I was aged 5 which was away to Bristol City and although I have no memory of the game I came home with a few new wrestling figures so instantly enjoyed these day trips to the football with my dad.
In primary school all the kids at the time either supported Manchester United or Liverpool except for one child who was carrying his SAFC bag, walking around with the latest SAFC bobble hat and trying to convince other children that Roy Keane was a sissy compared to Kevin Ball.
It was around this time that we got promoted to the Premier League for the first time so instead of going to school and telling my friends I’d been to Oxford with my Dad I could finally get involved with the Premier League chat. It didn’t last long, one season of constant jip from my school mates about my ‘shocking’ team and we were back in the First Division. At the age of 7 I learned that no matter how bad my team were at least I would be there to follow and it didn’t matter if we didn’t win trophies (or many games). What I didn’t know at this age was the next 10 years supporting Sunderland would be full of emotion and memories that will last a lifetime.
The era of Quinn/Phillips in the First Division holds special memories for me, from the last minute Quinn equaliser against QPR to the pinnacle of seeing Sunderland get promoted at Barnsley. Another long train journey from Wales to Yorkshire full of hope and anticipation was dampened when we arrived to find the place covered in snow, game on – Phillips with a worldie and we were back in Premier League. A special season for a father and son from South Wales.
Skip forward ten or so years when I got my first car and I could finally re-pay my dad by taking him to games, this just so happened to be the same season that Roy Keane came and shocked the Championship. A few highlights for us from that season was Southampton away getting a cracking draw at Easter time, heading home my Dad took control of the directions back to South Wales. We ended up in Portsmouth before he realised that we might be going the wrong way, no wonder we spent all those years on the train rather than road. Burnley at home was exceptional, the best atmosphere I’ve experienced at the Stadium of Light with one of the best goals I’ll ever see. The final hooray that year was arranging with a friend of mine to get me 2 tickets in the home end at Luton final day. Win the league, job done!
Skip forward another ten or so years and we found ourselves in Sunderland for the weekend of the Ipswich game where my son whose now eight is mascot for the day. I have ensured that Rory is destined to be a Sunderland fan for life and this will continue for years and years.
RR: Do you manage to get to many games/run buses to many games?
BP: The last few years we’ve managed to get to a handful of home games and as many away games as possible. This season we’ve been to Shrewsbury and Plymouth as well as looking forward to Port Vale, Walsall and then we’ll look at where else we fancy.
Last season we managed to attend around 15 games which considering how poor we were isn’t too bad considering.
RR: What are your hopes for your branch in the future?
BP: In the short term I’d love to get a few more like minded Sunderland fans from around Wales together so we can look at the possibility of travelling together – in the long term I’d love to get the branch to a place where we can become an affiliated supporters club which runs buses to games.
RR: How can fans in your area get involved with your branch?
BP: Get in touch with me so we can have a chat and try to get something solid up and running. My mobile is 07956 981890, and my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.