Every Sunderland supporter has their own reasons for why they ended up falling in love with the club, and each of them are likely to have very different stories - particularly the more far and wide we are spread right across the globe.
Of course, for those of us that hail from the north east it’s likely that our family gave us no other choice, but did you know there’s an ardent bunch of massive Lads’ fans living over in Eastern Europe?
We spoke with Dan Dimitrov, the fella who heads up the group, to find out all about Bulgaria’s Sunderland Supporters Branch and why they’re thriving.
RR: Hi! How did you come to start the branch, and how long has the branch been going?
DD: First of all I would like to use the opportunity to say how honoured I feel to take part of this interview, and to thank you for giving me the opportunity to introduce myself and our branch.
We were established as an official branch back in 2013 on the 25th of May. We are proudly called ‘Bulgarian Sunderland Supporters Branch’ – BSSB.
I have had this idea ever since I started supporting Sunderland back in 1990 and that dream came through thanks to the fact that I have met with Radoslav Karaasenov in 2005, who also was a massive Sunderland fan.
I remember back then that we exchanged views under an internet article about SAFC and I spotted him straight away. At that point I thought that I was the only Sunderland fan in the country, although I was living in London since 1998. Luckily there were more people that supported the Lads so when we met in Sofia for a first time it was natural to come up with the idea of forming the branch.
Not long after we got in touch with Benjamin Cane, who is another massive Sunderland fan and also lives in Bulgaria. With him on board we became a complete unit and progressed further as a well established branch.
RR: How many members do you have?
DD: At the moment we have about 55 members, but we’re hoping to grow fast as Sunderland start climbing up divisions.
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?
DD: It has always been important to be part of the most amazing and passionate fan base in the world, and the fact that we are now playing in League One makes me even more of a hardcore fan than ever.
It is a great feeling to know that we belong to the great family of Sunderland fans, and I can tell you that we have amazing Sunderland friends in the North-East and even down in London where I have been living over the last 20 years.
I love everything about Sunderland.
The club, the city and more importantly the people of Sunderland.
RR: How did you become a Sunderland supporter?
DD: My story may sound a bit strange but here it is.
When I was in my first year in University I was only 19 years old and most of my friends and myself were crazy about English football. I remember at first I was attracted by the name of Sunderland and their stadium, Roker Park.
I was into Rock music and they were called the Rokerites so my attention was on them straight away. Then I read their history and I was surprised to find out that Sunderland had great history and traditions in English football. In 1992 we had a great run in the FA Cup and as a second division team we reached the final.
What completed me as a Sunderland fan was Gordon’s Armstrong header against Chelsea at Roker Park in the last minute, and I will never forget the Roker Roar and the electric atmosphere the fans created. It was absolutely mental.
Of course, I recognised myself as one of them and that was it. I fell in love with this club forever. The fans were the biggest part for me to become Sunderland supporter.
RR: Do you manage to get to many games?
DD: Obviously for me is a bit easier as I live in England, so I am trying to visit the SOL as often as possible. I go to all London games and around south of England, and travel to Sunderland 4 or 5 times a year.
Some of our lads from Bulgaria also visit often, and the last one we have done together was the game against Millwall last season. This year I have been to the Charlton game for the opening of the season and I must say I was very pleased with the last minute winner, and the support the lads had from the fans!
RR: What are your hopes for your branch in the future?
DD: My hopes are mainly to grow in numbers and make Sunderland AFC popular in our country. Also, I hope to organize more visits to the SOL and enjoy our experience there.
RR: How can fans in your area get involved with your branch?