The United Arab Emirates is one of the most affluent countries in the world, and as such there are many lads and lasses based out there for working purposes, thousands of miles from the place that they call ‘home’.
So, for them, following Sunderland can be difficult.
Many people rely heavily on the likes of Roker Report and our fellow fanzine A Love Supreme for the content we produce as it helps to connect the dots and feel close to goings on around the club, whilst they have to rely on streaming to watch games live - unless they’re back in the UK visiting.
That’s why it’s hugely important that branches are well-ran and used - in UAE there’s a fantastic group of supporters that represent the area, the UAE Sunderland Supporters Branch. With that in mind, we sat down to chat with Stuart White from the group to find out all about what they do and how they find supporting a league one club from 4,500 miles away.
RR: Hi! How did you come to start the branch, and how long has the branch been going?
SW: The branch has been going for some time - firstly in the 90s and early 2000s, and then resurrected in 2010 by Trevor Smith. When Trevor moved to Muscat in Oman for a new job, I ‘took over’ the branch and running the Facebook page.
RR: How many members do you have?
SW: We have around 200, not all in Dubai or even in the United Arab Emirates. We have members in Saudi, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Thailand, Sri Lanka etc, people working around the Middle or Far East who pass through Dubai and pop into watch the match with us.
We have a fair number who visit Dubai on holiday or who are visiting the area for work and they get in touch about where to see the match on tv.
There are 4 red and whites over here on vacation when the Walsall game is on and they have been in contact to meet up to watch the lads.
Its one of the best parts of looking after the branch. We’ve met some great people over the past few years and anyone who is visiting or moving here is more than welcome to get in touch if they need any help or just to say hello.
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?
SW: Very important. There are a few of us who are season ticket holders despite only getting to the UK occasionally. While we cant get to the SOL to watch the match or to help fit new seats, we are all red and white through and through.
A good number got over for the cup final a few years ago, the plane over was like a supporters club bus with people drinking at the back of the plane.
One of the highlights of the past few years was meeting the squad under Sam Allardyce when they visited for a mid-season training camp. The players were great with everyone who turned up to watch them train, especially with the younger supporters who got to talk to the players and collect all their autographs.
RR: How did you become a Sunderland supporter?
SW: I’ve always supported Sunderland, being from South Shields originally.
I got my first season ticket for the Fulwell wing of the Main Stand Paddock in the early 80s, been a season ticket holder for almost every season since. My youngest daughter also has the bug and is currently looking for a University within easy reach of the Stadium of Light.
RR: Do you manage to get to many games?
SW: Running a bus would probably be a bit dangerous as driving through Iraq and Syria might be a bit iffy, so we tend to fly over. Sophia and I are over each August for the start of the season. This year we got to see the first six games of the season.
I have to say a big thank you to Sel from the London branch along with Rob and Stan from the Durham branch, who have been brilliant at sorting out tickets and transport for us.
We had to get creative for Wimbledon but thankfully, Clive who recently left Dubai to return to London sorted out a day in corporate for us.
RR: What are your hopes for your branch in the future?
SW: That we get back in the Premier as quick as possible.
Every top flight game is shown live over here but in the Championship and League 1, only the occasional game is on, so we are reliant on the streaming service and a pub who will allow us to plug a lead into one of their TVs.
We’ve missed a few goals already this season due to wifi and internet problems!
RR: How can fans in your area get involved with your branch?
SW: We have a Facebook page, Sunderland AFC Supporters Club UAE, which we keep updated and post when and where we meet up for the games.
Anyone is welcome to join if they are in, or passing through the area. Alternatively, my contact details are on the club website which Chris Waters sorted out for us.