Since we began this feature we’ve tended to heavily feature branches from outside of the North East, but it’s just as important to remember that there are many fantastic supporter groups within Sunderland that are committed to not only ensuring Lads fans in their area get to and from games with ease, but also provide a fun family-orientated environment that ensures that match-day experience extends well beyond what happens during the ninety minutes on the pitch.
Branches often become like second families to some people, where spending your weekends amongst like-minded folk that enjoy a few beers and a bit of crack on the bus to games is as much a part of going to games as it is actually watching the lads play.
One such group who pride themselves on these values are the lads and lasses from the Seaham branch, and it was an absolute pleasure to catch up with committee member Thomas Corkhill for the latest installment of this feature.
The Seaham branch is one of the older organisations within the BLC and they’ve spent the better part of the past two decades following the Lads whilst raising important charitable funds for local organisations - and as Thomas explains, it hasn’t always been easy for them.
RR: Hi! How did you come to start the branch, and how long has the branch been going?
TC: A group of about ten lads from Seaham including myself started the Branch at the Phoenix pub in Seaham. We formed in 2000 and out of the ten founder members only two committee men (myself and Eric Brown) and one member are still members of the Branch.
We formed it because we wanted to run it as a social club and not only to use it for transport but for social events, we always said that this would be a non profit making Branch and any money we made would be donated to charity.
RR: How many members do you have?
TC: We currently have 340 members although unlike other Branches we don’t take contributions yearly and anyone who joins pays a one off joining fee - out of those 340 members, we believe that around 100 are active members who attend home/away games and social evenings.
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?
TC: It is very important for me to feel a part of what is going on and I feel that if Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven stick to their promise of visiting supporters Branches and meeting the fans face to face it will make all of our members feel a part of what is happening.
We were lucky enough to have our Branch based at the Phoenix Pub which was Niall Quinn’s local watering hole, and we had a good rapport going with Niall and it made everyone feel that they were a part of the club.
RR: How did you become a Sunderland supporter?
TC: I became a Sunderland supporter at the age of seven when my brother took me to my first game - he took me into the Fulwell end and lifted me up onto the barrier. I looked around and all I could see was thousands of faces, scarves waving, hands clapping and I was blown away by it all, that was the start of my love affair with SAFC.
RR: Do you manage to get to many games/run buses to many games?
TC: I get to every home game and we manage about seven or eight trips to away matches each season. Between the age of 25 to about 40 I was present at every home and away games and all the friendlies, but unfortunately due to medical problems and being out of work at the moment I simply can’t do every away game - hopefully this is a temporary thing.
RR: What are your hopes for your branch in the future?
TC: Our Branch has survived a sticky period when we were forced to move from the Phoenix and we lost quite a few members, we were considering down sizing our bus and our charity evenings were hit hard as well, but we have now moved to Deneside Club and the club have bent over backwards to accommodate us and this has resulted in an amazing transformation of our Branch.
We want to build on this and hopefully become the biggest Branch that Sunderland have, we are now concentrating on fundraising for local rather than national charities and we want to help every good cause in Seaham - we have already raised approximately £45,000 in our 18 year existence, and we are currently averaging over £5,000 per season for good causes and we hope we can keep that going.
RR: How can fans in your area get involved with your branch?
TC: We want all Sunderland supporters in Seaham to be a part of the Branch. We know that transport wise we are competing with public transport which is only a 20 minute bus ride to Sunderland or 10 minutes on the train, but our home games are a good way of meeting other Sunderland fans from Seaham, we have free food, we run lottery competitions, we run football cards and we also run a super 6 competition.
If anyone from Seaham wants to travel with us (and we take you right to the ground with several drop off points on the return journey) then please feel free to get in touch with myself mobile number 07983421335. You can find us on Facebook on the SAFC Seaham Branch page, or come along to the Deneside club 12 mid-day till 13.45 on any home match day.