Something that putting together this series of articles on the various supporters branches that Sunderland AFC have has taught me is that those behind each particular organisation are unique in their own ways.
Take, for example, the Black Cats of Italy, who have a Sunderland themed clubhouse where they meet for a beer, or the Dean brothers from Jarrow who have never missed a game for over 25 years. Then there’s the Feyenoord Mackems who hail from Holland, The Bulgarian branch, the vast and strong North American branch... the list goes on and on.
Yet, despite the fact that like us, they’re all passionate Lads fans, they all have their own quirks and ways - isn’t that brilliant?
Colin Dunn of the North Herts branch is, like many of those listed, a character - for many years Colin has been the creator and writer of the North Herts branch fanzine, ‘Review’, a fantastically detailed magazine that each member receives as part of their subscription to the branch. I myself know how much commitment it takes to keeping a good fanzine going, so for Colin to have produced 310 of the North Herts Supporters Branch members’ magazine is nothing short of excellent - you can read the latest copy for free on their website by clicking here.
Having read the latest copy, I caught up with Colin to find out a bit more about the branch and how, for 27 years, they’ve managed to keep their successful group going through all of the highs, and the many lows.
RR: Hi! How did you come to start the branch, and how many members do you have?
CD: It was ‘an idea’ of two local Sunderland fans – one a landlord and one a policeman. That was back in late 1991. We’ve got 136 members at the moment - it’s usually about 130-140 in each of last few seasons.
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?
CD: Very important. I must admit that Stewart Donald has been very astute in joining in with the fans inside the grounds – he was very noticeable at Coventry.
There’s something very different about their approach, and it’s very much appreciated by the fans. I have received texts/emails from Stewart and also Jack Ross, and it is good to feel as if you are part of the whole set-up…. especially living 240 miles away!
RR: How did you become a Sunderland supporter?
CD: My father was born in Sunderland in 1916 and although he moved to Hertfordshire – like many others – around the 2nd World War, he never forgot his team, and he ‘encouraged’ me and my brothers to follow the Lads.
My own children and grandchildren have followed it on.
RR: Do you manage to get to many games/run buses to many games?
CD: I was a season ticket holder until about 2006, going to all ‘home’ and ‘away’ games for several years… and even attending Mick McCarthy’s midweek ‘Managers Forums’. I then bought a static caravan and my trips dwindled, although I have attended six games so far this season (mostly ‘away’) and will be up for the Barnsley match.
As a ‘group’ we lay on transport for all ‘home’ games - usually a mini-bus - and get to whatever ‘away’ games as possible, though it has been harder this season with the reduced ticket allocations.
RR: What are your hopes for your branch in the future?
CD: We hope to continue in existence! The committee are longstanding members and are keen in the jobs they do for the Branch. I really enjoy producing the ‘review’ which is a monthly magazine…. now 25+ years old!
RR: How can fans in your area get involved with your branch?
CD: As I said, we produce a monthly magazine, we have a website (www.a1blackcats.co.uk), and we also have a Branch Facebook page. We actively look for new members and are often found putting ‘calling cards’ on car windscreens! We hold monthly meetings (1st Thursday of month) at Hitchin Town FC at 8.30pm.