Sunderland branches far and wide do a fantastic job for supporters - and performing their duty for the people of the North East are the South Shields & Washington Branch, who run travel to and from away games for their fellow fans and have done so since the mid-80s.
It’s not easy running a branch and when the team does badly, they suffer too - particularly in the last two relegation seasons, where interest in travelling around to watch the lads get tanked each week became almost too unbearable for some to stomach.
But, the pain was short-lived and fans are back to enjoying their football again.
We caught up with Steven Pike, who helps run the branch, to find out more about there group and about some of the fun stories they’ve got from their trips over the years.
RR: Hi Steve. So, the South Shields & Washington branch... how did you come to start the branch? Any particular stories about your formation and how that came about?
SP: The branch was formed in the mid 80’s by a lad called Michael Bell, originally running from the New Mill in South Shields. Mickey still gets to home games but doesn’t travel now due to his ill health and has recently retired from work.
He is still honoury chairman to this day. The branch grew from strength to strength, and I started to travel with them in the late 80’s.
RR: Do you run the branch alone, or do you have a team of handy helpers?
SP: Myself and Peter Oliver take bookings, etc now but we’ve just brought in Ian Prince and Chris Henry to help run the buses as we have had 2 on for most games this season.
RR: Tell us - what’s the most disastrous away trip you’ve experienced when following the lads around?
SP: We’ve had some disasters and laughs over the years, like 8 buses not getting to Man City on the last day of the season until half time. You could imagine the stewards faces when we pulled up - about 400 lads all in fancy dress... they had to open the gates to let us in, and put us in a section that was supposed to be for segregation.
Then there was the Bournemouth fiasco when one lad wasn’t feeling to well and sh*t himself. Luckily it was as he was getting off the bus - as you can imagine the lads ripped the piss out of the poor lad but that’s what it’s all about, travelling to away games... the banter is brilliant.
RR: How often do you run travel to games?
SP: We try to run to most games but the last few seasons have been a struggle to get the numbers to make the bus viable. Luckily this season the mood has changed, and everyone seems to be more optimistic. We even had a relegation party with a bus on to Whitby at the end of last season - unfortunately I couldn’t make it but a good time was had by all!
RR: Would you say that you’ve made some good friends through the branch over the years?
SP: I have met some great lads over the years through the branch, too many to mention really, but I still speak to Mickey, and me and Peter meet up for a drink on a regular basis. In fact, I’m writing this in a pub in Clitheroe with Peter.
RR: Sunderland’s new owners have worked hard to ensure that supporters are very much included in everything that goes on. How does their approach compare to the way you’ve dealt with the club over the years?
SP: To be fair the club have been approachable from the day we became affiliated to the branch liaison council, and that has continued on with the new owners. Chris Waters is always contactable and replies to emails or phone calls as soon as he can.
RR: If people wanted to join the South Shields & Washington Branch, how would they get in touch? Are you active on social media?
SP: If people want to book with us they can do on our Facebook pages South Shields Sunderland Supporters and Washington Sunderland Supporters. We pick up in Washington, Shields, Roker Ave and along Durham Road in Sunderland.