The world of football is moving forward at a million miles an hour through the 21st century and it can be sometimes difficult to appreciate days gone by at a club.
However, at Sunderland we are fortunate enough to have a dedicated group of people who have set out securing some of the most priceless Sunderland-related memorabilia and giving it a home for hopefully many years to come. The man behind the scenes who first got things rolling is Michael Ganley.
The collection he has is his own personal work - he has brought it together out of his own pocket, and he and his team of volunteers have been working around the clock to get set for the grand opening of the venue next month.
Meeting within the very building which we were about to discuss, the sun bounced off the glass cases containing a collection of Kevin Phillips shirts from right across his career. The museum’s humble beginnings were addressed first:
We started with me, myself and I doing the odd charity event six years ago, then progressed onto some stuff in the bridges. Two and a half years ago I had a meeting with Sunderland City Council and they offered me Monkwearmouth station. Work started here in January 2018.
The museum has been appreciated by national press and a meeting with George Caulkin yielded an article - Michael was humble further whilst telling of this exciting opportunity:
This is all about the museum and our home. it puts us on the map. For Sunderland to be mentioned in the Times in terms of football and it not be derogatory is huge, it’s all about the positives. George has seen the passion and they want to give us some major publicity from that.
The positive coverage is thoroughly deserved for the team at the old Metro Station.
And Michael had plenty of passionate words on the importance of keeping the history of the club alive for many years to come:
The heritage and history of our football clubs need to be at the forefront, fans of young and old all have connection through our football team. I always love seeing kids wearing the shirts getting their picture taken because the items are precious, but they are more precious being shared.
It was clear to see that the work was rewarded for Michael by seeing fans enjoy what the museum has on offer. He was keen to get the rare nature of the museum across to me.
At present, the club have not opened any lines of communication. Michael was obviously disappointed as he told me this, as was I, yet we remarked that given the nature of the previous regime on Wearside, failing to contact and support a fans museum doesn’t seem that surprising.
We did send Jack Ross a birthday cake last month, not to be publicised, and from that we got a card back from Jack saying that he will come around. We understand they are busy at the moment, obviously.
The fact that our new manager responded to this gesture from the museum is another symbol of how times are changing. They may have been forgotten about under Short, Bain and co but the new ownership team appear to be the sort of club representatives who would gladly pay a visit to this gem of an organisation. After all, it’s hardly far away. Michael was humble throughout, and here he said in confidence that its time the club noticed what the museum ‘can do and what we’ve done’. I couldn’t have agreed more.
The building is itself a story, and Michael shared information on its history and what it means to the area to have an old building restored and in use once more.
The building was 170 years old a couple of weeks ago, I feel like it shows respect for it to be able to open it up again. I love history, I love this building. we should never neglect buildings like this. We in Sunderland have the potential to be unique.
The museum started off being a travelling display before being given a permanent home, but now this home is going to keep on getting bigger and better. The opening was obviously the prime objective:
We hope to be finished in time for the International Tall Ships as we are one of the partners. The building will be an operational state, a work in progress from this week onwards. We’re planning on building two rooms, a sensory room so children can come and be in a safe quiet environment and a suite which will contain PCs. This will allow us to work with all kinds of people, those making job searches and to help kids with extra school work. There is much needed funding required for this, however.
I don’t need to reiterate just how much passion Sunderland fans have - we make that clear week in week out in the stands. Yet in the fans museum we have a chance to support our own people in their efforts to keep the history of our club alive.
This is something unique and something we should be immensely proud of - it’s our chance to show off to the world, and it was a genuine pleasure to meet Michael and some members of his team.
I advise all Sunderland fans to, if possible, take a trip to the museum. Take a walk around the rooms and talk to the volunteers. If any of you felt the pride for your football club waning, a trip here will go some way to bringing it back.