My idea when starting this feature was to not only shine a light on the fantastic people that run all of our branches across the globe, but also to give them a helping hand in driving up interest in involvement, membership and people using their buses.
And, to our delight, it appears to be working.
I caught back up with Chris Green from the newly-formed Sydney Supporters branch after our interview went live and he was delighted to inform me that more people had been in touch with him and were joining their Facebook group, and with their members picnic day just around the corner they’re hoping that Sunderland fans in the area will get themselves along to have a good day down the harbour, chatting about football and everything else.
Likewise, the guys from the Leeds/Bradford branch got back in touch to let us know that they’d received dozens of mails and messages from Lads fans looking to get involved with what they do - a fantastic response which hopefully means they’ll sell more seats on their buses to and from games up and down the country this season.
Today we meet yet another new branch - yes, even despite Sunderland’s rapid descent into the third tier there’s an appetite to start up and run new groups all over the world, which when you consider everything that has gone on recently is really quite remarkable.
David Straughair and Lee Clement - two massive Lads fans from Houghton-Le-Spring - started the Houghton Supporters Branch this summer and have ran buses since pre-season began, moving quickly from using mini-buses to 49-seaters mainly due to the fantastic start to life Sunderland have had in League One.
RR: Hi! How did you come to start the Houghton Supporters Branch, and how long has the branch been going?
We started the branch from the beginning of this pre-season.
The two of us who run it had been discussing it mainly near the end of last season - probably since March the idea floated around a bit more. It started off as as a daft, drunken idea but the more the season progressed, the more it started to materialise and a drunken idea became a reality.
We reiterated from the start that our aim is to keep travel as cheap as possible. Away days can be really expensive - also, there hasn’t been a supporters branch in Houghton for a really long time, and we thought it was about time we got one going again.
RR: Do you get to/run buses to many of the games?
The only two we haven’t managed to get a bus on for was Grimsby in pre-season and away at Wimbledon. We both go to pretty much every match either way, but it’s been a very good start - granted, we’ve only had a minibus up to now but the fixtures weren’t too kind to us early doors!
However, it’s looking more promising from this Saturday - our first 49-seater, so we’re looking forward to that! But yeah, as long as we get the numbers we need for each match, a bus will be running for all games, including cups.
RR: How many members do you have, and how would you best describe the folk that get on your buses?
With us just starting we haven’t organised any form of membership yet, we literally just put the bus on for away days. This is something we have discussed though, and something we will probably do at some point, we just need to figure out what the memberships will entail.
We’re keeping it pretty basic for this season to help us move forward but from next season is when we’ll probably sort out a meeting place at a pub with members.
We have a variety of different people on our bus, varying in ages and personalities, we’re still getting to know people as they are getting to know us and we already have a number of regulars which is really pleasing.
The one thing that matters is we’re all Sunderland fans though and I’m sure we’ll have plenty of good times ahead!
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?
We don’t think it’s important as such - we don’t believe we have some right to know the ins and outs, but we absolutely love how open the new owners are. It’s great to know what’s going on with the club, especially with how closed it has felt in the past.
For us the importance is the honesty and openness, telling it how it is - the podcasts with Stewart Donald for example, I absolutely love it, it gives an excellent insight into what’s happened over the last month or so.
RR: How did you become a Sunderland supporter?
[Lee] I was born into a family that followed Sunderland - my Grandad followed the club for 48 years home and away, so it’s the way I’ve been brought up.
[David] Pretty much the same for me, it runs into the family - when I was young my mam and dad would alternate taking me to matches. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
RR: What game do you regard higher than all the others when it comes to your favourite Sunderland match, and why?
[Lee] My favourite game is either the first 3-0 against the mags, or the 3-0 win against Everton under big Sam because it meant we survived and Newcastle got relegated.
Another favourite memory of mine was when we beat Hull 1-0 last season and Asoro scored. I know it was a poor season, but me Granda had to give his season ticket up because of my grandmas health and that was his first game back at the stadium after 5 or 6 years. We went for a few pints before the game and we went and won - you could see in his face how glad he was to be back watching the match.
[David] The League Cup semi-final in 2014 against Manchester United is top of the list for me. So many emotions in one match - I doubt I’ll ever experience that again.
RR: What are your hopes for the future with Sunderland - do you think we’ll go up?
I think it’s absolutely imperative we get promotion this season.
The wages at the club are obviously still far too high for this league - taking the hit for one season may be okay, but it isn’t sustainable. On top of that, we’d be less of an exciting prospect for potential players if we stay down here for more than one season.
I’m not bothered how we do it, but we must go up. Stabilise ourselves in the Championship after that, and then hopefully within 6 or 7 years we’ll be back in the top flight. The future is looking bright!
RR: Speaking of the future, what are your hopes for the Houghton Supporters branch?
During pre-season we envisaged a minibus for the season - we’ve already beat that by getting at least a 49 seater for Burton and Coventry. We thought if we did have a coach it would be nowhere near full, so for us to have quite the opposite this early into the season is amazing!
So our new target is to run a 49-seater for at least ten games this season. It’s definitely achievable. Then on from that I just hope we can survive going forward, it shouldn’t be a problem especially with our amazing away support and the fact we’re playing well away.
Then, as mentioned earlier, hopefully we’ll eventually start memberships and have get-togethers to discuss all things Sunderland and/or the branch.
RR: How can Sunderland fans in the Houghton area get involved with your branch?
For the time being just continue to support us by using the buses and joining in with our social media groups, sharing our information around and of course if people have any ideas that can help us improve we’re open to pretty much anything!