Supporters branches are, for some people, the one thing that helps to link them to supporting the club and easing what can be quite difficult and frustrating, particularly if you don’t live near the North East.
There are some very good supporters branches in the North East of course, and the people that run these branches are the unsung heroes amongst the Sunderland fanbase - from arranging buses to sorting out tickets, branch chairmen and secretaries do a fine job and perhaps aren’t commended enough for the work that they do within the Sunderland-supporting community.
With that in mind I plan to use this new series as a way of connecting with the branches and, in turn, shedding a spotlight on who they are and what they do.
The fact is that there are probably people all over the world that are unaware that branches do indeed exist near them. There are mackem exiles everywhere who would probably love to be a part of a branch, watching games with their fellow supporters even despite being thousands of miles from the Stadium of Light on a matchday.
Today we speak to Mark and Matty from the newly-former Leeds/Bradford Sunderland Supporters Branch to find out all about what they do and how they manage to follow the Lads from afar.
RR: Hi lads! How did you come to start the Leeds/Bradford Supporters Branch, and how long has the branch been going?
The branch is a very new baby in the fact it all started in June of this year.
Due to the jobs I’ve had since leaving school which involved working nearly every Saturday I missed FAR too many games. Two years ago my job changed and now I mainly work weekdays. After much deliberation and a bit of persuading from my partner (telling me to go for it and that I would enjoy it) I bought my first season card for the 2017-18 season. Despite it being an awful season and watching some dire performances, I loved being back in Sunderlad regularly, surrounded by fellow fans - it felt like I was home again.
I had thoughts of starting a branch last year, which I mentioned in a couple of social media groups thinking there must be others feeling similar, but at the time a couple of lads created a Yorkshire based SAFC fans page on Facebook with the aim of helping people sort out car sharing to get to matches so it was left at that.
This year I thought of it again and with the whole new found enthusiasm everyone had for the club after Stewart and Charlie breathed new life into it for us, I thought ‘let’s go for it’.
RR: How many members do you have, and were you surprised by the amount of mackems in the area?
At present we don’t have a definite membership scheme but that’s currently under consideration. We are thinking of following an example set up by an existing long running branch and charging a small annual fee for basic membership, but also offering a monthly fee based one that has the advantage of a monthly cash prize.
At the moment it’s more a central core of around 15 to 20 fans making it up to the home games, with other local fans joining us as and when they are able.
We have a Whatsapp group set up with 46 participants, all from Leeds, Bradford and surrounding areas. This is ever growing and is the main platform of growing communications for our branch.
I was a bit surprised how many mackems there are down here - always seeing the odd one here and there and there’s a few work in same company as me - but its only when you try and do something like this that you realise just how many there is.
RR: Obviously as a new branch its exciting for you and your fellow Mackems in West Yorkshire. With the club becoming far more inclusive, how important is it to you to feel a part of what is going on?
I love that the new owners have taken on this open relationship with the fans, and long may it continue. It feels great that the fans are being welcomed to actually feel a part of the club again.
So I feel it’s really important that they keep up the great work that they’ve started by trying to make it a fans club again, involving us and making us want to be part of it, and as long as they do that the fans will back them.
RR: How did you become a Sunderland supporter (and end up in Leeds/Bradford)?
I was born and bred in Sunderland, Dad is a Lads fan and I followed his example.
One of my dad’s favourite stories to tell is him trying to watch the FA Cup final in ’73 with me in my play pen (only being 10 months old) making a LOT of noise, waving a little flag around and him not being able to hear the TV!
Due to a change in my dad’s job we moved down to Bradford in 1987 and despite much kicking and screaming I had to come too as I was too young to stay in the homeland only being 15 at the time, and I’ve been here ever since.
RR: Do you get to/run buses to many of the games?
I try to make it up to every home game that I can depending on if it’s my Saturday to work or not. When my partner and our daughter is coming up with me I drive up, we make a bit of a day of it – go for something to eat after the match etc. When they can’t make it then I’ll use the coach.
One of the lads has taken on the role of our “Transport Manager” and has so far arranged a coach up for each of our home league matches and is in the process of sorting out one for the Coventry away match, and we hope that if we can get our numbers to grow we’ll be able to put coaches on for more away games too.
Chris Waters and Tony Davidson have been fantastic in helping us with parking passes for the bus and accommodating us wherever possible, making the organising of the bus as easy as possible. Hats off to the new regime for that.
RR: What game do you regard higher than all the others when it comes to your favourite Sunderland match, and why?
The one that sticks out for me at the moment is the first home match of this season.
It was the first match my daughter went to as a season card holder. The Charlton match with over 31,000 fans, a new-found great atmosphere, and the South Stand was bouncing.
After 94 minutes it looked like we were heading for a draw and I looked at her, she was happy and smiling – thinking to herself “well at least we haven’t lost”, and then on 96 minutes... BOOM, the South Stand erupts as Gooch gets a last minute winner, with everyone cheering and bouncing around.
As I looked at her face I saw the look of sheer happiness in a young fan not tainted by the years of sheer garbage that we’ve had over recent years. I don’t think she could believe how loud a roar that place could create.
RR: What are your hopes for the future with Sunderland - do you think we’ll go up?
I hope we can carry on putting on performances the way we have so far this season - yes there have been some very silly mistakes, but there havs been a lot of promising and entertaining football. There will be some disappointments of course but as long as the good times outweigh the bad ones then that will do me.
RR: Speaking of the future, what are your hopes for the Leeds/Bradford Supporters branch?
I hope we can carry on growing, and providing a nice friendly environment and transport for any lads fans in the area to get involved with the club that might have not done so without us.
I hope we can be around for a long time to come and be part of the club becoming great again, getting back to where we belong.
The bus for me has been great and even after three games I have made fantastic friends. I shared a car trip to Wimbledon away with other branch members who I only met the week before at the Scunthorpe game! It’s brilliant to have other local fans who we can now call friends. The atmosphere that is being created all adds to the matchday experience.
RR: How can Sunderland fans in Leeds/Bradford get involved with your branch?
We have lots of ways of getting in touch!
Whatsapp: Private group, contact for an invitation