RR: Tell us your story - are you from Sunderland, exiled in South Africa, or are you South Africans by birth?
SASSB: The supporters’ club is ran by myself, Ian Dury (not of Blockhead fame) and Steve McGlynn. Steve is from Sunderland, born and bred. I’m a second generation Mackem born in sunny South Africa.
RR: Tell us a bit about your branch and how you came to form...
SASSB: We’re a fairly young branch having only started a couple of months ago. Steve and myself have followed eachother on Twitter for a few years and recently we noticed the club was looking for people in South Africa and put our names forward.
It’s always something I wanted to try organise but without the club driving I don’t think it would’ve had the traction we’ve had so far.
We are currently up to six whole members on our Facebook group.
RR: What has it been like trying to follow and support the team over recent years from afar?
SASSB: Tough...next question.
Fine, we’ll answer. In the Premier League it wasn’t a problem. Luckily ( or unluckily) all the games were shown on the TV. When we first got relegated, it got trickier. There’s no real market for the Championship, so you rely quite heavily on Twitter updates. That’s where I usually keep track of games.
The bad reviews on the SAFSee put me off trying it.
RR: How do South Africans react when you tell them who you support?
SASSB: Confused. Apart from your ex-pats supporting clubs outside the top 6, you don’t often meet supporters from any other clubs. Sometimes the odd Leeds fan who jumped on the bandwagon in the 90’s and now they stuck with a faded Harry Kewell strip.
Most supporters have chosen their side while for Steve and me, we didn’t have a choice. I often get asked “Yes, but who do you support in the Premier League?”. I sigh a lot.
RR: Are there many Sunderland supporters in South Africa?
SASSB: They starting to come out of the woodwork now. I have seen the odd Sunderland flag on a car or someone wearing a strip out and about in Johannesburg. Thinking back, I could’ve just been seeing Steve all the time. We’ve had a few people getting in touch on the Facebook page and from the SAFC Global page. Baby steps.
I’ve never watched a Sunderland game with someone who wasn’t related. I wouldn’t know what to talk about.
RR: The club have made a big deal out of making their internationally-based supporters feel a bigger part of what is going on. Just how important has that been to you, not only in forming the branch but also feeling ‘part’ of what is going on?
SASSB: Well it’s what got us started. The club was always going to be vital to us as while we may not know each other where we are 11 000 km’s away, we all share a love for the club. It ultimately pushed our paths together and gave us a platform to start, which hopefully becomes a semi-decent supporters club.
We can switch from sad drinking to happy drinking.
RR: How often do you manage to get back to the UK for games?
SASSB: I haven’t been back since 2009 and while I did buy tickets to the Stadium of Light, it was for the Oasis concert. I managed to “steal” some grass from the pitch which I’ve still got in my wallet. My last game was against West Brom in the FA Cup 2002.
Steve has enjoyed more games than me.
RR: Will the branch be at Wembley?
SASSB: We missed the Checkatrade Trophy final as my passport is busy getting renewed - I’m all out of luck.
RR: For anyone reading this who might want to join your branch or feel part of the group, how can they get in touch/interact?
SASSB: We set up an email address - email@example.com as well as a Facebook group. The name is Sunderland AFC - South Africa Supporters (we never claimed to be creative).
Thanks again Roker Report, and a massive thanks for the podcasts as well. It’s helped me personally feel better connected with the club. It’s great hearing opinions on the football from people who aren’t journalists or reporters but are just fans like me - especially as being so far away, it’s all I’ve got to rely on.
RR: No problem, thanks!