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Why I Love Sunderland: Australian Lads fan Michael Skehan on supporting the boys from down under

Meet Michael Skehan - a massive Lads fan born and raised in Australia, who only supports Sunderland by virtue of the fact his ancestors emigrated from Wearside almost 100 years ago.

Danny Roberts

Who are you?

My name is Michael Skehan. I’m an Australian Sunderland supporter that was born and bred in Newcastle, NSW and now live in Perth, Western Australia.

Our family are originally from Sunderland and my grandfather migrated to Australia in the 1927. My Great Grandfather, Frank Atchison, was the postmaster in Roker and the family lived in Carley road right in the heart of Sunderland.

For as long as I can remember our whole family have supported the club and, like I’m sure in many families, this support has been passed down from our grandparents to my Mum’s generation and now onto our generation who proudly fly the flag in their respective parts of the world.

Our family are spread all over the country so naturally there is differing support for Rugby Union, League, Cricket and AFL teams which leads to a good-natured stirring, banter and text messaging between different family members at different times.

However, the whole family goes for Sunderland for one very good reason - we are Sunderland fans and a part of the greatest group of sporting fans in the world. It’s been said before by many people that if Sunderland’s on field team were as great as their fans of the field that we’d be a champions league team every year without fail.

Ipswich Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Have you been to Sunderland before?

I’ve personally been fortunate enough to have made the trip to see Sunderland play live at the Stadium of Light - as a fan that grew up in Australia it was a real bucket list moment in life and I was able to saviour every moment.

From having breakfast at Joan’s Café across from the stadium to having my picture taken with the Bob Stokoe statue and buying multiple scarves for family members at the shop; to watching Sunderland and Liverpool warm up in front of us while sitting in the east stand; to seeing us lose 2-0 to Liverpool who at that stage were a champions league team and we had just been promoted from the Championship under Roy Keane.

Sunderland v Stoke City - Premier League Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images

How do you follow from Oz?

Supporting Sunderland on a week to week basis during the season from Australia can be challenging, with kick off times between 23:00-03:00 due to the time difference means that more often than not I go to bed Saturday night and wake up to see how the Lads have done overnight.

Like all fans worldwide we ride the highs and lows of wins, losses and draws and the amount of times that we have been in the relegation zone at Christmas time and managed to avoid ‘the drop’ is testament to each and everyone involved with the club worldwide.

You see the chatter online from Fans worldwide on Twitter and Facebook can be interesting on a week to week basis and I’m sure we’ve all seen it: ‘Bloody Sunderland’... ‘Why do I do it to myself’ to ‘I Love this Club’ or “Imagine being a Man Utd supporter”.

Thankfully in Australia we have the Melbourne and Sydney Sunderland supporter groups who regularly post very honest and upfront posts on Facebook (feel free to join them, they’re both really good to be on) of how we are travelling both in games and overall.

Sydney Supporters Branch

What fond memories do you have?

One of the great memories I have from the past is been at a family function in 2009 and my uncle stormed into breakfast after a heavy Saturday night saying “We beat the Reds”, at which point we’ve all been shown Darren Bent scoring from the deflection off the Beach Ball against Liverpool in Sunderland.

Celebrating like this on a Sunday morning is enjoyable every time, whether you’re at the beach, going to get a coffee, going for a bike ride or waking up a little unwell from self-inflicted drinking.

It’s a great way to start a Sunday, and while I know of quite a few fellow fans that stay up till all hours to watch the games live I personally am quite happy to wake up and check results, or be woken with text messages or tweets from other fans happy to share the result.

Sunderland’s English forward Darren Bent Photo credit should read ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images

Do you meet many other fans?

One of the better parts of being a Sunderland supporter living in Australia is when you meet another Sunderland supporter face to face, and you see the same passion that they have for the club that you and your family have too.

Living in Perth I have met several supporters at different times and they talk about our club with the same warmth and passion that I saw when I travelled to Sunderland.

As the merchandise from our club is not readily available in retail stores in Australia you know that they are passionate fans who spent the time and money to have had it sent to them from the online store, or they are genuine supporters who will happily talk to you about our club.

At different times during Ashes tours I have met members of the Barmy Army at the cricket who support our club and I now consider them mates (Dave Lee and Allison Gardiner, I’m talking about you) just from the conversation that has started about our mutual support of the Lads.

We’re very fortunate to have two ex-Sunderland players that ply their trade in the A-League, our national football competition, who if you run into them speak very warmly about the club in Michael Bridges and Roy O’Donovan - hardly two of our biggest names like Super Kevin Phillips or Jermain Defoe, but they will happily talk all things Sunderland with you and treat the fans like family and are extremely accommodating.

As these are the only two ex-players I’ve ever met I’d like to think that if you meet other players they are the same - great ambassadors for our club.

A-League Rd 27 - Newcastle v Adelaide Photo by Ashley Feder/Getty Images

Any final thoughts?

Being relegated from the Premier League three seasons ago was a demoralising experience to watch from this side of the world, and the feeling that goes with it is a feeling I wouldn’t wish upon any fan as I can see the effect that it has on all the fans and supporters world wide.

Watching ‘Sunderland Til I Die’ was really, really hard and I’m sure you all had the same feeling at the same time watching our great club virtually in free-fall. It didn’t seem to matter what happened at the club, we were going to drop and we eventually did.

Its not ideal and I’m sure no one could say they are happy about our current situation but it was good to see our club win some games and play in front of the biggest crowds in League One, crowds that would see most clubs envious of the numbers we were attracting.

The crowds we drew in London both times we went to Wembley last season shows why we are the club that others are envious of, and why I can see our club getting back to the Premier League where we belong eventually. I have no doubt that we’ll bounce back and the good times will return - god knows that we all deserve it.

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