“Sunderland are currently third in the premier league 16 places above Newcastle” wrote a 17-year-old Danny McBride on his personal website. By my best guess, this was written almost 21 years ago to the day in November of 1999. For people of mine and Danny’s generation, it was a glorious time to be a Sunderland fan. Quinn and Phillips were on fire, the state-of-the-art Stadium of Light was rocking for every home game and I remember looking forward to every single game with optimism. Sunderland could beat anyone.
Looking at Danny’s site brings back so many great memories, memories of a different footballing era, memories of a different internet and memories of a different world. If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself at http://www.dannymcbride.freeservers.com/index.html – you won’t be disappointed. There are so many absolute gems there, especially his player descriptions and guest book.
One highlight for me which really demonstrates the emotional rollercoaster of life as a Sunderland fan was Danny’s description of Eric Roy:
Signed from Marseilles for £200,000 32 year old Roy (pronounced Rwa) is a classy midfielder and has impressed during his few appearances.
There’s so much just in that one sentence. There’s the shock realisation that once upon a time, Sunderland actually did some decent recruitment. There’s the joy of remembering just how good Eric Roy was in the middle of the park. There’s the misery of comparing him with the last midfielder we signed from the French league, who was significantly more expensive and significantly less classy. Then, there’s the glimmer of hope that the very mention of Marseille conjures up - I’m sure many supporters are keen for a certain young man with close ties to Marseille to put pen to paper on a deal with SAFC soon.
In 1999, Kyril Louis-Dreyfus was just a baby. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram – even Myspace didn’t exist. If you wanted to share your thoughts with the virtual world, you had to build your own website. And if you wanted to build a website using dial-up internet you relied heavily on parents who weren’t expecting any important phone calls or an IT teacher who didn’t stick to the curriculum.
In my case it was the IT teacher and thus my Geocities site celebrating the life and times of Darren Williams came into being. It basically consisted of terrible attempts at photoshopping Dazza’s head into different iconic photos. Danny’s site was streets ahead of my site, which never received any visitors. I’m glad it didn’t because I’m sure it would have been targeted by trolls, just like Danny was back on the 4th of February, 2000 when Newcastle fan Paul Brown wrote “YOU ARE NEVER GOING TO GET MANY VISITORS WITH A BIG PILE OF SHIT ON THE FRONT”.
Just goes to show that Newcastle fans have always had great online banter.
Unlike my Darren Williams fan site, which has long disappeared from the archives of cyberspace (I hope), Danny’s SAFC website remains completely untouched, as does his site dedicated to Minneapolis’ finest rock band, Semisonic.
In 1999, Sunderland were a great club, and we will always be a great club. Just as ‘Singing in my Sleep’ by Semisonic was a great song then and always will be. Nobody will ever change my mind about either of these cold, hard facts.
Danny, with his great taste in music and football teams, was lucky enough to be a Sunderland season ticket holder for that magnificent season and so was I. I doubt either of us could have predicted that, 21 years later, we’d be in the middle of a global pandemic debating whether or not to pay a tenner to watch a one camera stream of a game in the third division.
Yes, fast forward to 2020 and I don’t have to tell you things are bad.
Everybody knows things are bad. We’re 49 places lower in the football league now. All of our strikers combined have scored fewer goals in over a hundred League One games than Superkev managed in thirty-odd Premier League games in that single glorious season.
We’ve traded the premier passion of Peter Reid for the League One lethargy of Phil Parkinson. A great deal has changed in the past twenty-one years. When you consider just how badly things have gone wrong, both on and off the field, in recent years, it’s amazing that anyone still cares. But thousands of people do still care. They probably care too much. And right now that is the only thing that gives me reason not to lose all hope.
In spite of everything, thousands of people in the Sunderland area, across the UK and all over the world still love Sunderland AFC, for some reason.
On his site, Danny mentions that he is a Sunderland supporter even though he was born in Northampton and living in Newcastle. His reason for supporting Sunderland was that his great uncle, Bill McClerkin, used to play in goal for Sunderland.
Those family ties and pride in your roots still matter today.
How many of you reading this were influenced by a family member to support Sunderland? How many of you are parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or godparents, planning to buy the kids Sunderland shirts and merchandise this Christmas?
Thousands of us are still doing our best to inspire, encourage and ensnare the next generation of Sunderland fans. It won’t click with every child as Craig Davies correctly pointed out in his piece last week but it won’t stop us adults trying. And it won’t stop kids aspiring to be footballers and dreaming of pulling on the red and white shirt and playing at a packed Stadium of Light.
Yes, Sunderland still play at the Stadium of Light, just like we did in 1999. It’s no longer as Danny described it “recognised as one of the world’s best stadiums” but it is still a great place to watch football.
We might not get 40,000 to every home game any more. We might be hosting Lincoln and Accrington rather than Liverpool and Arsenal. But as soon as the government allow it, Sunderland fans will flock to the Stadium of Light even though their levels of optimism have taken an almighty battering since 1999.
Not because the football will be great, or because they’ve got nothing better to do. They’ll turn up because the match day is a tradition - a tradition we’re all missing at the moment. It’s a time to bond with family and friends while you catch up over a well-earned pre/post match pint.
No matter how bad the football is, there’s always the faint hope that you might witness something miraculous, something that gives you that same buzz you felt as a kid, that one moment of joy that makes all the suffering feel worthwhile, something worth sharing with others.
There are still people like Danny who are passionate about the club and want to share their passion, whether it’s through a website, a podcast or a Youtube channel. People still care enough to produce content and there are thousands of readers, listeners and viewers out there who enjoy the content and are keen to interact, debate, argue, agree and disagree. Just as there are still Newcastle fans who will try to take the piss in ALL CAPS.
Thousands of people out there still care.
I’m not sure why Danny stopped updating his site, but he couldn’t have picked a better moment. He’s captured the absolute best point in time (at least in the internet era) to be a Sunderland supporter.
I hope it remains online forever, as a monument to a great Sunderland team and a reminder of the huge potential that Sunderland AFC will always have.
The fact that the club and the fanbase have survived so many years of fleeting ups and consistent downs convinces me that we can survive anything. Plus, we can always cling to the hope that one day the planets will align, and we’ll end up with the dream combination of the right owner, the right plan, the right manager and the right players to resurrect our football club.
I don’t know where Danny is now. Has he escaped from Newcastle and moved to a much nicer city a few miles down the road? Is he still a big Sunderland fan? Does he still have a season ticket? Could he even be a Roker Report follower reading this very article while he listens to the new Semisonic EP? (Imagine my surprise when I just found out that they’d released new material in September after a 19-year hiatus...)
Danny, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, I hope you haven’t given up on Sunderland. Thank you for taking the time, 21 years ago, to create your Sunderland website.
Thank you for inspiring me to write my first article in a very long time. And thank you for reminding me of Semisonic. As a tribute, I’d like to end with two quotes from Dan Wilson, lyricist of Semisonic, both taken from their 1998 smash hit, ‘Closing Time’ (UK number 25).
To Phil Parkinson, I say: “You don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here.”
And to all Sunderland fans who are losing faith and are becoming more and more pessimistic after every false dawn, I say:
“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”