After our 24-hour long Twitter Space went offline on Saturday night, and after many tears had been shed by the bunch of softies otherwise known as the Roker Report team, we all sat back to chat and reflect on what we had achieved, all in aid of the most fantastic charitable cause on planet Earth - the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen.
When we started the month off with this year’s Christmas Fundraiser, I don’t honestly think I expected the response this time around to be this amazing.
Two or three days in, even despite the fact we had made a lot of money, I was worrying that people just wouldn’t listen to our rallying call - but oh, how I was mistaken.
FORTY-FIVE THOUSAND POUNDS later and with 11 days left before we close things down, what’s incredibly clear to me is that Sunderland truly is the caring city, and Sunderland AFC are the caring club that we always claimed to be.
We set ourselves the challenge of hosting a 24 hour long Twitter Live Show without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into - and after some incredibly hard work went into planning and executing the event, we assembled the greatest cast of characters ever seen in one place by Sunderland supporters - a proper festival of fandom, to borrow a phrase.
There are far too many names for me to list, so apologies to anyone that I’ve missed out here, but getting to chat with three of my childhood heroes in Peter Reid, Julio Arca and Alex Rae as part of the fundraising event will live with me forever.
However, the greatest part of the entire weekend wasn’t getting to speak to those unbelievable gentlemen, as brilliant as it was - it was sitting for that last hour of the show with my mates, talking shite, singing songs, and sharing an incredible moment.
Roker Report might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s my cup of tea, and it’s more than a website and Podcast. I’ve made friends for life - unbreakable bonds, people I’d go to the ends of the Earth to defend. That might be a bit soppy, but it’s true - I can’t think of a finer group of men and women to have shared those amazing memories with.
Whilst all of that was fun, the priority from our perspective has always been to ensure that we do our bit so that the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen gains maximum exposure for the work that they do - opening people’s eyes to the scale of the city-wide hunger poverty problem, and also introducing folk to another group of people, like ourselves, who share an unbelievable bond over something they’re incredibly passionate about.
A little message from the gaffer...— Roker Report ❤️ (@RokerReport) December 10, 2021
He & @SAFCLadies boss Mel Reay helped this evening at the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen.
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Click here to listen: https://t.co/YCk56CYd3u#SoupKitchen21 | #SAFC ❤️ pic.twitter.com/3BHAPp7uQD
I consider Andrea Bell as part of our team, as I have since the first day we met - just ask anyone who has ever met her how infectious her positivity is. She radiates love and happiness for her fellow human beings, and animals - Andrea owns six dogs that she saved from animal shelters, and prior to starting the soup kitchen, she ran a dog rescue centre in Cyprus. She’s a special person who I cannot speak highly enough of.
We’re not just connected by the love of our city with the team over there at the Soup Kitchen, or our love of animals, but for our love for the city’s only professional football club - Sunderland AFC.
Having been very kindly donated ten adult season cards in the summer by an incredibly generous fan from abroad (and the club, who contributed ten concessions to accompany each of them), the Soup Kitchen team sent a class of kids from a school in the city along to the Plymouth game - and for some, given their families simply cannot afford to take them along to watch a match, this was their first glimpse of a Sunderland team in action.
We were over the moon to have hosted Lee Johnson, Mel Reay and other club staff at Albert’s Place - SCSK’s takeaway on High St West - on Friday night, giving them some first-hand insight into the problems facing the city’s most vulnerable people.
Lee Johnson and Mel Reay visited the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen on Friday to support a fantastic cause in our city.— Sunderland AFC (@SunderlandAFC) December 12, 2021
And there's still time to play your part by donating, with over £45,000 already raised! ❤️
https://t.co/mBekdXxTiv@RokerReport I #SoupKitchen21 pic.twitter.com/y3M8oKherL
First off, I think it’s important that I state this immediately - Lee Johnson is an absolutely lovely bloke. Football aside, he just seems a nice guy. He couldn’t have worked any harder, or have been nicer to the people that he met - we talked about our families, and he shared a couple of stories about his past experiences with volunteering at similar charities when he was Bristol City manager, amongst other things.
I was already strongly backing him to succeed as our Head Coach, but having got a glimpse at what he’s like as a person, as a family man, I can’t help but very passionately support him in his efforts to get this team out of the league this season.
Andrea’s infectious positivity must have been contagious, because Johnson’s team started the Plymouth match the next day like a house on fire, and gave those children taking in a game for the first time, all thanks to the Soup Kitchen, something to cheer about on what was a cold, grey day.
Sunderland played with intensity and flair, and our best players did their utmost to put on a show for the crowd - scoring two of the best goals we’re likely to see this season inside the opening fifteen minutes.
Leon Dajaku had his best game in a Sunderland shirt and terrorised the Plymouth defence with his driving runs, whilst Alex Pritchard showed exactly why he’s been one of the best attacking midfielders in the Championship for most of his career, dazzling with his flicks and clever passing.
Nathan Broadhead was magnificent too, and showed exactly why he was deemed good enough to make Everton’s Premier League matchday squads on a regular basis at the start of the season - reminding us that we’ve got players here capable of playing at a higher level, and capable of putting in performances good enough to beat promotion contenders.
We’re joint second, in touching distance of the top spot, we’re six games unbeaten, and our fans have helped to raise an extraordinary amount of money which will help to feed the most vulnerable members of our local community - I don’t think anything could possibly kill my buzz right now.
I’ve been grinning from ear to ear since Friday - and I just hope that we continue making unbelievable memories, as a generous fanbase and as a football team on the up, for as long as we possibly can.
Love to you all, and Ha’way the Lads!