Just over a week ago author, teacher, and Sunderland fan, Peter Richardson, had a great idea, which he posted on the Ready To Go message board. And like most great ideas, it was both simple and timely:
I really hope the club take the opportunity to sell virtual tickets. Reckon we could sell the whole ground at a tenner a ticket. All profit to local charities.
If Sunderland fans were not going to be able to attend the club’s third Wembley appearance in three years due to the coronavirus pandemic, maybe they would part with a few quid that they might otherwise have spent on securing their seat in the national stadium, their train tickets and their hotels in the capital, to support the most vulnerable people in the city in these desperately hard economic times.
The prospect of no fans attending the forthcoming Papa John’s Trophy Final against League 2 side Tranmere Rovers, due to take place on Sunday 14th March, has brought out the dark humour that is needed to survive a lifetime of almost constant disappointment that is the fate of a Sunderland supporter.
Many a quip has been made about how, after getting on for five decades of disappointment, the fact that none of us will be there to witness the game means we’re nailed on to win this time.
But the idea that we could transform the disappointment of not being there into something wonderful has captured the imagination of the fanbase and the response of the football club and its charity, the Foundation of Light, to Paul’s idea has been amazing.
They quickly put together a brilliantly innovative campaign where, depending upon the size of the donation, contributors can be rewarded for their generosity with a memento of the game, ranging from a print-out commemorative ticket to a Read & White Hospitality Package, with all proceeds going to the #SunderlandTogether charity coalition, which includes the Foundation, Washington Mind, the Salvation Army and the Sunderland Foodbank. Amazingly, the fans and charities working closely with the club have raised over £28,000 in the three days that the fundraising page has been live.
One of the PROUDEST moments of my life . . . Let’s smash it now . . . Let’s sell the whole of @wembleystadium . . . @SunderlandAFC @RedAndWhite2017 @ALS_Fanzine @RokerReport @SAFCFoL @CWaters_SAFC @BlcSafc https://t.co/mAHKB37jjp— Rejected Manager (@RejectedBook) February 23, 2021
It’s yet another sign that - despite Sunderland not being one of the most affluent places in England - there are few limits to the warmth, generosity, and solidarity of its citizens and the fanbase distributed around the world. The purchase of virtual tickets for charity also has a bit of a history on Wearside. Famously, Niall Quinn sold Commemorative Tickets for his testimonial match back in 2002, raising £1m for children’s charities and winning the hearts of the global football community along the way for the selflessness of his act.
Over Christmas, fans pulled together to gift tonnes of food for those who desperately needed it at drop-off points at the Stadium of Light organised by #SunderlandTogether, as well as donating over £30,000 to Roker Report’s partner charity, the Sunderland Community Soup Kitchen.
The current fundraising drive has gained the vocal and active support of fan groups including Red & White Army and the Branch Liaison Council and media ranging from the Sunderland Echo to fanzines like A Love Supreme.
Andrew Hird, Chair of the Red and White Army democratic supporters group, commented that:
Red and White Army are proud to support an initiative that was conceived by a Sunderland fan on a message board and that has now been developed so that so many will benefit. We thank the Foundation of Light and Sunderland AFC for their support of this initiative and hope that fellow supporters will get behind it.
And Malcolm Bramley, Secretary of the Sunderland Senior Supporters Association, said:
The Senior Supporters Association fully supports the #SunderlandTogether Wembley ticket initiative, which gives Sunderland fans the opportunity to help improve the lives of vulnerable people across the region.
Jim Gilling, the Chair of the Sunderland Branch Liaison Council, also gave his group’s backing for the idea:
The SAFC Branch Liaison Council is proud to support this initiative and raise money for these four special charities who provide so much assistance to those in need or those who are vulnerable throughout the North East. Let’s hope the money raised exceeds our expectations.
And SAFC’s newly appointed Chief Operating Officer, Steve Davison, added:
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen Sunderland supporters come together time and time again to support each other throughout the many unique challenges our community has faced. This is a fantastic initiative and one that as a club, we are immensely proud to support.
We here at Roker Report and the Roker Rapport podcast are also lending our voices to this effort and we’d love it if you - our readers and listeners - would join in by donating whatever you can.
So, if you’ve not already done so, please click the button in the box below to go straight to the crowdfunding page.