RR: First of all – please tell us a bit about yourself. What is your name, how old are you, and where do you come from?
I’m Cormac Eklof, 48, based in Seattle, Washington, USA. I’m a Localization Program Manager. I was born in New Britain, Connecticut.
RR: What’s your story then - how did you end up becoming one of ‘the afflicted’?
Basically via my Dad.
My Mum is from Dublin, and she met Dad on Cape Cod, Masshussetts, in the early seventies while working for the summer. He was a car valet in the restaurant she waitressed in. He had no clue about football, at all. On one of his trips to Ireland while wooing my mother, my Irish grandfather brought him to a bar. There was a big game on and Dad was transfixed.
It was the ‘73 Cup Final. My Dad was always a massive sucker for underdogs, so he fell instantly in love. He was also a big supporter of Unions and blue collar, hard working people, so he also fell in love with Sunderland as a place. I suppose little did he know back then what he was getting into, one match, one trophy!
To his credit he stayed the course, and it was inevitable I would join him.
I fell in love properly with them during the ‘85 Milk Cup run. My favourite players through the years have been Clive Walker, Martin Smith, John Byrne, Claudio Reyna and Lee Barry Cattermole. My Dad passed away sadly in ‘19, a week after the playoff semi final 0-0 ‘win’ in Portsmouth, so he would assume we were back in the EPL at this stage!
He was sitting on the couch under a blanket watching that game and when it ended he said; ‘Some good tackles there’.
A year ago I got the attached Sunderland tattoo, with his name along the top. He would absolutely hate it. But, it’s all part of the connection he handed down to me.
RR: Fans on this side of the pond like to take the mick out of American ‘soccer fans’ for the way they discuss the game, if you like, but to my mind it’s very clear that the USA are trying very hard to foster a footballing culture that will hopefully stand them in good stead in the future. How popular is football becoming over there?
As with everything in the USA it depends on the State you’re in. Each State is so different. Football might not be big at all in, for example, Montana, but, it’s absolutely enormous in Washington State. I can’t emphasise how big it is here.
It’s huge at all school levels, including college. High school and college games are shown live on TV. The Seattle Sounders sell out frequently and normally have around 30-40,000 at their MLS games, and their gear is seen everywhere.
Same in Oregon, next door, where the Timbers are big.
There is also a bigger, more advanced and organized amateur structure than anything I saw while living in Ireland. There are indoor, outdoor, coed, different age levels. I play in an over 40 league with ten teams, referees, beautiful facilities (nicest pitches you can hope for) and floodlight night time games. It’s pretty incredible.
There are several big leagues in the Seattle area alone.
The funny thing is you can literally see the different culture in the game here at all levels, youth through to adult, compared to Europe. The youth coaching here is all about running, pace and pushing forward, kind of relentless. There’s very little time spent on nuance, ball control and awareness. It’s hyperphysical and fast. I don’t know if they will ever get the potential beauty of a 0-0 here, but they will definitely run the socks off other more ‘cultured’ European teams in international competition in the coming years.
RR: In terms of women’s football, it’s absolutely huge in the US - perhaps less so for the men’s game. Why do you think that is?
It was always very popular at the women’s level as it was by far the most popular game for girls in high school. For the men’s game, you’re seeing the first generation of the very best young male athletes, who chose soccer at high school level, coming through with this latest USA men’s team.
There are some serious athletes on that squad, and they’re the first batch that specifically chose soccer in high school as opposed to US football, baseball or basketball.
Dest, Pulisic, Gio Reyna, Robinson and others are established in Europe and outrageously young and talented. There’s been a few false dawns where men’s US soccer has played above its station a bit (that Gold Cup run for example) but this current squad might finally be it, great athletes who actually get the finer nuance and can succeed in big tournaments.
RR: What is your favourite MLS team?Do they relate in any way to Sunderland?!
My Dad’s side of the family are all from the New England area so the Revolution are my obvious choice. They’re in a bit of a rebuild so they relate a little like that, and they’re a bit of a blue-collar side too, especially lately under Bruce Arena, so they relate like that also.
They have, however, won trophies in the last 20 years, so perhaps that’s where the comparison ends, sadly.
RR: The Netflix series put Sunderland into the forefront of the minds of many people across the globe - what did you make of it? I’ve noticed lots of people on social media who have said they started supporting the club because they warmed to the people and the culture of our club, so that must have been interesting for you given you have supported the club from afar for such a long time.
I loved season one - I thought they nailed it with the right balance of supporters, players and backroom politics. I thought season two was hugely disappointing to be honest, as if they rushed it perhaps? But for me, they almost completely forgot the players in season two, maybe they didn’t have as much access that time round?
Whatever it was, it was a big miss in my opinion. Such a shame as season one was groundbreaking stuff. As to your point, I think the passion of the locals was the draw for those new supporters, that passion transcends oceans, literally. It’s infectious, in a good way, and people around the globe want to be a part of that.
RR: Have you ever visited the Stadium of Light for a game?
I have yes, I lived in Ireland for the middle portion of my life so I was lucky enough to see several Sunderland games. I saw us beat Man City in Manchester with a Kevin Phillips goal, that was a lifetime highlight. I saw us get whalloped in the Emirates a few years ago, but at least Giaccherini scored a cracker for me. I’ve been to the SOL twice in the early 2000s and that was great - it felt like a pilgrimage, but I’m well overdue a visit.
It’s the friendliest place in England I’ve ever been, Sunderland.
I stayed around the stadium in B&Bs both times and the locals were so hospitable and friendly. Loved the atmosphere in the bars too.
RR: Is it difficult trying to feel part of what’s going on from so far away?
Great question. Not as much as it used to be, as I have started using more of the Internet services and outlets available. I realised recently that Sunderland fans and media outlets are super active on Instagram and Twitter, so I have plugged into that more and feel instantly more connected on the back of that.
It feels like there’s more content readily available now than even when we were in the EPL, if that makes sense at all.
RR: How many Sunderland fans do you know out there, and do you ever try and recruit new supporters for us?
Literally zero, have never met any in the USA, however I recently connected with a few in North America on Twitter so I will try and expand on that. As you can probably imagine everyone supports Chelsea, Liverpool, Man U and Arsenal over here.
Funnily enough I have never met a City supporter in America - read into that what you will.
RR: If you could wish for one thing for the club, realistic of course, what would it be?
Naturally first of all, promotion. But on a larger scale, I wish we could become a steady, consistent locally focussed club, something like Athletic Bilbao, for example.
Maybe not as harsh as only fielding local lads, but more in tone.
Build a fortress SOL, never lose home games, have teams genuinely scared to come to Sunderland, connect fully and organically with the locals, to the point where the stadium is packed every game. That and a few games in Europe would be fun, oh and a statue to Lee Barry outside the SOL.
I’m not asking for much.