RR: Hi there, Philip. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your life as a Sunderland fan?
PW: Hi Rich, sure. A brief personal history: born in Sunderland, raised in Ashington, Northumberland from the age of four (surrounded by black and whites which was quite character building!) and moved up to Scotland in 2000, and I’ve been here ever since. Most of my family are still in Sunderland and I get to around 10 games per season when things are normal. Over the years I’ve brought many friends from Scotland down for the games and certainly assisted in growing the fan base up here with Sunderland now as their ‘favourite English team’.
RR: Sunderland have long-established links to football in Scotland, going right back to the founding fathers of the club. I’m guessing there are a good number of Sunderland fans in the central belt?
PW: Absolutely spot on. Once I started digging into some historic links between Sunderland and Scotland, it goes right back to the beginning with founder James Allan, first ever captain James McMillan, 1937 FA cup winning manager Johnny Cochrane, the list goes on from there really. Bobby Kerr, Ian Porterfield, Dick Malone and Billy Hughes of ‘73 fame. It seems rarely does a Sunderland team over the decades not contain a Scottish player. We estimate there to be between 300-500 Sunderland fans in Scotland with many more as their favourite English team.
RR: I would think that’s a conservative estimate! You’ve recently restarted the SAFC Central Scotland Branch. Why did you go down that route, how’s it going so far, and how do others get involved?
PW: Back in the ‘90s and early ‘00s we had a branch called the Alec Hall branch, named after another member of the 1937 cup winning team. People who travelled to games then would likely remember seeing the distinctive individuals decked in kilts etc. It was a successful branch and we were certainly a very popular attraction during those times when the team was doing well and I’m the Premier League.
The name changed latterly into the Central Scotland branch but with the main organisers moving back South or further afield things kind of tailed off. Recently there was some interest from a few people in getting things going again and so we decided to restart the branch under a new committee based in Scotland.
We still have the first flag in the permanent display on the North Stand. We only launched two weeks ago but already have over 30 members. We hope to hit the 50 mark soon as a first target and hopefully the sky is the limit after that. Anyone resident anywhere in Scotland and wishing to join the branch can email us at email@example.com for a membership form.
The branch is based in Central Scotland but open to all who live anywhere up here.
RR: What kind of things do you have planned as a Branch for when we can all get together again and get back to the SOL?
PW: We hope to have a get-together pre-season in Central Scotland where we will invite a former Scottish-born Sunderland player to do a talk in, which we imagine will be popular and a good way of getting people together in the first instance.
By the start of the season, we hope to have some occasional organised travel from Edinburgh straight down to the SOL and back. Scotland is obviously quite a large geographical area and some prefer to travel by train, so we have to be realistic that not all would prefer this route. However, our main aim is to establish ourselves as a community of Sunderland fans in Scotland. This is of course a lot easier these days with social media.
RR: Who are your favourite Scottish (or Scottish-born or Scottish qualified) Sunderland players past and present?
PW: Well I wasn’t alive in ‘73 so will assume I can’t use them! In that case, I would probably plump for Alex Rae, who was a big part of that successful Peter Reid side in the ’90s and early 2000s. Looking at the current squad and what they have contributed then Chris Maguire would be the stand out with some valuable goals and assists, not least that one against Pompey in the playoff semi-final.
RR: Loads of Sunderland fans in northeast England claim an affinity with either Rangers or Celtic too. Do you and other Sunderland fans involved in the Branch also support teams in the Scottish Leagues?
PW: A bit like my reference to Scottish folk up here having Sunderland as their second team it is quite common also for Sunderland folk in Scotland to adopt a Scottish team. Incidentally, we have a lot of fans of Stirling Albion who have adopted us as their second team including one of our committee members Neil Emslie, who can be found guilty of recruiting most of them! He is as crazy about Sunderland as he is Stirling. The link is the SAFC initials of course. I have attended a great number of old firm games over the years (won’t mention on which side) and recommend anyone to get that on their bucket list as an experience to behold, especially if the team wearing blue wins!
Thanks for the time Rich and keep up the great work you guys do at Roker Report. It really is an invaluable way for us exiles to stay connected to our club and the city.