RR: First of all – please tell us a bit about yourself...
I’m Justin, a 46-year-old bald bloke living in Te Anau New Zealand with my wife Jo and our four daughters. Te Anau is surrounded by the Fiordland National Park and is usually a very busy tourist stopover for international visitors (unfortunately none at the moment though). I manage a hotel here for Millennium Hotels NZ and I am certain I’m the only Sunderland supporter for miles!
RR: So what’s your story, then - how come you’re a Lads fan?
Many moons ago when I was a kid, I used to watch delayed coverage (by a week) of the Premier League with my Dad each Sunday - used to screen at lunchtime. Back then we used to see a lot of Liverpool, Man United, Everton and so on.
I remember one game though watching this team called Sunderland playing a home match at Roker Park and feeling the buzz and enthusiasm of the supporters. I don’t remember who they played but the fans and the team shirts stuck out for me.
I was playing junior football at the time and when I used to stay with my grandparents they would take me to a second-hand bookshop where they would let me take stacks of Shoot magazines home, mainly from the seventies and eighties, looking for stories or posters of Sunderland. I always kept an eye on them over the years, but I think the Netflix series really got the juices flowing again.
RR: How popular is football in New Zealand?
It continues to grow off the back of the good Premier League coverage we get here.
There are also some good Kiwi men and women playing in different leagues around the world - Chris Wood at Burnley is definitely getting lots of attention at present.
Two of my younger daughters have been playing junior football and love it. Because of them, I decided to get involved in refereeing and had my club debut last week, which I really enjoyed.
RR: We haven’t had many players from your neck of the woods here at SAFC - I remember a lad called Jack Peltier who we signed when Keano was manager, and then of course there was New Zealand international Sam Brotherton a few years back, but he never got much of a chance...
It’s always great to see a Kiwi make it at a big club, but the challenges to stay relevant and make the match day squad must be immense considering the talent pools clubs can secure now. I got really excited when we signed Tommy Smith in February last year, and was gutted when covid put an early end to his stay there.
I think he is definitely one of the best Kiwi talents playing in the UK at present.
RR: Do you have a ‘local’ side?
We have the Wellington Phoenix playing in the A-League in Australia which is becoming a fantastic league to watch and to witness some of the young talent going on to bigger and better things. My ‘local’ side though would probably have to be Dunedin Tech, where my daughters played before we moved to Te Anau at the start of the year.
They’re such a great club with a lot of history and are so family orientated, with good people running the club.
Coach Roach who looked after the girls team is an absolute legend as well!
RR: What do you love the most about following this club?
The history, the fanfare.... believe it or not, when they have a bad game I feel it (all the way over here), and when they have a great game I make sure I shout about it. There is a passion and a heartache to supporting Sunderland but I love it!
RR: What would it mean to you for you to be able to see a Sunderland game in person?
I haven’t been to the SOL yet but it is definitely a bucket list goal that I hope to achieve. I joke with my wife that I will take her to New York for Christmas (her dream), and then we will jump on the first flight out to make a Boxing Day home game - that would be magic and I would die a happy man if this happened.
RR: How do you find supporting the Lads from so far away?
I’ve made lots of Twitter mates who support the Lads from afar, which social media these days allows us to do. There is also a NZ-based Facebook supporters’ group as well that pump out some good content for us Kiwi-based followers.
I always feel as though I’m the only person supporting them, but I have a funny story - I recently found out that there was another Sunderland supporter in Dunedin when I lived there, but didn’t realise until we had moved down to Te Anau.
Oh, the beers we could have had!
RR: Are there many of ‘us lot’ out there where you live?
Across NZ I would say there are a few sturdy supporters. NZ has a heap of Liverpool, United & City fans. I have good mates supporting those three teams and love the banter with them. I can’t wait for us to get back to the big show and to see those massive clubs playing Sunderland at the SOL.
RR: What are your hopes for, let’s say, the next five years for the club?
Like everyone, for us to get out of League One this year to start off with.
We have the talent to do it, and I think we will.
Then I just hope we can be competitive in the Championship and push to get back to the Premier League over the next three years or so. It is going to continue to be a roller coaster, but I’m very confident in the new owner’s ability to provide the resources for the club to do better.
It starts again next week in the play-offs, so from this Kiwi to you all - Haway the lads!