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EAA Euro Athletics Champs, Helsinki, Finland

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Fans Around The World: Meet Steve, who’s flying the flag for Sunderland in Helsinki!

Meet Steve Jackson - an exiled Lads fan who is flying the flag for Sunderland in Helsinki. He’s got some interesting stories - including how a chance meeting with Johnny Byrne in a bar in Turku came about!

Photo by Tony Marshall/EMPICS via Getty Images

RR: Whooooooo are you? (Who, Who, Who Who...)

My name is Steve Jackson, and I was born in Sunderland. My first home was Chester’s pub as my Grandad was the Landlord at the time. I’m 49 years old, and I moved to a place called Turku in Finland in 2002 before switching to Helsinki in 2006.

RR: So... why Sunderland, then?

I blame me Dad. I’m sure he blames his Dad, who can’t really be blamed as during his time as a fan in the 30s probably watched us play some decent football and win stuff.

So... it’s no-one’s fault really.

RR: Do people ever give you funny looks when they see you in a Sunderland shirt?

Not really, the places I’d watch the match are usually a mix of everything from ice hockey, to football, rugby and aussie rules, so our strip is not the strangest you’ll see.

I do bump into the odd mag who’ll give me some stick, but they’re like dog poo, they get everywhere. Can’t avoid them.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Wigan Athletic v Sunderland - JJB Stadium
Our links as a club to Finland are tenuous... though we did sign Teemu Tainio from Spurs
Photo by Clint Hughes - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

RR: How popular is football in Finland?

It’s becoming more so, especially now they qualified for the Euros - everyone will watch that as it’s the first time for Finland. When I first got here the sport was only just becoming interesting. Litmanen and Hyppiä got football the headlines it needed and now Finland have got some decent players.

The sport is growing for sure but ice hockey is still the main sport here.

One surprising thing though - I was watching a game in Finland about 2004, we scored and I’m jumping around like a lunatic. One of the bar staff comes over (he’d have been about 18) and says, “you might know my Dad, do you remember John Byrne?”.

Apparently, John married a Finn. Obviously, I was amazed and told him most people in my circles back home knew John Bryne and his cup run goals of 1992.

I said I’d buy his dad a pint if he ever came to town. A couple of months later I’m sitting swapping stories for a few hours with John Bryne in a bar in Turku, Finland. Really nice fella.

He missed out on the big money in football as he was a generation too early, but said he wouldn’t have traded it for the world and had great memories of playing for us.

I’d forgotten all about it but he said he was still haunted by missing a good chance in the first half against Liverpool in that 92 final. Had we scored then we’d have come out a different shape in the second half. Wasn’t to be though, and we lost 2-0.

John Byrne Sunderland AFC Photo by Mark Leech/Getty Images

RR: What have you made of the season so far?

Well... we were pure garbage till about February. Phil Parkinson reminded me of Moyes. Just boring, I’d drifted into apathy again to manage the weekend trauma.

I also wasn’t a fan of the appointment of Lee Johnson as to be honest I’d never heard of him, but after seeing the side transform under his management I’m won over now.

He sometimes sounds like he works for MI6 with his protocols and positions of maximum opportunity... I remember thinking what the hell is a POMO, when I first heard it. I think it’s a good thing though when you think about it. If he talks like that in interviews it means it’s going to be drilled into the players all the time. Get into the right positions, the right amount of times, get enough balls to those positions and get enough shots on target seems like a solid approach to me. It sounds like common sense, but this kind of by the numbers attacking philosophy might just be what we need.

I’d have taken the playoffs from the position Johnson took over, automatic promotion was always going to be really tough from the position we were. Despite the disappointing dip in form, I think he deserves another season, regardless of the division we’re in.

RR: I’m guessing you’ve not been a season ticket holder for a while...

Yes, I held a season ticket from 97 till I left in 2002. I have two very good memories. I went for the first home game with my Dad and I was blown away by the stadium, having been used to Roker Park before that. Everything about it - the blasting of the Dance of the Knights when the players were about to come out, the fact that there were about twice as many people as Roker part could hold... it was a real lump in the throat moment.

I even think Philips and Quinn scored and we won the game.

The second time was a game in the PremierLeague with my mates. We couldn’t quite believe our first season back in the PL under Reid, but this game in the first half, we literally blew them away. Quinn was absolutely unplayable, he scored two and helped set the others up, just because the Chelsea defence were terrified of him every time the ball went near him.

I remember when Philips scored to make it 3-0 I was pinching my cheek screaming at my buddy, “pinch yerself football” and then at 4-0 I almost spoiled the day by leaping around so much I slapped a really big biker from South Shields on the back of the head. Total accident, but he didn’t look happy for a few seconds till he realised it was just me being a numpty. We laughed about it while the lads were playing one-touch possession football.

We were 4-0 up at half time and won 4-1. Happy days.

Sunder v Chelsea Getty Images

RR: Is it difficult trying to feel part of what’s going on from so far away?

It was when I first got here, but not anymore. I’d say the social media, the streaming and such means I can live without being there at the ground every week.

That said, it’ll be great when I get the chance to go back.

RR: Are you a member of any branches out there?

No, but there is one. They have about 20-30 members and I sometimes drop by where they watch the games if I want some atmosphere. Finnish and Estonian branch, I think. There are many new fans since the Netflix series, but they were around before that.

RR: If you could wish for one thing for the club, realistic of course, what would it be?

We really should be looking to be at a minimum where we were when we had Philips and Quinn. 1999/2000 we played great football and finished 7th (twice), almost qualifying for Europe. We should be aiming at the top 10 of England, winning things and attempting to go as high as we can.

It’s a long way off today struggling as we are in League One, but I have seen it. It can be done, and the money in the sport isn’t everything. Look at Leicester, look at West Ham. Look at Everton, Villa, Leeds. These are the teams we should be able to emulate relatively easily.

We get bigger gates than Chelsea in League One - and they call them one of the “Big six” (whatever that means).

Reach for the stars and you don’t come up with a hand full of shit, as they say.

Hopefully this new owner has the same idea.

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