It has been a promising couple of weeks for two emerging Wearside stars. Singer-songwriter Tom A Smith supported Elton John at his recent Hyde Park concert before then going to perform at Glastonbury during the same weekend, whilst pace bowler Matty Potts continues to impress within the Test arena following an excellent England debut last month.
In addition to their personal achievements, the duo has seen Sunderland AFC enjoy a recent resurgence.
Both lads are known to support the club, and have joined an esteemed list of celebrity fans that exists across several avenues of sport, entertainment and broadcasting. In fact, had Potts made his breakthrough slightly earlier, he would have been working under interim head coach Paul Collingwood – himself a former Durham CCC player and a well-known Lads fan.
Unsurprisingly given the geography, plenty of Durham players from over the years have been fans, including current stalwart Chris Rushworth. Cricket legend Ian Botham was often seen around Roker Park during the Denis Smith era too, but it is Collingwood that has really flown the flag whilst playing across the planet – one of the greatest players of his generation, he is a proud Sunderland fan and is one of several illustrious names that has served as a Trustee for the Foundation of Light.
Collingwood is not the only sporting hero to have reached the very top whilst carrying a torch for SAFC. Former world record holder Steve Cram remains a huge advocate for the region and the team, whilst boxer Frank Bruno and darts player John Lowe are both former world champions known to have a soft spot for the Black Cats. Bruno is even thought to have a personalised brick at the Stadium of Light, and was a guest recently at John Cooke’s Testimonial.
Although Bruno is not from the region there are two local lads that were always prepared to fight Sunderland’s corner during their fighting careers – Billy Hardy and Tony Jeffries. A champion at British, European and Commonwealth level, Hardy would often train with the squad in the build up to big fights whilst Olympic medal winner Tony Jeffries is now spreading the word over in America where he is a revered trainer.
Josh Kelly, another Sunderland fan and Commonwealth belt winner, hopes to continue his rise within the sport in the coming months, and there is a big opportunity on the horizon too for the men’s Scotland 7s team in August when they travel to Los Angeles for the World Rugby Sevens Series. Head coach Ciaran Beattie will of course be focused on the task in hand but might still ask for a text from back in the UK letting him know how the side get on against Norwich City that weekend.
A scrum-half, Beattie is a huge Sunderland supporter who was himself included in the Scotland 7s squad for the Melbourne Commonwealth Games in 2006.
The capital of Victoria, Melbourne is a Mecca for sports fans and since 1996 has hosted the Australian Gran Prix – one of its more famous race moments coming in 2002 when local favourite Mark Webber produced an excellent drive to achieve an unexpected 5th place. Webber, although originally a Manchester United supporter, has stated that the Roy Keane connection later attracted him to Sunderland too.
With Sunderland being in an area often unfairly marginalised, there is a lot of pride felt when a good Mackem accent is heard on the national or international stage. Jordan Henderson and Jill Scott are known as being highly dedicated and highly talented individuals that present themselves, and by virtue of their upbringing, the city, extremely well, but the area has produced plenty of non-sporting figureheads too.
Melanie Hill is a much-loved actor and has just left a long stint on Coronation Street. She is a huge Black Cats fan but is not the only performer with a Wearside connection to have appeared on one of the country’s most enduring shows. In the early 1990s, Sunderland-born actor and original Doctor Who star William Russell appeared on the cobbles, whilst later that decade Glenn Hugill became a well-known face.
Whether Russell followed his hometown team is not known, but County Durham’s Hugill is thought to. In more recent years he has been heavily involved in TV production, as of course have Fulwell 73. Makers of the massive The Late Late Shown with James Corden, these lads are serious players within television, film and music. Amongst their other credits are a series of One Direction videos and of course their labour of love Sunderland ‘Til I Die documentary, which brought SAFC worldwide exposure.
Another eminent presence behind the camera is Oscar-winning, Sunderland supporting David Parfitt, whilst Peter O’Toole was given an his own Academy Honorary Award for a remarkable career. The son of a Wearside labourer, O’Toole is one of several hugely lauded talents with roots in the city and a connection to the football team. Karen Gillan’s Sunderland-born father was at one point working on a screenplay about Len Shackleton whilst Alex Kapranos, lead singer of Franz Ferdinand, spent part of his childhood growing up here and recalls Roker Park fondly. Emily Sande meanwhile helped celebrate the Foundation of Light’s 20th anniversary last year.
The more dance-based acts of Moloko and Olive had members from the city, with vocals for the latter’s smash hit ‘You’re Not Alone’ provided by Ruth-Ann Boyle – a Sunderland fan that may have well served you a pint on a match day whilst she worked in the Howard Arms. Had it been Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Alan Price at the bar he would have surely been ordering a Double Maxim – another Rokerite, when The Animals split the joke was that ‘cultural differences’ forced the break up; his Tyneside bandmates all preferred Newcastle Brown Ale.
Price’s fellow Hall of Famer Dave Stewart is another big SAFC supporter and regularly references both the club and city, having come from the Barnes area. Sir Tim Rice, whilst not a native, is as equally passionate about the team. His work is known and loved across the world, as is that of author Terry Deary – another famous Sunderland supporter and superbly skilled creator.
Like Deary, the work of James Wright (aka James Herriot) has been turned into a small screen phenomenon. Wright, who was born in Brandling Street just yards behind the original Roker End, was honorary president of the club, and having such well-respected individuals associated with Sunderland reflects well on the team and the area. Like the Mackem accents of Henderson and Scott, inspirational figures such as Lauren Lavern, Kate Adie and George Clarke show to young kids that you can come from the North East and thrive.
It isn’t clear if Lavern even follows the Lads, but in presenting the British institution that is Desert Island Discs she has proven herself an elite broadcaster. Adie too is an erudite communicator, whilst Clarke is a highly qualified architect and considered presenter. The latter two are massive Sunderland fans and whilst it doesn’t define them, neither are ashamed to show it.
The same could be said for journalists Barry Glendenning and Jonathan Wilson, two of the most compelling sports writers in the country right now. They do not hide away from saying who they follow, but they do not let it seep into every aspect of their work either and will remain impartial and objective when required. These people are not needy, ‘professional’ Sunderland fans that lean into it for any sort of gain or kudos, although like anybody else on the terraces they would presumably admit that their support does influence how they are as people to an extent.
Even before the club was formed, the influence of what was then still a town seeped into many areas of life and popular culture, all the way from the lightbulb and the FA Cup to even the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Sunderland folk, and by extension the team, have played a massive part in developing many aspects of invention and education, industry and society, and the list of those that have chosen to spend their down time watching the red and whites is therefore long an interesting.
Not all of them born inside an SR postcode of course, but one thing we all share – famous or not – is that Sunderland has got under the skin.
Here are a few more either confirmed, or possible, Sunderland fans – let us know if you can think of anybody else!
Don Airey - Musician
Tasmin Archer – Singer
Eric Boswell – Songwriter
Frank Bough – TV presenter
Charlotte Crosby – TV personality
Bryan Ferry – Singer
Chris Hughes – TV personality
David Jones – TV presenter
Ian Lucas – Politician
Kevin Maguire – Journalist
Gina McKee – Actor
Nigel Olsson – Musician
Jonathan Reynolds – MP
Faye Tozer – Singer
Baz Warne – Musician
Tom White – TV presenter and journalist